Shipping Delays & Material Handling: Causes and Strategies for Avoiding Delays

Since the start of the pandemic, online shopping has seen tremendous growth very quickly. According to the Census Bureau, e-commerce sales increased by 43% in 2020, and again by 14% in 2021. Some sources are projecting over 70% revenue growth from 2019-2023. 

While this is welcomed news for e-commerce brands, the surge in shopping created by the pandemic has made a mess of the global supply chain. Nearly 4 out of every 10 small businesses have experienced supply chain disruptions or delays in the United States. These disruptions are frustrating for customers, and anxiety-inducing for business owners who worry about losing their frustrated customers. 

On top of that, as competition within the industry increases, customers have come to expect shorter delivery times. And marketing shorter delivery times only intensifies the pressure that shipping and handling departments are feeling.

The material handling industry has been completely upended by this sudden high demand. Shipping delays have affected most major players on the world stage, like the US, China, Russia, and Ukraine, and the effects trickle upward from raw material suppliers all the way to the end users. 

In order for packaging facilities to process packages at a high rate, they must be able to depend on 3 things: proper equipment, staffing, and up-to-date technology.

These 3 components are crucial for packaging facilities to successfully navigate shipping delays. This post will highlight the main problems that a packaging facility faces related to shipping delays, how to plan ahead, and mitigate shipping delays.

Equipment and Parts

No packaging facility is cookie-cutter. Different products and packages require different approaches, different equipment, and carries its own unique set of challenges and requirements. If outfitted with the wrong (or outdated) parts and equipment, it can add an extra load of stress, especially during those peak seasons. Without every piece of the puzzle working together seamlessly, delays are inevitable

Outfitting your facility with up-to-date equipment is the best way to avoid pesky delays and costly downtime. Staying up-to-date requires an intimate knowledge of your own system and consistent dialogue with your installation partners and engineers.

Here are a few tips to keep your parts and equipment up-to-date:

  • Perform regularly scheduled checkups of your parts and equipment to ensure that you head off concerns before they become problems. 
  • Some parts wear quicker than others. Stay in front of these issues by keeping replacements for these parts handy. This is the simplest way to prevent downtime or delays.
  • Stay in touch with your installation partners, who can help you keep up with industry trends and ensure you know your systems inside and out.

Staff Shortage

The spike in consumer demands created its own issues for companies that sell products online. But on top of that, global worker shortages have made it extremely difficult for packaging facilities to process orders as quickly as they’re coming in. With fewer workers to carry out manual tasks, shipping delays are becoming inevitable. 

Although some are returning back to the workforce, staffing continues to be an issue for many companies. As a result, many packaging facilities are now looking to robotics and automation to speed up processes or fill in gaping holes. In fact, as many companies turn toward robotics and automation, we believe it’s becoming the way of the future

As staff shortages continue to plague many companies across various industries, there are a handful of ways to combat these shortages and reduce shipping delays.

  • Improve company benefits and perks.
  • Get help with recruitment.
  • Encourage opportunities for growth in the company.
  • Automate where you can.

Technology

Over the last 20 years, technology has been one of the most mercurial facets of material handling. The ever-changing technological front can make it difficult for facilities to stay up to date, which leads to inaccurate information and slower processing — which is ultimately what leads to delays.

But technology plays an increasingly important role in driving down costs and increasing speed and predictability within packaging facilities.

Practically speaking, there are a number of clear-cut ways you can leverage technology to reduce shipping delays:

  • Keep your current systems versions up to date.
  • Note parts and equipment that haven’t been replaced in awhile. Look for equipment that has improved dramatically over the years, and if replacement of this equipment makes sense for your business.
  • Monitor your parts and equipment a few months before peak season, so you aren’t caught off guard when the rush comes.
  • Maintain communication with your system engineers for them to analyze, review, and update your systems.

With the state of our global supply chains, it may not be possible to entirely eradicate shipping delays, but there are ways to stay proactive and mitigate those possibilities. While most shipping delays are caused by circumstances outside of your control, it’s never been more crucial to eliminate causes that ARE within your control.

And, the most significant way to stay on top of your game is to keep a body of support around your systems. 

Hiring a material handling partner can help you: 

  • properly analyze your systems
  • inspect your equipment
  • inform you of the potential improvements your facility
  • and most of all, help you to improve your processing systems on a consistent basis. 

