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Materials Handling Guide
Materials Handling Guide

Spending Small To Save Big In A Downturn

By David R. Gill, President, Flexicon Corporation

How strategic upgrades in bulk handling components can pay off in the short term

"You can't save your way to solvency" goes the business adage, but suggesting major capital improvements with long-term pay-out in tight economic times may send your co-workers running for cover. Prosperity can often be found between both extremes, where strategically placed equipment upgrades can instantly reduce or eliminate high overhead costs, particularly labor, making long-term efficiency gains of secondary importance.

In the business of bulk solids handling, two types of equipment stand out as short-term cost cutters. First is the bulk bag discharger for several reasons, the most significant being labor savings. It can eliminate the need for one to two laborers otherwise assigned to manually dump sacks and drums into a receiving vessel. And if it's the right bulk bag discharger, it can maximize labor savings by promoting material flow from the bag and complete evacuation with no manual intervention. Labor can be further reduced if workers no longer need to clean dust and spillage typically created when bag spouts are untied for discharging, and retied for removal. Longer term dividends include cutting downtime, increasing the rate of uptime throughput, boosting quality by eliminating bag scrap contaminants, saving on material purchased in 1000 to 2000 pound packages instead of 50-pound bags, and reducing material waste inherent with multiple paper sacks. Equipped with load cells and a controller, a bulk bag discharger can even weigh batch automatically with higher accuracy and capacity, and at lower cost than manual alternatives bringing a whole new level of capability to your plant, all at relatively low cost.

The flexible screw conveyor, that simplified device with only one moving part contacting material, is the other favorite for cutting cost over the short term. Compared with manual and forklift transporting and dumping of bulk material from packages, drums or other containers, flexible screw conveyors can reduce personnel requirements significantly, especially if the material needs to be measured gravimetrically or volumetrically. And simple level controls are more vigilant than we humans at keeping surge hoppers and other vessels supplied with materials being packaged or processed.

Compared with other types of conveyors, a flexible screw conveyor can cut cost right out of the box. It does not require the filters, cyclone separators, internal bearings, and numerous moving parts found on pneumatic conveyors, bucket elevators, rigid augers, drag chains, and/or aero mechanical conveyors—items that can push construction cost far beyond that of a flexible screw. Lightweight and compact, a smaller flexible screw can also be mounted on a frame with casters and support booms for in-plant mobility, eliminating the cost of multiple stationary conveyors.

Fewer components mean operational savings as well. A flexible screw conveyor has none of the internal moving parts, crevices, filters and other potential contamination sources that can trap particles, or prevent thorough, rapid cleaning. Simply remove the clean-out cap and flush with steam, water or air. The screw and outer tube are also removable for thorough wash down in record, labor-saving time.

Fewer parts also mean less to wear, break down or require maintenance. The only moving part is a rugged flexible screw driven by an electric motor. Indeed, many customers pay for their flexible screws over the short term through increases in uptime alone.

Pinpointing dollar-robbing areas of your process, and selecting the optimum type and brand of equipment to correct them, can provide the short-term financial gratification your accountants demand, and the interim process improvements you require until an entire system overhaul is in the cards.