Richard O. Aichele reports on a new conveyor company that’s using innovation to jump ahead of the competition.
At’s called the rabbit by the innovators at Conveyor Technology Group, Inc. (ConveyorTech), says ConveyorTech’s president, Duane Smith. And it is the most versatile system on the market today. This innovation in the conveyor industry, the rabbit, got its name because of its appearance. “It looks like a rabbit,” Smith says.
But unlike the hare of folklore, this rabbit is beating out its competitors with speed and agility. ConveyorTech was incorporated in September 1996. Two weeks later Smith was joined by Mark Reid and the two of them set out to find a building. They immediately heard about a local fabrication shop that was closing down. “We went to look at the equipment, and while there, I asked the owner what his plans were,” recalls Smith. He said he was going to have an auction on the equipment and then sell the building. “I asked if he would like to sell it all as is, and he said sure. Six weeks later we took possession. Acquiring the 40,000-square-foot shop with 10,000 square feet of office space, complete with machinery and equipment, allowed us to start up immediately,” Smith says. Five weeks after moving in, ConveyorTech received its first order, which was to provide two turntables for GM Fairfax. In the next few months, Smith brought on board several highly experienced people in management, engineering, supervision and production, and together they quickly developed a good customer base.
“In our first full year of operation gross revenues were over $8.5 million,” Smith says, “and we are on track to reach our projected $19 million for fiscal 1999, which ends July 31.”
Innovations to Standard Systems
Conveyor systems used in large manufacturing environments are complex devices designed to carefully handle products such as car bodies while production line employees and robots apply components.
With traditional monorail conveyors, all conveyed parts are connected to a single conveyor chain requiring everything to move or stop with the motion of the chain. Power and free conveyors have been preferred over standard monorail conveyors for many years. Power and free systems use free trolleys to carry the load. These trolleys travel in their own track; and instead of being attached permanently to the chain, they are pushed along by a pusher dog on the chain.
The free trolleys can be disconnected or “de dogged,” from the chain without stopping the chain. Once disconnected, the trolleys can accumulate or transfer to other conveyors or other chains traveling at different speeds. These power and free conveyors are very versatile but also are expensive and complex. Carriers on traditional power and free conveyors generally require a leading trolley, one or more intermediate trolleys, a trailing trolley and tow bars to interconnect each of the trolleys. Smith notes this arrangement can cost up to $5,000 per carrier; larger systems have several hundred carriers. ConveyorTech had a better idea. It cut the cost and complexity of power and free conveyors with a new type system it dubbed the rabbit.
By utilizing the preceding carrier via the rabbit to actuate the accumulating trolley, they have eliminated the need for intermediate and trailing trolleys. “On a multicarrier system the cost savings can be in the millions,” Smith said, “plus the downtime and maintenance cost will be reduced considerably.” ConveyorTech currently has two patents pending for the rabbit system – one for the rabbit (secondary actuator) type system accumulating trolley and one for the design of a new stop.
Following is a list of some of the major advantages of the rabbit system:
- Fewer Trolleys
- Trolley Size
- Chain Size
- Space Savings
- Cost Savings
- Retrofit Capabilities
Although ConveyorTech pursues all types of conveyor projects, its primary focus is on the automotive industry and fiberglass manufacturing. Automotive plants shut down in July and December for the tie-in of new equipment, while in the fiberglass plants, major installations and rebuilds are generally in the winter when their production is down due to the slow construction period. Conveyor system contracts can take from one week to 18 months from initiation to completion of an installation, with six months being an average. ConveyorTech has been able to schedule work for the shutdowns and avoid cyclic business trends. To date, ConveyorTech’s largest completed contract from New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota in Freemont, Calif., was worth $5 million. It was the first system to use the patent pending secondary actuator rabbit system. The company currently has a contract with Navistar to install a system utilizing the rabbit. Current plans for this system are to use only one trolley per carrier, that being the leading or accumulating trolley.
Smith calls ConveyorTech’s management and engineering team, with a combined total of 800 years of conveyor experience, “second to none in the industry.” Having a union shop with highly qualified machinists, welders, fitters and other craftsmen further increases the company’s strength. Workers needed for conveyor installations are generally union labor hired in the geographic area of the installations and are supervised by ConveyorTech’s project managers and field superintendents.
The company currently is in the process of becoming ISO certified and is on track for certification at the end of this July.
Smith sees “a lot of business out there” creating major opportunities for the new company. ConveyorTech also has moved to secure offshore business. Smith completed negotiations in April with Yamakyu Chain Co.
Ltd. in Tokyo, Japan, to form a strategic alliance that will: (a) open Asian and South American markets to ConveyorTech (b) allow Yamakyu to provide fabrication to ConveyorTech and (c) allow ConveyorTech to sell many of the Yamakyu products in the United States.
The successful completion of larger jobs in the U.S. is opening more doors for even larger projects. But, says Smith, “One of the biggest challenges we face is to control growth. We certainly don’t want to bite off more than we can chew.”
ConveyorTech’s future growth in the conveyor industry will come from its emphasis on quality and installation of good workable systems. The rabbit system was an innovative breakthrough for the company in a business where new ideas are very few and far between. “Look for patent No. 3 in the next two months,” Smith says. “After all, the ability to develop new products helps make this a fun business.”