If you don’t have a team of material handling experts on your side to help you streamline your systems, we would love to help you. Call us today at (844) 845-7580.

Turn-key Material Handling Services: What does it mean?

The term “turn-key” is tossed around quite often and has become a buzzword in our industry. But what does it really mean? And do most companies actually deliver turn-key services?

Though we can’t speak for other companies, here’s what the term “turn-key” means for Lafayette Engineering: we can handle any project internally from start to finish — from concept to implementation.

Essentially, turn-key services means we are a one stop shop.

It is the complete design, build, and installation of material handling equipment.

So what does our turn-key service process look like for clients? Let’s take a look.

Concepting

The first step in a material handling project is the ideation or concepting phase. Every material handling project is unique because each client’s needs and facility specifications are unique. 

Right after initial contact, we begin to draft plans and work closely with the client’s team to design a system concept that is built specifically to suit their facility. At this point in the journey, we provide comprehensive design consulting for our customers and truly become an extension of their project planning team. 

Concepting is not only applicable to new systems projects. In fact, any system can be customized, upgraded, or retrofitted for optimum performance — with a keen eye for integration, of course. 

The whole point of concepting is to generate new ideas — to redefine the possibilities of facility production output.

Once an idea is born, it is ready to be made.

Mechanical Engineering

The next phase in our turn-key service is mechanical engineering — where ideas are brought to life. Concept drawings must be done quickly to speed the iteration process, so when we reach this phase, our engineers refine the concept drawing by designing it to meet your facilities specifications. 

From storage/picking, waves, packing, order matching, and sortation, our engineers work with the client’s team to ensure the best possible design to fit the needs of the facility.

Seamless Collaboration

Bridging the gap between mechanical engineering and control engineering is where true turn-key services are a massive advantage. With both engineering teams available working together in-house, communication is smoother, fewer mistakes are made, and ultimately, the next phase is scheduled faster.

The Control Engineering phase is one in which many material handling service providers rely on subcontracting to accomplish — and thus, this phase is where many projects stall. But seamless collaboration between our mechanical and control engineering teams is a huge advantage for our clients.

Control Engineering

Undoubtedly, the most important aspect of any conveyor system is the control system. 
Control Engineering is a hallmark of Lafayette Engineering. Once the mechanical engineering phase is completed, our Warehouse Control System (WCS) software application, Conveyor Works, seamlessly takes over.

Essentially, Conveyor Works acts in place of a controls team for Lafayette Engineering.

Conveyor Works uniquely combines extensive electrical engineering capabilities with the latest in technology and control devices to improve equipment utilization, increase system efficiency, reduce operational costs, and provide flexibility with your material handling systems.

What truly sets Lafayette Engineering apart in regards to turn-key material handling services, however,  is that we have a fully UL listed panel design and fabrication center located within our main office. 

This allows us to have ownership over the quality of every panel required for any given project — and we don’t have to rely on an outside source. From small push button enclosures to large motor control panels, each panel is rigorously tested by our in-house electrical engineering team prior to shipping, to ensure craftsmanship and operational perfection. An in house fabrication center also affords us the flexibility to work directly with customers on timelines and adjustments to specifications.

Installation

When it comes to installation, repair, and maintenance of conveyors, a turn-key material handling project should provide engineering, mechanical, electrical, and construction services.

The installation process can be tedious, so it’s best to work with a team that has ample experience in installing, moving, and liquidating rack, tear-outs, and conveyors and has plenty of experience with many types of equipment. 

When it comes to wiring the conveyor systems within a warehouse or other facilities, Lafayette represents the superior choice in field-wiring material handling systems. We provide our customers with well-trained, experienced electricians, capable of performing the most complicated projects under tight time constraints. Having oversight from one place, ensures we are able to communicate effectively and timely during all stages of a job.

PLC Installation & Testing

When the system is wired and ready for PLC installation and testing, our engineers arrive on site — the same team that worked together on the initial design of the project. They will first test to ensure that we are receiving inputs and that the outputs function correctly. They arrive with a base code ready to be deployed into the PLC, but every job has to be refined and tested to ensure that each product is moving as it should through the system.

WCS  Implementation

During testing, the WCS team works closely to make sure each of your systems has the correct information prior to implementation into the system. After it is finalized and implemented our team will work closely with the controls engineer and the facility’s WCS to ensure that each team is sending and receiving the correct message and to ensure that every product delivers to the correct location.

