Ship Em Out! Keeping up with the Increase in Online Orders for 2020

By Jeff Bollman
Automation Engineer
Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co.

Dual conveyor lines for online shipping

A manufacturer of outdoor storage and home & garden products contacted Thomas Conveyor & Equipment explaining their on-line business had almost doubled in early 2020.

Their existing system was comprised of a slider bed belt conveyor used to process outgoing shipments. They wanted to add a second conveyor line to handle the increase in orders.

Conveyor line being installed

A Thomas Conveyor Automation Engineer provided a complimentary assessment and design consultation; prepared a conceptualized layout with a second conveyor line that would run parallel to the existing line, utilizing existing space, centralizing staff, and making the current conveyor set up more efficient and able to handle the increased output.

It was also recommended that the second line be equipped with a VFD (variable frequency drive) so personnel could adjust the speed of the belt to match the output needed. The second line would also be equipped with a photo-eye at the discharge end to stop the product when it reached the end of the conveyor. This would prohibit packages from falling onto the floor.    Another recommendation included the installation of ( e-stops), emergency stops, on both sides of the conveyor line at several points so that employees could stop the belt in case of an emergency.

Conveyor line for online sales

Thomas Conveyor was awarded the commission and installed the secondary conveyor line  (which included 30 feet of gravity conveyor feeding into 30 feet of slider bed belt conveyor).  The client was now prepared to handle their newly increased business as well as growth well into the future.  

The customer was so satisfied with the new conveyor line and its updated configuration, that they had Thomas Conveyor return to install e-stops and a photo-eye on the older,  existing line so that it too could be brought up to higher production and safety levels.

The client was now prepared to handle their newly increased business as well as growth well into the future.  The customer was so satisfied with the new conveyor line and its updated configuration, that they had Thomas Conveyor return to install e-stops and a photo-eye on the older,  existing line so that it too could be brought up to higher production and safety levels.

Thomas Conveyor & Equipment offers a wide variety of transport conveyors, including gravity conveyors, belt conveyors, and live roller conveyors. From a single component add-on to a complete automation system Thomas Conveyor will put our years of experience to work for your operation.

Conveyor used for online ordering

Be sure to contact a Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Automation Specialist for all of your material handling needs.  Call us today at 844 220 0086.

Pallet Flow and Overhead Storage For E-Commerce Distribution Center

By Mike Budz
Ergonomic Automation Engineer
Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co.


Thomas Conveyor was recently brought in by a client to help them improve their picking efficiency on fast moving SKU items. They had an existing pick module full of product pallets on their upper levels that could not be replenished fast enough. Thomas Conveyor visualized a solution by providing floor mounted, single level, magnum wheel pallet flow lanes.

The benefits of pallet flow racking is it: 

  • saves floor space
  • boosts throughput
  • reduces use of fork trucks, and
  • enables first in/first out inventory control management. 

After an automation solution diagnostic was completed, Thomas Conveyor engineers decided to provide twenty three single lanes of pallet flow conveyor. The pallet flow conveyor was anchored on the floor, side by side, in a straight run. Operators were able to push their picking carts down the run and pick product directly from the pallet. 

The lanes allow two pallets, up to nine pallets deep, of the same SKU to be back to back pitched off the floor. Each pallet flow lane is designed to have a pallet mechanical separator provide a gap between the pitched pallets. The mechanical separator removes back pressure from secondary pallets against the first pallet.

When the front pallet is empty:

  • The operator lifts the empty pallet out of the line
  • The operator foot activates a manually lever that allows the separator to release the second pallet to move into the first pallet position.
  • Once the secondary pallet rolls past the separator, it automatically resets and detains any new pallets placed on the flow line.
  • We also placed entry guides at the infeed of each lane to help the fork truck operator align the pallets into the racking lanes. These are both added safety features.

Prior to the Magnum pallet flow installation, when a pallet was empty:

  1. The operator had to stop operations to find a pallet jack;
  2. Manually move up a second pallet to the front of the line; then
  3. Flag and position a fork truck to bring in a new full pallet, which was dangerous in this high pedestrian traffic area.
    Each lane also had speed controllers, in the form of centrifugal roller brakes, that slowed the speed of the pallets moving down the line.

