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]

Helping E-commerce Companies Move More Products More Efficiently.

“Distributors struggle to increase their productivity levels. We design and install conveyor systems programmed to increase productivity and move your products more efficiently.”

At Lafayette Engineering, we design and install conveyor system controls for e-commerce distribution facilities, helping them move more products more efficiently. 

With the help of our partner companies, Southern Conveyor Inc. and Century Conveyor Systems, we are able to offer full services for every part of your project life cycle. From concept and design to engineering and fabrication, we can handle anything related to conveyor systems, offering turnkey innovations for Industrial Conveyor Integration. We can help you with Mechanical Engineering, Controls Design & Engineering, Mechanical and Electrical Installation, Human Machine Interference, and more.

And, we’re proud to share our warehouse control system, Conveyor Works, with you. Conveyor Works is a software application that acts as a regulator for your warehouse, ensuring that each individual piece of material handling equipment runs smoothly, performs with precision, and maximizes your entire plant’s efficiency.  

As a full-service provider, we keep everything in-house, which means we have tremendous control over the quality of every phase of our work. It also means that you save time sorting through quotes, get more flexible lead times, more savings, and faster installation. 

LaFayette Engineering Inc. was founded in 1989 by Bruce and Beth Robbins in Danville, Kentucky. Now, with locations in Ontario, California, South Plainfield, and New Jersey, we employ many of the top engineers in the country, and we’re ready to help you create the custom solution you need to scale your business. From East to West and everywhere in between, we want to be your first choice for industrial conveyor system integration.

We proudly provide our clients with the high-performing quality you may expect from very large engineering firms, while still maintaining the flexibility, adaptability, and affordable personal service that only a small engineering firm can provide. 

We realize that unique solutions sometimes create unique problems, and we want to ensure that our work with you actually helps you do your jobs better. That’s why each of our projects are backed up by 24/7 remote support with real people, not robots. We’re here to support your ongoing needs and we promise to never leave you out to dry.

Manufacturing lead times are longer than ever, don’t wait to update your system!

Call today for a Project Quote or Facility Consultation.