Go Live & Beyond

It’s time. 

After months of work to get a project to this stage, it is finally here. Our team will be on site to ensure that everything works as intended. Even though we have tested it as hard as we can, we can never simulate true working volume and real life situations. 

This is the final mile. A strong material handling partner is with you every step of the way until the final mile is completed. To ensure the system hand off is seamless, our team will be there to train and properly hand off the system to yours. Even after our team does leave your facility, we are still with you every step of the way with our “1 year 24 hour remote support.”

We never suggest replacing your staff entirely with robots, because humans play an integral role in a production facility. Robots cannot lead, develop innovative ideas, or solve problems. We will always need the human element in warehouse operations — with robots assisting our endeavors.

Want to learn more about robotics? Give us a call at (844) 845-7580 and see how we’re working to help customers like you save time, money, and growth.

Are Robotics the Future of Material Handling?

Five ways that robotics and automation can propel your business into the future.

As the economy begins to open back up, many assumed that everything would fall back into place as it were, and our economy would continue to charge full steam ahead. 

But that’s simply not what is happening. Labor shortages, strained and chaotic supply chains, and many other issues continue to plague economic progress in the wake of the global pandemic. Unemployment rates in the U.S are still being heavily impacted as a result.

As the workforce has been slow to return to work, many in the field have been forced to wear multiple hats, taking on tasks that were previously not required of them. As you might be able to imagine, this has devastating effects on productivity. Fortunately, the future has arrived, and new technology has afforded us the ability to automate more tasks, and keep production moving with fewer workers. The answer? Robotics. As the labor shortage continues, many companies will be forced to explore the implementation of robotics and automation within their warehouses, in order to keep up with production demands and maintain the happiness and health of their employees

In this article, we’re going to discuss 5 ways that robotics and automation can help your warehouse keep up with production demands and propel their operations into the future.

  1. Save time. Robots can easily handle the workload of multiple humans while committing fewer errors. Front-end investment in robotics will help your facility get more done in less time, while simultaneously reducing your overhead costs. While we cannot (and should not) totally remove the human element from our facilities, robotics can serve as a wonderful compliment to human effort within materials handling, and will increase your output without increasing your payroll.
  1. Better Access to Data. Through connected automated systems, logistics experts and facility managers have access to many types of data – at a much faster rate — than ever before. This setup affords us the ability to call upon data from a central location, issue new commands to automated guided vehicles, and make adjustments to other connected machines, all in an instant.
  1. Greater Flexibility. A crucial competitive advantage for production facilities and warehouses is flexibility — especially in today’s volatile supply chain climate. Automated material handling equipment gives factories and distribution centers this advantage. With robots performing tasks continuously at high speeds, factories are able to adapt more easily to curveballs such as changing customer demands, peak season, and volume volatility.
  1. Cost-effective growth. As robotics becomes more common, they are becoming smarter, faster, and cheaper. An initial investment in robotics and automation capabilities will allow small to mid-sized companies to grow without increasing labor costs. The operational cost of a robot is around $2-$3, and by automating the mundane, repetitive tasks, warehouses are able to shift human effort to more complex and valuable responsibilities.
  1. Improved Workplace Safety. Automating dangerous tasks is not a new idea. Facilities have used pallet jacks and lift trucks for decades to reduce the risk of injury to their employees. In the same way, robotics are being used to handle hazardous processes or materials, which benefits employees and companies, both. 

In order to remain competitive, warehouses must begin to rely more on robotics and automation. We never suggest replacing your staff entirely with robots, because humans play an integral role in a production facility. Robots cannot lead, develop innovative ideas, or solve problems. We will always need the human element in warehouse operations — with robots assisting our endeavors.



Want to learn more about robotics? Give us a call at (844) 845-7580 and see how we’re working to help customers like you save time, money, and growth.

Pitman Creek

Pittman Creek

Modern Materials Handling Magazine Article by Chad Young on Scribd

During the height of a global pandemic, Pitman Creek, one of the largest distributors of freshwater fishing tackle in North America, opted to consolidate two former warehouses and operate out of a new state-of-the-art facility in Stanford KY. From the beginning, this project was an unusual circumstance for Lafayette Engineering, due in part to challenging lead times and protocols for covid-19. And one huge advantage: being in such close proximity to our main office. 90% of our workload comes from out of state, so being located 15 minutes from the job site gave us a few options we typically don’t have. The LEI team took on the Mechanical installation, Electrical installation, Electrical Engineering, PLC controls, Human-machine interface, and Warehouse Control System, and a fixed deadline fast approaching.

