Since 1925, Haband has offered a full line of men’s and women’s apparel and accessories to customers via direct U.S. mail and, more recently, the internet. The company’s distribution center, located in Eatonton, Georgia, spans over 500,000 square feet (46,451 square meters) of space. To process orders from its 500,000+ customers, the Eatonton center utilizes a fully automated conveyor and sortation system. The distribution center outputs approximately 24,000 products per day on average, and up to 35,000 per day during peak times.
In the distribution center, product orders are individually packaged in poly bags or cartons. A variety of package sizes and weights is handled, with package contents ranging from lightweight items such as handkerchiefs and earrings to heavier items such as shoes and sweaters.
At a two-to-one vertical belt merge on the center’s conveyor line, running at approximately 200 feet (61 meters) per minute, light and/or loosely packed poly bags caused frequent problems that led to decreased throughput. When traveling from right to left in the merge, these light packages would often drag against the vertical belt rail or hit the rail and spin. This resulted in side-by-side packages that either jammed at the merge point or caused no-reads at the scanner. These interruptions in steady product flow affected the spacing of the packages, which must be maintained for downstream scanning and sortation. Low-profile poly bags also often got caught underneath the vertical belt rail, causing line jams both at the merge location and
“Poly bags were getting stuck at the merge—the lightness of the bags and the timing from the two conveyor lanes were factors in the jams,” said Dean Perigard, General Manager of Haband Co.
The jams occurred so frequently that the distribution center had to staff one person per shift solely for the task of spacing out the bags and clearing jams. Workers were also needed for the essential task of manually sorting the side-by-side packages that resulted from the merge. Without proper spacing, the packages were in danger of being inaccurately scanned, causing them to be sorted to the wrong hub truck for shipping.
Finding an ideal solution to this problem presented a dilemma: the lightweight, loosely packed poly bags needed to travel on a belted conveying surface rather than on rollers; however,
belted conveying systems typically require rails (such as vertical belt rails and plow rails) in order to merge products from one line to another. What Haband needed was a belted conveying surface that could merge products together without the use of rails.
Haband first began its relationship with Intralox in 2007 at the ProMat trade show. There, Haband learned about Intralox’s unique Activated Roller Belt (ARB) technology that is used to automate a variety of package and material handling applications. While regular belts only convey products, Intralox’s patented ARB technology, without using complex controls, enables the belt to act on the product being conveyed. With built-in rollers set at an angle to the belt’s direction of travel, ARB-equipped conveyors have the ability to change the direction of an item, and to move items to the left, right, or center of the conveyor belt without the use of rails or any other devices that touch the product.
Because Intralox’s ARB merge solution offers a belted conveying surface and does not require any rails, it is an ideal system for handling difficult products like poly bags. Interested in exploring the potential of an ARB solution in its facility, Haband sent a sampling of its products to Intralox’s test center for in-house testing of the application. The tests proved to Haband that ARB technology was a unique, viable solution to its merge problems.
In January of 2008, Intralox removed the old merge equipment at the Eatonton facility and installed an ARB two-to-one merge. The induction merge efficiently merges both lines into one and gaps the products prior to sorting.
The Intralox merge solution proved to eliminate the previous problems that interrupted product flow and decreased scanner/sorter throughput. Because the merge works successfully and consistently, gapping between products is now maintained, resulting in fewer jams and a lesser need for manual intervention at the merge and manual sortation downstream. Haband increased overall throughput with Intralox technology, without accelerating the merge speed.
Haband reported that it has saved $45,000 with the Intralox solution. “We have had zero jams, and we’ve reduced the shipping department staff by one person per shift due to the new Intralox merge,” said Perigard.
Haband plans to continue working with Intralox as its facility expands to explore potential time- and laborsaving conveyance solutions for the future.
Intralox Australia is the local branch of the organisation.