Each lane also had speed controllers, in the form of centrifugal roller brakes, that slowed the speed of the pallets moving down the line.

Once the initial pallet flow conveyors were installed, the next stage of improvement was to install overhead selective pallet racking above the new conveyor system.

  • The new selective pallet racking allows the client to instantly replenish the pallet flow lane when a new pallet is required.
  • We carefully measured the spacing between the pallet flow rails and installed uprights and beams that fit between the lanes.
  • Each bay of racking has a wire deck to support the pallet, as well as a bolted on pallet back stop that provides the fork lift operator with a guide. The back stop also provides an extra level of security to ensure that pallets do not over reach and get pushed onto the pallet flow system.

Thomas Conveyor provides turnkey consultation and installation for pallet flow systems.

  • During the consultation visit sales engineers will walk the floor with the customer to chalk up and measure out production lines to ensure proper fit.
  • We suggest the end user ship a pallet with product for testing at the factory before we begin the manufacturing process.
  • We provide a video showing how your pallet works on the flow racking and the satisfactory end results.
  • Thomas Conveyor will provide to the client an engineered AutoCAD drawing showing plan views and elevation views of the system designed upon accepted orders. This ensures your pallet rack system will be pitched properly and flows well.
  • This test is done free of charge for your benefit.
  • Once the pallet racking lanes are manufactured, our installers either union or non union, will deliver and offload the materials to the designated installation site.
  • Installation is very quick and most projects are completed in a few days.

Thomas Conveyor Sales Engineers are available to provide a complete consultation for any of your material handling automation needs. Give us a call and we can help to redesign or improve your existing or new pallet flow and racking systems!

Rolling with the Changes

By Clint Yonkers
Ergonomic Automation Engineer
Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co.

Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Company was recently approached by a department manager working for a large laminator/holographic manufacturer located in the greater Chicagoland area.  They needed assistance with an ergonomic handling problem for changing out impression rolls on their laminating machines. 

A Thomas Conveyor Ergonomic Engineer visiting their location to provide a consultation and solution assessment; based on the valuation findings he designed a custom ergonomic unit that could facilitate use on multiple machines. 

One of the ergonomic challenges presented was that the unit had to enter the process machines sideways with limited headroom.  This required the ergonomic unit to have very short legs and lifting masts. 

The task involved was directed semi-annually, but it is very difficult and dangerous to employees.  It involves removing a large roll from inside a rigid machine frame which is recessed 40” from the initial machine opening.  The roll itself is 8” in diameter x 43” long and weighs 350 lbs.

The client required a device:

  1.        Which could fit within the machine frame with the restricted headroom
  2.        Telescope a very thin platform under the roll
  3.        Lift it slightly
  4.        Retract it back to the platform
  5.        Lower the roll and finally
  6.        Pull away the lifter, platform, and roll all at the same time.

Please keep in mind, this is a simplified and abbreviated explanation.  The process is actually quite tedious and is repeated several times because the clearances are so tight and there are various obstructions.  However, at no point during the entire process is an operator exposed to any dangerous conditions.  With the new and improved ergonomic solution, they are no longer required to be under or around the roll during a change sequence. 

In conclusion, the modified lifter solution was able to roll up to and under the customer’s machine.  The platform is able to extend and retract, all while in the lowest vertical position on the mast.  The lifter was outfitted with multiple counterweights due to the legs being very short, and the load located on the outmost area of the lifter’s leg load center.  This custom lifter/lifting solution encompasses our traditional lifter technology, all while maintaining a very small footprint.

Custom Lift-O-Flex Ergonomic Lifter

Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Company is an authorized and factory-trained distributor of Lift-O-Flex™ ergonomic lifters.  As described above, these lifters are specifically designed and manufactured to suit each application no matter how stringent.   They are lightweight and precision-built, featuring a manual transverse and battery-operated lift feature.  Each lifter can be supplied with customized tooling allowing a host of different methods for grasping, lifting, turning, and rotating.