With two panels on-site, we worked with the Allen Bradley Plc. in order to control the conveyor system. Sick Cameras were used to scan the totes in the picking area and boxes in shipping. It was the first time Lafayette using the Balluf communication blocks but in the end, they seemed to be a solid solution. And using the Panther P9 to print and apply the labels. After scanning, Lafayette’s Conveyor Works was used to deliver the message for the PLC to divert to which. Going through the right-angle Narrow Belt we were able to achieve XX rate with the customer spec XX.

In all, this upgrade resulted in a 250% improvement in picking, managing 40 units per minute, with shipping handling over 20 units per minute. With the help of the Hytrol Integrator HOJ Engineering, we were able to meet the customer’s deadline and hand over the system prior to Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear officially opening the building in a ceremony on Oct. 28, 2021. This article from Modern Materials Handling Magazine highlights many of our triumphs in helping Pitman Creek to achieve its highest level of efficiency to date.

What to do with non-conveyables?

In the materials handling industry, we see a lot of products. From large boxes to small bagged items, we generally have figured out efficient methods to get most materials from Point A to Point B. But, as you’re likely aware, some items don’t play nicely with your standard conveyor system. These items, categorized as “non-conveyables”, are processed separately and often sorted manually. 

Here’s how FedEx defines a non-conveyable: 

“A shipment is classed as non-conveyable if it cannot be sorted on our automated machinery. Items can be deemed as non-conveyable due to their weight, size, packaging, contents or the potential to cause damage.”

These items can be too small for photo eyes to detect, too heavy to move across conveyors, or just too irregularly shaped to fit into a conveyor. The conundrum is that we simply can’t standardize everything. We create conveyor systems to handle the vast majority of products, but we simply cannot accommodate every size or shape at this point. Because of this, there really is no blueprint for how to manage non-conveyables, and they can create a logistical nightmare.

And, since non-conveyable items must be sorted manually, they can really slow down an otherwise fast-flowing operation. Manual sorting decreases productivity, requires dedicated labor, reduces the level of traceability, and often poses a higher risk for error.

So how should you manage non-conveyables?

Automation

First, it’s important to consider if automation is a possibility in some capacity. 

Can you simply move the parcel to another location in your facility that can accomodate? Perhaps a wider conveyor would solve the problem? Unfortunately, the more irregular a parcel is, the less likely it is that you will be able to use an automated system to move it. 

That being said, one of the most effective ways to handle non conveyable items is with specialized equipment. Specialized equipment is very helpful because it provides pre engineered take-away options that standard automation doesn’t provide. This equipment can significantly reduce manual effort, keep productivity consistent, and give you a bang for your buck.

Specialized equipment is extremely useful for facilities who handle a large number of non-conveyable items. If your facility deals with this often, investing in specialized equipment is a great way to speed up your processes and the investment pays off immensely in the long run. 

There is also room for partial automation in using a system to detect the weight and volume of the parcel. 

Human Intervention

Next, you’ll need to determine how much human intervention is needed. Expecting an automated system to handle every irregular item on its own is unrealistic for many facilities. 

Many items require some form of human assistance in order to flow smoothly through a warehouse, whether that’s physically moving the parcel to another side of the facility, workers packaging by hand, or an engineer manually controlling processes. 

The reality is, most automated systems just simply are not designed to handle irregular items, and we have to fill in those holes, somehow. Human intervention can be used to fill in the gaps that conveyors and other forms of automation simply cannot. When you cannot rely on your automated systems, the most important question to ask is, “how can we make it work as efficiently as possible?”

Transport

Here’s where managing non-conveyables gets a little tricky: transport logistics. Transporting non-conveyables will require much more coordination and deliberation than regular parcels. 

For example, smaller non-conveyable items, though irregular, may still end up packaged and on the way to a distribution facility. In contrast, larger items like appliances would be better suited to transport directly in trucks. Depending on how many non-conveyables flow through your facility, it can become quite the juggling act to balance average system intervals along with the extra assistance an irregular item can incur. If you’re not careful, transport logistics for your non-conveyable items can really drive up costs. 

