Category: Material Handling

May 13th, 2013

Trucks vs. Conveyors: The Smarter Investment For Your Operation

Material handling systems provide several potential advantages over haul trucks, including improved safety, reduced labor, lower energy costs, reduced maintenance, improved economics and reduced community impact.

Material handling systems provide several potential advantages over haul trucks, including improved safety, reduced labor, lower energy costs, reduced maintenance, improved economics and reduced community impact.

When it comes to selecting a material handling system, a number of factors must be considered, such as costs, safety, labor and environmental impact. As contractors seek to make every dollar work harder for them, it's critical they carefully examine how they are transporting material from place to place.

Material handling systems provide several potential advantages, which include (but are not limited to): 

  • Safety. Conveyors require fewer personnel to operate, reducing exposure to fewer hazards. Conveyors can include numerous safety devices, including chord switches, zero speed switches, plugged chute switches, etc.
  • Environmental. Conveyors operate quietly, can operate to enclose dust, and can be elevated or buried to be blended into the landscape to reduce community impact for unscarred, pollution-free operation.
  • Reduced labor. Conveyor systems can be monitored and/or automated from a central control system. Typically, the time required for maintenance of belts, idlers, etc. is minimal (eight hours/week is typical for high-capacity systems according to the Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association [CEMA]). Conveyor systems are well-suited for preventative maintenance programs including automated lubrication systems, automated warning systems to detect heat/noise signatures, etc.
  • Low energy costs. Electric power costs are more constant than liquid fuel. With conveyors, there is no need for idling in line or empty return trips, which is common with mobile hauling equipment. With conveyors, decline grade sections act as a generator and assist in propelling incline/horizontal sections, and in some cases, systems are completely regenerative. As the disparity between electricity and liquid fuel costs increases, the economic advantages becomes very dramatic.
  • Reduced maintenance. Material handling systems do not require expensive support systems commonly required with material hauling equipment. Conveyor systems requires only basic maintenance skills as compared to more sophisticated electronics and engines associated with trucks. Conveyor systems only require minimal inventories of spare parts (belt repair kits, rollers, etc.), which represents a minimal financial burden and requires relatively little storage space.
  • Improved economics. According to CEMA, overland conveyors are more economical than trucks beyond .6 miles (one KM). Beyond .6 miles the time/mile cost may be as low as 1/10 the cost by haul truck. Estimated operating maintenance cost/year for belt conveyor is 2% of the purchase cost, and +5% of the belt cost. On average, belts must be replaced every five years for hard rock applications and up to 15 years for non-abrasive materials. Well-maintained systems reliably operate at above 90% availability.

It's important to remember that overland conveyors do not require haul road maintenance expenses, which can cost $15-$20K annually for 3,500 feet of road. While trucks and conveyors typically depreciate at 7-10 years, conveyors can operate 25+ years. Conveyors do not require dedicated operators/drivers and can be managed by maintenance staff. And if additional hauling distance is required, conveyors can be lengthened, where trucking distance/cycle time is increased and additional cost is incurred.

It should come as no surprise that every organization in our industry is taking a hard look at their model as it relates to their material handling systems based on the current and forecast realities. As solution providers, we owe it to ourselves and to our business partners to embrace as much knowledge as we can. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact our in-house material handling expert Jodi Heirigs at jodiheirigs@kolbergpioneer.com or 605-668-2590.

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