Warehousing chain: Beware of cost-cutting

05 March 2009

Robert Young of Tsubaki warns against choosing cheap warehousing chain and explains why he thinks it is far more expensive for the user in the long run. The fact that initial lowest cost for a component or system often proves to be the most expensive in the longer term has resulted in a concentration across all sectors of industry on the issue of whole life costs.

The issue is essentially a dichotomy, with the OEM on the one side, and the user, the other. The OEM’s objective, to achieve the lowest installed cost for equipment, whilst the user requires improved reliability and longer operating life.

The OEM is all too aware that quoting a high price can cost him a job; yet as experience shows things tend to go wrong sooner rather than later with equipment that is built down to a cost. Unfortunately, despite the many lessons, the cost down philosophy still appears to permeate levels of industrial supply, from bearings, to hydraulic and pneumatic components, drives, gearboxes and chain. What this means for the eventual end user of these products – probably a manufacturer or food processor or materials handling company with deadlines to meet – is a potential time bomb in the production or materials handling system. In today’s world, with downtime a key production indicator (KPI) this is clearly not acceptable.

Increasingly, companies are waking up to the fact that, to achieve increased throughput and realise the full potential of their existing assets, they must achieve improved production efficiencies. However, to achieve these efficiencies downtime must be minimised, which, in turn, means that a whole new approach of adopting components and equipment that might cost a bit more initially, but are fitter for purpose over the longer term needs to be adopted or at the very least its added value considered.

One area that aptly highlights this philosophy is conveyor chain. In the warehousing and logistics sector the predominant type of chain employed is BS specification chain. This often has a low up-front cost, so hardly anyone questions that it might not provide the best solution in all applications. Especially so with alternatives costing perhaps three times more, despite the fact that these alternatives can easily pay for themselves many times by providing up to 20 or even 30- times more operating life.

Often, the major issues with low cost warehousing chain becomes manifest when problems of chain elongation or even breakages occur. Whereby the chain supplier/manufacturer is not in full control of the key aspects of manufacture such as heat treatment, the manufacturing of vital component parts and quality control. The benefits of these solid manufacturing foundations become clearer when a chain is actually in operation.

With conveying applications using lengths of chain in pairs or multiple strands of chain, length tolerance is really important and no more so than for maintaining an accurate overall length tolerance in attachment chains of which many are employed in warehousing and logistics operations. Utilising lower cost chain not fulfilling key manufacturing criteria can hasten the onset of wear elongation resulting from the constant sliding friction that occurs between the vital component parts, bearing pin and bushings. This causes chain pitch discrepancies, which can necessitate continual chain adjustment and make frequent replacement inevitable.

In amongst all the factors that cause elongation, two of the most common are probably inadequate lubrication, and mechanical wear caused by debris retained in external lubricant. Both are major contributors to reduced chain life, and hence, higher product replacement and maintenance costs.

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