Because shipment of non-conveyables requires a more hands-on approach, we recommend that you implement any necessary steps that will make manual processes more efficient. This can be special handling labels, ‘This Way Up’ arrows on the box, ‘Do Not Machine’ labels, or some other way to help speed the process.

Recap & Final Thoughts

Non conveyable items are similar to the end pieces on a loaf of bread; useful, and even necessary, but often we’re just not quite sure what to do with them. But there’s no doubt about it, “winging it” is not a great strategy for handling non-conveyables. Once you have a solid grasp on what’s necessary to handle your irregular items, you can put processes in place and your team will operate much more efficiently. 

  • First, always determine where automation is possible – in any capacity. Specialized equipment may help you automate handling in ways that your conveyors cannot.
  • Second, determine where human interaction is simply unavoidable. Many irregular items require some sort of human assistance to move efficiently through the warehouse.
  • Last, consider the transport logistics of your non-conveyables. 

Many high volume E-commerce facilities can attest to: there is an art to handling and managing your irregular parcels, but there’s also a “method to the madness.” If you give these items some thought and attention, you can create efficient processes just like the rest of your “regular” items.


Conveyor Works – A Warehouse Control System To Manage Your Operations

Any smooth-flowing system or workflow needs a “director”. The lack of a director, or control system, can lead to utter chaos. Here’s a real-world example.

Taking kids to school or going through downtown traffic can turn into complete anarchy. If there is no cop orchestrating the traffic or no traffic lights directing cars to stop and go, things can get messy very quickly. But when someone or something manages the traffic, far fewer accidents happen.

The same idea applies to your warehouse control system. In order to get peak performance, efficiency, and reliability, someone or something must be the “traffic cop” of your warehouse. 

A warehouse control system (WCS) is a software application that directs real-time activities within warehouses and distribution centers. And just like a real traffic cop, a WCS ensures that each of your conveyors, sorters and other pieces of equipment run smoothly, perform with precision, and maximize efficiency to avoid delays. 

A reliable WCS will ensure that you and your team are better prepared for planning and delivering, and it should also simplify your warehouse, lining everything up under a single point of communication. 

Take a look at the image below to see how WCS benefits your warehouse, your team, and your products.

Conveyor Works Services

There are many warehouse control systems out there, but not all of them are made equal. At Lafayette Engineering, we leverage the expertise of top engineers in the country to offer Conveyor Works, a software application designed to integrate and connect all of the moving parts in your warehouse or distribution center.

From a 30,000 ft view, Conveyor Works and any other WCS can help you organize your operations and keep things flowing smoothly. But here are 8 specific ways that Conveyor Works will sync up your warehouse and save you time.

  • Batch Picking
  • Consolidation -Put to light
  • Packing
  • Consolidation – Unit Sorter
  • Printing Sortation
  • Reporting Historical Analysis, Statistics & Productivity
  • System Alerts

Batch Picking

  • Batches can be separated into single item orders and multiple item orders
  • Configurable batch sizes
  • Simultaneous picking of batch sizes
  • Manage inventory levels and out of stock conditions
  • Picking can be accomplished using Pick-to-Light or RF scan guns

Consolidation: Put-to-light

  • Fast, high-quality order sortation
  • Space efficient & economical
  • Locations representing a store or a customer needing a scanned item will illuminate
  • Scalable so that the system can grow as you grow

Packing

  • Enable users to scan, verify, and close orders
  • Automatic detection of duplicate or incorrect items being packed
  • Interface with different shipping software providers to:
  • Reduce freight costs by rate shopping between carriers
  • Eliminate manual shipping processes and reduce errors
  • Provide delivery tracking service for your customer

Consolidation – Unit Sorter

  • Durable, versatile, and accurate high-speed sortation system
  • Sorts a wide range of products safely and gently to the right destination
  • Used to sort a large number of individual units to single store orders
  • Can be used to fulfill eCommerce or retail store orders
  • Items are dropped directly into a chute, allowing for fast packing

Printing Sortation

  • Printing of packing slips and invoices
  • Printing of carton and shipping labels
  • Apply labels to packages as they move along a conveyor
  • Verification scanner to ensure that the label was printed and applied properly

Reporting Historical Analysis, Statistics, & Productivity

  • The reporting feature allows you to view historical information on operations, increase your visibility to plant floor operations, and reduce your labor requirements and associated costs.