A manual foot-operated, three-position central brake system allows for the rear casters to be set at either a freewheeling swivel or locked for single directional travel.  These lifters are available in the standard powder coated/aluminum anodized construction or in stainless steel wipe or washdown versions.  

The next time you encounter an impossible product handling application contact Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co. for a customized solution.  Our Ergonomic Engineers and Automation Engineers have the expertise to help you with your ergonomic lifting application. 

Protective Employee Perimeter Guarding and Machine Guarding

by Mike Budz
Automation Engineer
Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co.

OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has been cracking down on warehouse safety in recent years, especially in 2019. We have seen several customers get a mandate from OSHA of “better protect your employees by ‘Date X’ or you will not be able to continue operations”. Besides the loss of operation time, in 2019 OSHA levied a new penalty for willful and repeat violations, at a whopping $132,598.00 per violation!

The question is how can you better protect your employees?
One simple and economical solution is by installing new perimeter guarding and machine guarding.

Thomas Conveyor & Equipment offers simple and economical perimeter guarding to be placed around any machine or area in your warehouse that may be unsafe for an employee to be walking or working around.  Nearly all of the perimeter guarding we offer is in stock; it also meets ISO and OSHA safety standards.  Our guarding per ISO Guideline 13857 can be installed as close to 8” to the machine/hazard.  This will save your facility valued square footage.  Our ability to tightly border your equipment is due to the mesh fencing grid, which is sized at 1-1/4” x 2-1/2”. The industry standard is 2”x2”, which we surpass,  allowing you to save an average of 25” of floor space! The mesh fencing is shipped in full length sections and cut to size in the field. This allows for field adjustability and changes, as well as a quicker install since no welding is required.

The entire product is made in the United States of America!!! Our standard, and in stock, posts are 2” x 2” with a 6” base. Post heights can vary with stocked heights of 5’, 6’, 7’, and 8’ tall. The mesh panels are finished in a powder coat black, while the posts are finished in a powder coat yellow. Additional custom colors are available.

Complementing the mesh fencing is a wide variety of swing and slide doors, based on the machine layout.  Standard swing door sizes range from a minimum 34” wide up to a double hinge of 94”. Standard slide doors range in size from 34” up to 142” wide.

Initially, a Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Automation Engineer will visit your facility to assess the layout and determine your caging needs. We will procure measurement of the areas needing guarding, interview, and work with your machine operators about access points, and compile our findings in an AutoCAD drawing showing the guarding layout notating access points, all free of charge.  We will also provide a detailed quotation based on the assessment, with suggested product, accessories and options.

Once the quote has been signed, Thomas Conveyor will supply factory engineered drawings for your approval. Signed and confirmed orders generally take between 1 to 2 weeks to ship, depending on custom requirements, etc.   Installation is quick and efficient; since Thomas Conveyor has dedicated mechanical crews experienced with installation of the guard fencing and can handle projects of any size.

In October 2019 a company approached Thomas Conveyor & Equipment and stated that OSHA had given them one month to get their warehouse OSHA compliant with perimeter and machine guarding. Thomas Conveyor Automation Engineers were onsite within one day to survey and provide design consultation and layout. We were able to provide multiple unique and tailored solutions, including custom double swing doors to allow for product chutes, as well as high post extensions, so fork trucks could clear the post headers to drop off and pick up pallets.

We were able to ship over 50 doors/gates, as well as roughly, 1000 feet of fencing with a two week time frame. We then put the crews to work on the install, working for 14 straights days, including Saturday and Sunday, to beat the OSHA inspection timeline. We were able to make the deadline to the customer's great satisfaction and allow them to pass their OSHA inspection with flying colors!

Contact Thomas Conveyor & Equipment today for a free warehouse guarding evaluation and for a custom consultation of a future safety perimeter and machine guarding project!

Protective Perimeter and Machine Guarding
Protective Perimeter Guarding Around Machinery
Machine Guarding by Thomas Conveyor & Equipment
Keep It Running: Let Thomas Conveyor Be Your Conveyor Maintenance Provider

by Larry Tarson
Automation Engineer
Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co.

