Choosing the Right Conveyor Supplier for Your Robotic Applications
by Dale Trudell, Vice President
, New London Engineering
New London Engineering Posted 05/18/2009
As in any industry, conveyor companies differentiate themselves by strategically focusing on specific areas like industries, products, services, or design.
When choosing a conveyor supplier is it important for you to know what the conveyor company’s strategic focus areas are. Since each robotic system is different, robotic integrators should highly consider forging a business partnership with a full-line conveyor supplier that specializes in building custom conveyor solutions. A conveyor company that focuses on providing custom solutions is structured and staffed to provide the products and services your applications will need.
Much like choosing your insurance partners, you wouldn’t go to a homeowner insurance company to buy product liability insurance, would you? Your decision on insurance is based on the company’s ability to provide you with the right products and services for your needs. The same thought process is true when choosing a conveyor supplier partner.
How do you determine if a conveyor supplier can and will actually deliver custom solutions? The following should be considered when making contact with potential conveyor supplier partners:
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
How does the company encourage you to come to them for quotes and with projects? Does the company encourage you to call them to discuss the project in detail or do they direct you to a quote request form or online quoting system? When talking to a representative of the company do they show interest in knowing more about the project or do they show more interest in training how they prefer to get quote requests?
Hint: Determine how the company encourages you to communicate with them, how well they are staffed and how they communicate back to you. If you are comfortable with their communication philosophies, you will most likely be happy with their products and services.
2. What is the Company’s Strategic Focus?
Look at the company’s advertisements to see what they are promoting. Typically, companies will prominently display what they would prefer to do with color, large print or another form of highlighting.
Hint: Look at the companies print advertisements, web page and printed materials. Is text similar to “custom solutions” highlighted and prominently displayed or are these words used to fill in space? The highlighted stuff in an ad is usually what the company does best.
3. Industry Knowledge
How long has the company been in business? Do their employees understand your needs and direct you to a specific solution or do they direct you to an off-the-shelf unit and expect you to know what modifications should be made to make it work?
Hint: Qualifying knowledge over the telephone is tough to do. You can, however, ask yourself during and after the phone call if you are comfortable with the conversation. Did they listen to the needs of my application and provide solutions to them? This is simply a yes or no answer! If the answer is yes, you will most likely be comfortable working with them on future projects.
4. Support Staff
Does the company support their words with qualified staff and the right tools to support their staff? Think about this. It is common for companies to say they want to be or do something but then fail to back their claims with investments in their people and appropriate tools to support them.
A good example of this is Home Depot with a slogan of, “You can do it. We can help.” In an attempt to improve their bottom line, higher cost, qualified floor help were replaced with lesser qualified, lower cost staff. When consumers realized there was no one in the store that could help them, consumers left in droves because they were not getting the support they were accustomed to.
In the end, Home Depot failed to provide the consumer with a staff that could help and failed to support their staff with the right training or tools. To their credit, Home Depot is currently in the process of reversing this scenario.
Hint: Determine if the company has the staff and tools to do what they say they can do. How? Call them and ask about the support staff, their training, tools, and the programs and policies the company has in place to help employees do what the company says they can and will do. Ask them about their product mix. What percent of their sales are custom solutions versus off-the-shelf conveyors?
5. Is the Company a Full-Line Supplier or do they Specialize in a Specific Conveyor Style or Industry?
Typically, custom solution providers offer a full line of conveyor models and all the manufacturing capabilities to provide options to modify an existing unit to meet the needs of your application. In the end, your product should ship complete with all the options and features needed to meet your requirements. You should not have to do any more work to the unit, or only be required to perform minimal work, upon its arrival.
Hint: Review all printed material to see if the company promotes full-line capabilities. Check your quotes from the supplier to see if all the options discussed are included with the unit. Take a moment and verify your conveyor expectations versus their expectations.
6. What is the Company’s Distribution Strategy?
It is important to determine how the company distributes their products. Some companies sell their products through distributors only. These companies expect their distributors to provide them with all the details to manufacture your conveyor. This process takes time and often looses details as information is passed through all the channels. There is also the distributors’ additional mark up.
Other companies strategically market their products through distinct distribution channels. Channel marketing took hold with the popularity and ease of the Internet. Companies have recognized there are ways to maintain loyalty to their traditional distribution channels and add new ones with little or any conflicts of interest to both parties.
Hint: Dealing direct with the factory will save you time, energy and frustration. Take some time to discuss the company’s distribution strategy in detail.
7. Again: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Custom conveyor suppliers will concentrate on listening to you and asking questions. It will be obvious to you whether they are listening or simply forming responses.
There are hundreds of conveyor suppliers capable and willing to sell you an off-the-shelf conveyor. Unfortunately, often times an off-the-shelf unit requires additional work to be done at your location or at a local fabrication shop. This scenario often adds additional costs, time and frustration to the project.
If you feel like conveyors in general are costing you time, money and frustration, they most likely are! Taking the time to explore a full-line conveyor company, one that focuses on providing custom solutions, can yield good results.
New London Engineering, an RIA Supplier Member, is a full-line conveyor supplier specializing in engineering custom and standard conveyors. Please contact Dale Trudell at New London Engineering, New London, Wisconsin, for additional information (920/982-4030 or visit www.nleco.com).