System Alerts:

Monitor real-time status, warnings, and alarms

The Conveyor Works Difference

Many of the integrated material handling systems out there require multiple business systems and dissimilar pieces of equipment to act as “nodes” on a network; communicating and collaborating with each other. However, the exchange of information between these “nodes” can be extremely problematic because many pieces of equipment operate independently, by design. What’s more, some “nodes” don’t even have the decision-making capabilities to respond in the time needed for item-to-item decisions. 

Our Conveyor Works warehouse control system is the “middleman”, allowing easier communication between your systems and enabling you to make better real-time decisions. We realize that unique situations create unique problems, and we want to ensure that our solutions actually help you do your job better. If Conveyor Works sounds like a solution that will greatly increase the productivity of your warehouse, give us a call today and speak with a handling solutions expert.


The Problem With Manufacturing Waste.

No doubt, by now, you’ve seen the big push that many major businesses (like McDonald’s) are making to reach lofty sustainability goals. This can create a lot of pressure for those in the supply chain to keep up.

But rather than seeing environmental sustainability as a nuisance, it could be an opportunity to save money, reduce your carbon footprint, and modernize your business — all while leaving the planet in better shape for the next generation.

Here’s the thing about your carbon footprint, though: 

Carbon emissions are only part of manufacturing sustainability. Extraction and production of metals to make new manufacturing parts account for a large portion of each product’s carbon footprint.

According to sustainability site Treehugger, much of the carbon emission of electronics can be traced to the manufacturing of storage devices, semiconductor, and PCB components, which can be found in many pieces of electrical and electronic industrial equipment.

In the infographic below, we’ll discuss a few simple ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint and help your facility become more “green.”

To read their full article of “Going Green with Obsolete Equipment for Manufacturers” check out Control Engineering here


If you are experiencing these signs, it’s time to upgrade your PLC System.

When your brain is functioning slower than normal, your body follows suit. When your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders, it’s nearly impossible to function at a high level.

Think of your PLC system as the brain of your facility. 

Your PLC system continuously monitors the state of input devices and makes decisions to control the state of output devices. Your PLC system also gives you the ability to change and replicate the operation or process while collecting and communicating vital information.

So, what should you do when your PLC system becomes obsolete? It’s such an important part of your facility, but knowing when to replace it can be difficult to spot. Then, as with any old hardware and controllers, determining a good time to replace or update your PLC system can be tricky. 

Should you wait until your PLC is on its last legs before addressing it? Probably not. Since many components are still backlogged by the manufacturers, buying replacement parts on the internet can be very unreliable. 

The decision to migrate to a new system doesn’t have to be a surprise emergency situation, you should be looking for signs of the times well in advance. Here are a few signs to keep an eye on that will give you a good indication of when it’s time to replace your PLC system.

The first thing to check is if your system is using Microsoft Windows 7 or older. Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 7 on January 14, 2020, so if you are still using that software, you haven’t gotten any updates in quite some time now. And running on out-of-date software can really slow down your production.

Since many PLCs are computer-based, using outdated software can hurt you more than simply slowing you down — it can make you vulnerable to cybersecurity issues. If you are still implementing software older than Windows 10, we’d recommend that it’s definitely time to upgrade your user interface, or HMI system, along with your PLC system.

The second thing to consider is, is your installation older than 10 years?  Technology has advanced rapidly in the last decade, and if your systems are more than 10 years old, you are missing out on technologies that could significantly increase energy efficiency. 

There are newer applications that can save you loads of time in the energy department. For example, the majority of PLC systems now rely on ethernet for communication instead of outdated serial communication. If you’re still using outdated methods and equipment, now may be the time to invest. Today’s cloud-based technologies give you more flexibility for remote access and a clearer, more concise way of communicating across networks.

Third, consider components that are at their end of life, or discontinued. It’s not uncommon that manufacturers will, at times, discontinue certain products that we rely heavily on. Such was the case with Allen Bradley PLC-5. 

Many facilities used this technology in their systems and when Allen Bradley began to phase out and eventually discontinue the PLC-5, we were left with two options: 1) Upgrade your system to be compatible with newer technologies, or 2) Continue to use the PLC-5 and hope for the best. 

Many discontinued components can only be found in obscure places online. Couple that with the fact that eventually, supplies will run out, it may be time to consider a total system migration. A decision not to upgrade may eventually hinder your ability to expand in the future.

