The Deadly Dozen

12 costly conveyor maintenance mistakes.

Even though they depend on them, many of your customers don’t give much thought to their conveyor systems until there’s a breakdown. Then, a conveyor becomes a major issue—production stops, employees are idle, shipments are late, their customers are upset and your customer’s credibility is undermined. Here are 12 of the most common material handling system maintenance mistakes and how to help your customers avoid them:

Lack of regular inspections — In most manufacturing operations, production equipment receives the attention, but the products are what’s important in a distribution center. A conveyor system, no matter how basic or complex, is an “invisible” link in the total process. Making regular inspections of your customers’ equipment helps their employees better understand the equipment they are using and makes them more apt to take ownership of its care.

Missing maintenance records — Encourage your customers to keep a maintenance log on or near their system with information on what maintenance has been performed and the date, along with anything that should be watched. This can be particularly useful in facilities where there are several shifts. It’s also helpful if there is a change in personnel. Most importantly, it helps document the history of the equipment. Engineered Systems

Failing to take the temperature of motors and reducers — While motors may not have a fever, they can overheat. A temperature spike indicates that something is causing an overload. Explain to your customers that having to replace a burned-out motor during a production period means downtime, particularly since most facilities don’t have a backup supply.

Not adhering to OSHA standards — Many of your customers view a safe workplace as an expression of their values and a commitment to their employees and customers. Yet, because of the constant pressure in a production environment, they may be tempted to neglect equipment safety. Injuries are costly in time lost, the need to replace an employee and Workers’ Compensation expense. In many cases, investigation reveals that the cause of injuries is the direct result of missing safety equipment. Make sure your customers know what steps they should be taking and how you can help accomplish them.

Lack of adequate maintenance coverage — To reduce overhead expenses, end-users often have few maintenance personnel in their facilities. Then, when a maintenance person goes on vacation, there may be little or no coverage at all. A cost-effective solution is having an experienced and certified conveyor service person make periodic inspections and be available when inhouse coverage isn’t available. This will serve their need, and keep your company in their facilities on a more regular basis.

Inadequate parts inventory — As many folks often learn too late, certain parts may not be readily available when there’s a breakdown. It’s not appropriate to inventory every part, but there are certain key components—such as motors, couplings for line shafts, bearings and photo eyes—that should be kept on hand. Survey your customer’s conveyor system and draw up a list of key components they need, including part numbers.

Not learning from repeated breakdowns — In a distribution center, an ongoing pattern of breakdowns is a message that something is wrong. But, again, production demands often force end-users to perform quick fixes to get the line moving. Repeated fixes, however, should be an alert that there is a larger problem that needs to be investigated and resolved. Failing to do this will only result in more downtime incidents, additional costs and, worst of all, a dissatisfied customer. Making sure your customers realize the importance of proper repairs is key to keeping them up, running and happy.

Letting the little things slide — Similarly, it’s critical for distributors to make sure our customers know how costly repairs can be if small problems aren’t addressed quickly. For example, a photo-electric eye goes out and they grab one from another location to keep the line moving. Then there are air line leaks, and everyone wonders why the conveyor system is not accumulating properly. Nothing is done about it, and everyone adjusts to a now inefficient and dysfunctional operation.

Failing to care for the controls — Ignoring maintenance of controls can be disastrous. For example, switching scanners without recognizing that each one is programmed for a particular divert can create chaos. Also, lightning strikes can knock out a control’s programming, the result of not having a proper surge protection. Again, more downtime and costly emergency repairs. That’s where the distributor comes in. We have to make sure that we not only install a quality system, but that we teach our customers how to properly use and protect them.

Using a conveyor in ways it wasn’t intended — In warehouses this happens often. A need arises and a conveyor system is pressed into service without consideration of its capabilities. One of the most common examples is placing larger, heavier cartons on a narrow conveyor. When this happens, there is stress and wear on the entire conveyor, which will eventually result in a breakdown. Then, there are those times when changes are made to an air line that affect the slug release and the entire system fails to function properly. If a distributor fails to adequately explain the hazards of this type of behavior, then when a conveyor fails, they are equally, if not more, to blame than the person who misused the equipment.

Avoiding those difficult places — Wherever there is equipment, there are difficult places to get to, sometimes up high, around in back and most of the time too little room to maneuver. These are the breeding ground for expensive repairs and operational issues. It’s these places that are rarely (sometimes, if ever) lubricated. This is where you find loose chains and sprocket set screws, causing extra strain on the system and creating an emergency waiting to happen. Make sure you point out these potential hazards; your customers will thank you later.

Failing to train employees in conveyor operation — One of the major causes of unnecessary maintenance costs occurs when an enduser fails to train its conveyor operators properly. It is crucial that you impress upon your customers the importance of proper training. When welltrained, their employees can become the eyes and ears for alerting supervisors to potential problems. By knowing how conveyors operate, how to avoid their misuse and how to spot maintenance issues, employees become the first line of defense for minimizing problems and reducing costs.

While some may see it as “only a conveyor,” others recognize it as a critical link in meeting deadlines, getting orders filled and reducing overhead costs. Helping end-users avoid unnecessary mistakes with their conveyors is simply good business.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Thomas E. Betts Meet the Author
Thomas E. Betts has over 20 years of experience working with conveyor systems and currently serves as Installation and Service Manager at TriFactor, a material handling systems integrator based in Lakeland, FL and on the Web at

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