Conveyor Maintenance

Maintenance Comes in Two Forms: "Before a Breakdown" and "After a Breakdown"

Often the cost of repairs after a breakdown is much higher than before a breakdown. If a pulley shifts and rubs a conveyor frame, an early adjustment or bearing replacement can prevent a hole being cut into the conveyor frame. This takes the conveyor out of service.  Production is impacted.  More staff is needed to manually handle the product.  In addition, you are at risk of staff injuries, such as back sprains, etc.

Thomas Conveyor & Equipment can provide maintenance on either a “Regular Basis” or “On Call Basis”.

If your employees are alert and notify you of differences or changes in your conveyor system, then maintenance on an “On Call Basis” may be cost effective for you.

Signs that your conveyor needs maintenance “Before a Breakdown”:

  1. If you see that a belt is rubbing a conveyor frame.
    Have it tracked.  If the belt runs without touching the frame, then it is OK. While the conveyor can operate with slight rubbing for a short length of time, long term rubbing will cause severe damage.

  2.  If you hear squealing or grinding noises:
    Schedule a technician to check it out.  When ball bearings fail, they develop flat spots.  Instead of rolling, they begin to slide.  Eventually the balls wear a hole thru the race (the part which holds the balls in place). Normally, squealing is not a cause for alarm if responded to early.  When squealing is ignored, first, you suffer the annoying high pitched noise during use; secondly, it heralds complete conveyor failure.   Once a bearing squeals, replace it.  It will not improve with continued use.

  3. If an incline belt will not carry a full load, then one of the following conditions may be the cause:
    - The belt requires tensioning;
    A key has fallen out of a sprocket;
    The lagging on the drive pulley has been polished smooth

  4. When the belt is loose, there is slippage between the drive pulley and belt.  Often you will hear a squeal. When a key falls out of a sprocket, there is slippage between the sprocket and the shaft. You may hear a squeal or have little or no belt movement. If the lagging on the drive pulley is worn, then slippage between the belt and pulley can occur under light loads, even with correct belt tension.  All require diagnosis and corrective action.   

If your employees do not pay attention to your conveyors and/or your in house maintenance staff has other responsibilities, then Thomas Conveyor can provide periodic maintenance and inspection. We will work with you to schedule a convenient time for maintenance services.

Let Thomas Conveyor be your expert partner in providing material handling equipment and maintenance. Call us at 708-449-2100.

Manual Processes versus Automation Processes, an Update in Productivity

by Bill Lisy
Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co.

Thomas Conveyor & Equipment was recently approached by a customer who needed to address a series of problems faced by many of our customers today.  The customer, a major supplier of packaged sauces and condiments to the fast food industry, was faced with rising costs, a lack of qualified job candidates, and a need to increase productivity.

Their existing process involved manually delivering stacks of pre-erected cases to each cup machine operator. The operator would then place an empty case in the fill position of the cup machine and once a case was filled push the case down a gravity conveyor line to a  tape machine. The process was labor intensive and productivity suffered. 

TCE engineers went to work to provide a design to automate the entire process starting with the front end. The first thing that needed to be addressed was their manual case erecting process.   The TCE automation engineering staff designed and installed a Wildeck mezzanine outside of their production room. It was determined that a Wexxar WF30 automatic case erector would be installed on the deck on the mezzanine. The mezzanine would utilize existing overhead space, and the Wexxar unit is capable of automatically erecting cases at a rate of 30 cases per minute.

The next challenge was to design a conveyor system to convey and deliver empty cases to each of the cup machines.  We designed a 24 volt motorized roller conveyor with zero pressure zoned accumulation and “pop-up” right angle transfers belts to divert the cases. The cases will be conveyed on the main “trunk line” conveyor and then transfer to descending gravity case accumulation chutes feeding each of the cup machines. The accumulation chutes utilize a pneumatic case escapement to allow one case to be discharged into the filling zone of the cup machines as a filled case is discharged.   Full cases are then discharged onto a 24 volt motorized roller zoned accumulation conveyor and travel to a Wexxar BEL 290 automatic tape case sealer.  The case is then conveyed to a top tier automatic palletizer. 