Of course, there are many other reasons that could lead you to upgrade your system. Don’t lose precious time playing catch-up, though, start thinking ahead. Because being proactive about your systems is being proactive about your future. Proper planning now as part of your maintenance strategy will make the migration process easier, make expansion easier, and save you money in the long run!


5 Ways to Prepare for Peak Season

Are you ready for peak season? Optimize your facilities now for the fast-paced winter months.

Summer is finally here! For those of us in the materials handling world that means one thing- peak season is right around the corner.

Peak season is the highlight of the year — where the pace is fast, the sales are high, and we’re all wiped out by the New Year. But we love it. In fact, 40% of retail businesses say that half of their annual sales come during peak season. Summer is the perfect time to begin planning for the fourth quarter rush. The earlier we prepare, the easier distribution will flow during the holiday season.

To help you get ahead of the curve, we’ve put together a few tips for you. This article will help you hit peak season right in stride, so you can make the most of it and call Q4 a big win!

1. Start With An Assessment

The first step is to analyze what you already have, what you need, and what your budget will be for the year. Begin your peak season preparations with a clear understanding of what your facility is capable of. 

  • How much volume of products do you move out of your facility on a normal basis?
  • How much more volume do you anticipate during busy months? 

One thing that may slip through the cracks in your assessment is scanning percentage. It is so critical to make sure your scanners are reading at a high percentage before peak happens. As orders increase during busy times, you’ll be running at high speeds and moving more products. This is not the time to find out that your scanners aren’t capable of higher volumes. 

Another important factor of your assessment should be supplier relationships. Examine your supplier relationships now to determine whether you have a clear line of communication with them. As you go into peak season, you’ll want to be confident that your needs will be met if you get into a pinch.

2. System Maintenance + Stock Up Now.

Imagine you’re right in the middle of peak season and one of your key machines breaks down. The horror.

This is why updating systems and preventative maintenance is where you will find the most benefit from early planning. Now is the time to update your system and perform any needed maintenance — not in the middle of a holiday surge. 

One easy, but absolutely critical, thing to do is make sure you have plenty of spare devices. Lead times are still out of control, so it’s best to stock up for what you might need right now. Manufacturers are under immense pressure due to equipment shortages and with current lead times you cannot afford to have long periods of downtime — especially during peak season. If suppliers cannot guarantee to get the parts to you in a timely manner, place your order now. It’s best to be at the top of the list in this case!
Be sure to conduct a proper analysis of your entire system. We suggest you really look for small details like loose equipment, or seemingly insignificant parts like greasing components. It really is better to be safe than sorry!

3. Incorporate Automation To Fill Gaps.

For many businesses, it makes sense to add more shifts or hire seasonal temporary employees. But in some areas, adding more workers during the holiday rush just doesn’t make sense. So another way to add extra help in areas that are too small for more bodies is automation. This can be a huge help, as automated systems can run continuously, and generally without the human error element. 

Automation upgrades can cost a significant investment, but overall, the labor savings and simplification of your distribution process pays for itself end over end.

4. Consider Your Picking Strategies.

Different seasons call for different demands, and thus different strategies. 

For example, when approaching Halloween, customers may order several different types of candy as well as a myriad of decorations and costumes. This season leads to an increase in multi-line order fulfillment. 

In contrast, many retail facilities will promote a specific product for a period of time, creating a single line order spike. 

Consider the upcoming demand, so you can choose the appropriate picking strategy. Picking is sometimes one of the biggest cost factors, so it would be wise to develop a cost analysis that calculates whether it is more cost effective to ship items individually or consolidate items. Make sure your facility has the flexibility in place to ensure that all types of orders can flow without disruptions.

5. Learn From Last Year and Be Flexible.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s to always expect the unexpected. We’ve learned (some the hard way) that adaptability is a key survival component in 2021 and beyond — across every industry. 

Last year, there was a massive increase in ecommerce and retail sales, and 2021 seems to be following that same trend. 

So, what can you learn from last year?

  • What went right? 
  • What could you have done better?
  • Did you develop an emergency plan that you can build on?  

Maybe you just rolled with the punches last year and got away with it unscathed. Or maybe your equipment wasn’t up to speed with the new demand, and you struggled to keep up. Whatever the case, look back on 2020 and take notes. You want to be in a better position this year.

Rush season is going to be intense, there’s no doubt about it. The final quarter can make or break your business. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to preparing for peak season, the main takeaway is this: plan, plan, and then plan some more.

