Replacing Bits and Pieces of Warehouse Automation: Why Talking to a Specialist Could Save You in the Long Run

There’s an iconic TV commercial from the 1970s that illustrates the value of taking the time to do something right the first time (pay now), as opposed to later making significant repairs to correct mistakes (and pay MORE later). Don’t let this be your approach when it comes to “saving” money by replacing or adding the random piece of new or used equipment for your warehouse automation system.

Because—admit it—you’ve shopped for one-off new or used automated material handling equipment online or through third-party liquidators and resellers. Maybe you’ve even bought a few things … a run of conveyor, perhaps? It happens, often due to pricing—at discounts as steep as 75% off the original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM) list price—that can make the upside appear to vastly outweigh the downside.

But there can be a serious downside to buying bits and pieces of new or used material handling automation equipment to replace your existing components or to expand your current system. Several downsides, actually.

First, while you may be highly experienced with your own current warehouse automation system, adding in or replacing components requires a different set of specialized knowledge. Suppliers, consultants, system integration partners and vendors often have a broader background of project and installation expertise.

A warehouse automation specialist brings an intimate understanding of how certain pieces of equipment—whether from the same OEM or different manufacturers—can (or cannot) be synchronized to work together. Wiring and commissioning programmable logic controllers (PLCs), photo eyes, scanners and integral other control devices, as well as establishing an interface with host software are skills typically outside the comfort zone of most warehouse engineering or maintenance teams. Ensuring that a new or used piece of equipment functions as expected likely requires more functional knowledge than you have in-house.

Second, before considering such a purchase, check with a specialist to ensure that the equipment in question will actually work within the constraints of your current system. For example, perhaps you’ve decided you need to reconfigure your existing conveyor run to accommodate a turn or add a merge or divert, so you buy a used right-angle transfer or pop-up sorter section and put it into your layout.

But then, it doesn’t quite work as well as you thought it would. Only some of the products route the way you intended; the rest get jammed up, blocking the line and items fall to the floor. Associates get frustrated and elect to hand-carry boxes instead of sending them down the conveyor line. To solve the problem, you wind up having to call in a specialist anyway. Not only has money been wasted on the initial purchase, productivity has been lost too.

Third, be wary of equipment offered for sale online from a source located too far away for you to inspect it in person. A used system might be obsolete (new equipment offered at a steep price reduction might be obsolete as well), or lacking critical components that cannot be easily (or affordably) replaced. Frequently, obsolescence or missing parts aren’t discovered until the equipment is delivered or assembled. If you wind up spending weeks searching eBay looking for a critical replacement part to make your “new-to-you” equipment work, you’ve wasted your operation’s money (and your time).

Finally, not every integrator will necessarily be opposed to helping you source incremental additions of new or used equipment. In fact, there are some who specialize in retrofitting or modifying current equipment to adapt to changing operational needs. Operations with existing automated conveyor that have a change in throughput or product type, for example, might be able to add additional length or alter side frame spacing and/or height to accommodate the new process without a complete overhaul.

To summarize: If you’re thinking of buying used warehouse automation equipment, proceed with caution and consult with a specialist to make sure it all will work the way you intend. If you’re buying just a piece or two of new material handling automation, work with a specialist to ensure that the ultimate outcome meets your objectives.

Learn more about modernizing your warehouse automation equipment in this white paper. Or, talk to one of our warehouse automation optimization and retrofit specialists by calling 616.977.3950.

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