As an ongoing effect of the global COVID pandemic, manufacturing lead times continue to drag. This, in turn, has pushed back project installations and commissioning timeframes for nearly every organization seeking to build a new or expand an existing parcel sortation, fulfillment, or distribution center (DC). As my colleague Nathan Swift recently wrote about, it’s not unusual for a project that used to take six months from receipt of purchase order to go-live to now take three times as long to complete.

In DCS’ engineering department, however, we’ve found creative ways to reduce the overall length of our customers’ projects. How do we do it? Essentially by refusing to re-invent the wheel with every material handling system we design. Instead, we’ve taken our years of collective design and engineering expertise to develop modules, or integrated collections of components, that are most commonly found in certain areas of a new or existing system. This, in turn, allows us to place component orders early in the design process.

Of course, each and every system is unique based on the multiple parameters that go into a material handling operation. Factoring in the objectives of the system, including desired throughput rates, package dimensions and weights, historic order data and much more, we tailor each design to meet the individual needs of a specific operation. That said, there are definitely system design commonalities that exist across repeat customer projects, industries, and applications — as well as general best practices in conveyor design.

Based on those commonalities, we’ve been able to create modules for key handling areas. We apply these pre-engineered modules already created in our design software to a preliminary project design based on our understanding of the customer’s system needs. This allows us to have a fairly tight system layout well in advance of a contract being signed.

Additionally, the modules themselves are not set in stone. Instead, they can be adjusted to accommodate any changes to the system’s length, elevation, turns, and other facility-specific needs. They can also be easily manipulated by the less senior members of our design team. This frees up our more experienced engineers to focus on areas that need more design work or a different, customized solution to address a less common handling need. This further shortens the overall design portion of a project, enabling us to deliver a concept to a customer much faster and reduce total project duration further.

Another area where we leverage commonality to shorten the length of each customer project is through specification of the components themselves. In creating the pre-engineered modules, we work to minimize the number of unique parts or part combinations in order to make acquisition of those items both easier and timelier.

For example, we collaborate closely with a variety of suppliers and OEMs to ensure that the components we specify are ones they are most likely to stock both for assembly and as spare parts, such as motors. It’s also easier for our customers to maintain the same motor deployed in 10 different areas. We’ve likewise made design adjustments based on part availability. If a project calls for both 3-horsepower and 5-horsepower motors, but it’s suddenly become extremely difficult to get 3-horsepower motors in a specific timeframe, we can — with the customer’s approval — modify the design to solely use the motors that are easier to obtain.

We also pair the pre-engineered modules with proprietary analysis tools that automatically generate a parts list for each. That enables our engineering and purchasing teams to assign a degree of confidence about the type and quantity of each part and component needed for a new project.

Because a significant portion of the parts list has already been created before the contract has been awarded and a purchase order cut, we can place the bill of materials (BOM) order with our equipment and components suppliers within 24 to 48 hours. That enables our customers’ projects to cut down on some of the time it previously took to place those orders, reducing overall project duration.

These are just a few ways the DCS engineering team has developed creative approaches to cutting project deployment and commissioning time in a challenging manufacturing environment.

Want to cut down on the length of your projects? Connect with DCS to learn more about how our supplier relationships can help keep your next material handling implementation on schedule.


Meg Culler Smith - Vice President of Engineering for Conveyor Solutions and warehouse automationMeg Culler Smith, Vice President of Engineering,

Meg Culler Smith serves as the Vice President of Engineering for Designed Conveyor Systems. With over 17 years with DCS, Meg is a crucial part of the team. She leads the DCS team of engineers who take the customer’s needs and turn them into reality through detailed validation and design. Meg is originally from South Carolina but has lived in Nashville for over 17 years now. She is passionate about cooking and nearly every outdoor activity, so you can often find her running, biking, or camping with her husband.