If you need help getting ready for peak season, give us a call. At Lafayette Engineering, we specialize in helping e-commerce companies move more products more efficiently, and we’re happy to help you move into the most important season of the year with supreme confidence.


Conveyor Systems: New or Reconditioned

(Which Option is Right for Your Facility?)

Photo Credit: https://hytrol.com/

Upgrading your facility is a big investment for any company.

Whether to recondition an existing conveyor system or invest in a brand new one is not an easy decision to make, but in the materials handling industry, it’s an inescapable choice you’re faced with at some point. 

There isn’t a broad, clear cut answer, as there are benefits and disadvantages associated with either option.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know, so you can make the right decision for your warehouse or facility, and ultimately, your business.

Reconditioning An Existing Conveyor Systems

BENEFITS :

Quick system Turnaround. Conveyor manufacturing lead times are longer than ever. Manufacturers have been under strain since the global pandemic started. Constantly changing protocols have posed new challenges to the shipping industry and have caused many delays getting products to their destination. 

It’s for this reason that there’s an advantage to buying an existing conveyor system — lead times for buying reconditioned systems are usually very short because the existing inventory is readily available. Often, the system is already fully equipped and ready to install.

Reconditioned systems can deliver higher ROI. The cost of buying an existing system is often significantly less than building a new system. If you buy a used system for half of the price of a new one and still achieve the same level of output, the return on your investment will be much higher. What you do with those savings is up to you!

DISADVANTAGES :

Time lost retrofitting an existing system. When you implement an existing system, you are purchasing a system that was designed specifically for the facility it was previously in, not yours. 

Retrofitting the conveyor to fit your own warehouse or facility could become quite time-consuming, as well as expensive. Unforeseen issues such as purchasing new material or building codes can arise quickly — and slow you down tremendously

No warranty. When you buy used, there is usually no warranty left on the system, which means any faulty components will need to be replaced out of pocket and you’ll likely have to troubleshoot issues on your own.

If buying an existing system seems out of the equation for your company, don’t stress. There are many advantages of building a new conveyor system.


Building a New Conveyor System

BENEFITS :

Get a system designed to your facility’s specifications. Choosing to build a new conveyor system from the ground up gives you ergonomic flexibility you will not get with retrofitting. Your brand new system will be designed specifically to fit your warehouse or facility. It will also be purposely constructed to operate with the product and materials your company handles. When you construct a brand new system, you don’t have to make compromises — you can build the system exactly the way you want it.

Shorter learning curve for your team.  One significant advantage of fabricating a system for yourself is that your team will already know the ins and outs of each piece of the system. An installation company will work alongside your team from the very beginning when building the system. This will simplify upkeep, leading to less interruptions during production, and more intelligent troubleshooting when something goes wrong. The planning of the system will ensure that it is compliant with current building codes, and maintenance teams will know what to anticipate for preservation. 

There’s a warranty. With a new system, all parts will still have warranties. If a component within the system is faulty, there is still the security of being under warranty. This will reduce out-of-pocket costs in the future for routine maintenance as well as any unanticipated difficulties.

Up to date technology. Fabricating a new system can ensure that your system will be at the forefront of the newest technologies within your industry. All components within your conveyor system will be built with these new technologies in mind. Newer models will require fewer updates, less often, and will already be functional for any materials and products you handle from the start. A recycled system may be antiquated and will thus require more effort to bring the system up to date.

DISADVANTAGES :

Longer supply chain lead times. During our nation’s current situation with the pandemic, manufacturer shipping periods have been slowed significantly.  Scheduling to have materials delivered within optimal windows of time may prove to be more challenging than ever. Some companies are listing manufacturing and transport times up to 12 months in advance. So if you are counting on a system anytime soon, waiting on materials could cause you to lose a large period of productivity while you wait for supplies. 

Overall higher cost. The most important factor to consider when building a new conveyor system is the overall cost. Purchasing a new system is quite expensive and you must factor in the additional costs of preparation and installation. The final tally here can be daunting for any company, and your business will need to establish your ultimate budget and determine if the ROI makes sense.

There are many other individual factors to consider when selecting which is best for your facility or distribution center. However, in the end it will depend on three things, your time, your needs, and your budget. 

If you are unsure which option is best for you, give us a call. Our experienced team will guide you in the right direction with your current situation, your future goals, and how we can help long term. Call to get started at (844) 845-7580 or send us an email at [email protected]