For the conveyor manufacturers, integrators, and distributors that food industry processors rely on, securing on-time delivery of smaller parts such as guide rails, rollers, levelers, adjusting rods and related hardware can be a critical part of installing new production systems or keeping existing equipment running.
While just small components in massive conveyor systems, such parts play a critical supportive role in terms of the function and effectiveness of the final system. So much so that failing to receive necessary parts can bring portions of crucial production lines to a halt, potentially costing thousands of dollars per hour in downtime.
Because quick part turnaround is so important, a growing number of food industry professionals are turning from overseas suppliers with long lead times to domestic suppliers that can respond to urgent demands in a fraction of the time.
“Lead times are critical for big manufacturers. They only have so much planned downtime to install and integrate new equipment, and cannot tolerate unplanned production downtime, which can cost thousands of dollars an hour in some factories,” says Kenneth Wolff, Operations Manager at Fallas Automation, a Waco, TX-based manufacturer of packaging machinery, case packers and related equipment. “If you cannot guarantee parts and equipment delivery in the needed timeframe, they will not remain a customer for long, so you need a quick response.”
On top of this, partnering with a domestic supplier with the expertise and willingness to tailor these parts to specific requirements can help to optimize production and even aid in the development of new valuable conveyor options and products.
Avoid Costly Delays
Despite the prevalence of international supply chains, when expediting conveyor system installation and replacement parts is essential, the downside of overseas procurement is clearer than ever today.
“Even before Covid-19, we had problems with procuring parts offshore with lead times of 8 weeks or more from Asia or Europe. Now with the crisis, such procurement could take even longer and changing trade policy could cause additional delay,” says Wolff.
According to Wolff, many companies now rely on Just-in-Time delivery and do not keep much in stock. Complicating matters, he explains that Fallas Automation typically has a very short lead time to custom build its systems for customers, which makes lengthy offshore sourcing problematic.
“Often, we may only have a 22 to 24-week lead time to deliver the complete system, so waiting 8 to 12 weeks for small but important parts from overseas is unacceptable,” says Wolff.
As a solution, Wolff turned to a domestic manufacturer that could streamline parts delivery: Winchester, Tennessee-based Mason Plastics Company (MPC). MPC manufactures small conveyor parts such as guide rails, guide rail hardware, adjusting rods, brackets, mounted bearings, and rollers in a variety of materials including stainless-steel, aluminum, nylon alloy, and tough, wear-resistant Ultra-High-Molecular-Weight (UHMW) plastic.
Compared with foreign suppliers that can take weeks or even months to provide components, part turnaround with the domestic manufacturer is usually within a week and can be significantly faster when necessary.
“Working with a domestic supplier like MPC expedites our process, and has helped us out of a bind on more than one occasion. Once for an important conveyor equipment shipment, they manufactured and shipped us about 20 parts overnight for next day arrival when the parts were not in stock. In a crunch, they will do everything they can to help you out,” says Wolff.
Eliminate Peak Season Downtime
In the fresh produce marketplace, the need to keep conveyors running can be even greater during peak season.
Harlingen, Texas based Tri-Pak Machinery, Inc. custom designs, engineers and manufactures packinghouse machinery systems for fresh fruits and vegetables, shrimp grading and packing equipment and industrial ice crushers and slingers.
“With impact, abrasion, and wear over time, even the best made machines are inevitably going to require replacement parts to keep production lines efficiently running,” says Tri-Pak Machinery Purchasing Manager Chuck Kilbourn. “That is particularly critical during peak season, when conveyor equipment going down could potentially cost tens of thousands of dollars.”
According to Kilbourn, while effort is made to keep parts in stock, sometimes quick parts turnaround from a domestic supplier is the only practical solution, whether for emergency repair or to supply an important new installation.
“We were shipping truckloads of components cross country for a large multimillion-dollar tomato conveyor and needed roller ends to complete the job,” says Kilbourn. “MPC shipped us what we needed in days when it normally could take weeks, which helped us to complete installation on time.”
In addition to expediting parts delivery, sometimes those involved in food industry processing need tailoring of components to accommodate specific aspects of production.
According to Kilbourn, Tri-Pak Machinery found that partnering with the domestic manufacturer facilitated a number of important conveyor line improvements that have boosted sales.
For example, when Tri-Pak sought to weigh watermelons with a unique method they wanted to develop, using a chain and side-by-side cleats that hold the melon in place, the domestic manufacturer provided valuable input and help.
“We sent them sketches of what we wanted and they went back and forth with us, advising us on various issues such as material strengths, weight, and the best methods to accomplish our goals. They designed and made the mold for the watermelon cleat and it has done really well,” says Kilbourn.
Besides this, he adds that they also helped to develop and produce another part: a clip that aids in smoothly transferring watermelons from a brush unit to a different part of the conveyor.
When Tri-Pak Machinery wanted a heavier duty roller that could take a load better than a standard bushed roller end for a powered roller conveyor, the domestic manufacturer helped there as well.
“They made a special roller for us with a nylon encapsulated ball bearing in it, and it performs just the way we hoped,” says Kilbourn. “They are willing to work with us to ensure the parts are fully integrated with our systems.”
Whether conveyor manufacturers for the food industry require parts for a new installation or unplanned repair, working with an expert domestic supplier can expedite the process, while tailoring parts to the application when necessary.
Ultimately, this approach leads to increased production uptime and greater profit, without the uncertainty or logistical headaches of waiting for offshore shipments that could end up further delayed in customs.
For more info, visit www.masonplastics.com.