Contract Packager Looking for Quick Delivery………

by Jeff Bollman
Automation Engineer
Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co.

A contract packager approached Thomas Conveyor and Equipment (TCE) looking for a time sensitive solution. The packager needed several pieces of tabletop conveyor to complete a new Pouch-Fill line for a contract they recently received. The start date had been accelerated and they now needed a conveyor system in a three week time frame.

The customer provided TCE with a basic layout of their existing equipment. TCE then designed a tabletop conveyor system to connect several pieces of existing equipment, which included a pouch filler, check weigher, case erector, hand packing station, case sealer and finally to a palletizer.

TCE reviewed their needs, and customized a solution that included:
A 12” wide tabletop conveyor (12 GA, powder coated mild steel). 
Conveyors included adjustable guide rails to accommodate different size pouches
Extended LBP roller transfers to ensure smooth transitions of products (on and off the conveyor) and 
VFD’s (pre-wired and installed) to allow customer customization of speeds depending on product line and existing equipment run rates.

Tabletop conveyors come in standard 3.25”, 4.5”, 7.5” and 12” widths. These conveyors are available also available in a wash-down configuration or for use in a rugged shop floor environment.

Our fully adaptable tabletop conveyors can be designed for a variety of applications including transporting, merging, diverting, or accumulating products; they can also accommodate a wide range of processing requirements including, filling, labeling, and product inspection.

Tabletop conveyor features include:

  • Use in almost any production or warehouse environment
  • Durable construction ensures reliability
  • Industry-standard spare parts
  • Units can seamlessly integrate into existing production lines
  • Handles cartons, can, jars and bottles.

Be sure to contact Thomas Conveyor & Equipment, Inc. at (708) 449-2100 or visit our website at for all your material handling needs.

Tabletop Conveyor 1
Tabletop Conveyor 2
Tabletop Conveyor
Tabletop Conveyor 3

Industrial Steel Work Platform Mezzanine for Maintenance Access to Pharmaceutical Tanks

By Owen Toomey
Automation Engineer
Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co.

Industrial steel work platforms (mezzanines) are the best way to fully utilize existing overhead space so you can operate more profitably and efficiently. Your warehouse can gain valuable working, office, storage or manufacturing areas at marginal cost when compared to new construction and sometimes even with a significant tax depreciation advantage. Thomas Conveyor & Equipment can help you put this extra available space to work fast, with minimal interruption to your working floor area.

My customer,  a pharmaceutical company, needed a solution for operators to access the top of three tank vats for maintenance. I designed a mezzanine with a bolt-together construction to form a strong and secure unitized structure with heavy-duty columns and thick baseplates.  The structure provides rigid support while minimizing obstructive bracing underneath the mezzanine. The mezzanine was designed to be built around the three tanks.

After we received approval on the mezzanine design, my installers erected the mezzanine. I believe that safety is always the biggest concern, so I designed a custom gap plate around the three different size tanks. The gap plate was fabricated from 7 gauge steel sheets. I designed the gap plate to have 8 pieces per tank for easier shipping and installation. We fastened the gap plate on top of the bar grating with saddle clips. Engineering was completed on the plate to ensure that the operators will have a safe platform to stand on while accessing the top of the tanks for maintenance.

There are various decking options available including roof deck and resin board, bar grating, and others. Framing options available are:

  •          Bolted C-Section
  •          Beam and C-Section
  •          Beam and Beam
  •          Beam and Bar Joist; or
  •          Truss Girder and Bar Joist.

The different framing options have different load capacity and span size. They also have inherent advantages and disadvantages, depending on the application.

Contact Owen Toomey to discuss your new mezzanine application at 708-449-2100. 

  Custom Gap Plate for Pharmaceutical Tank

Push Back Rack Increases Warehouse Storage Capabilities, Faster Operations and Efficiency

by Mike Budz
Automation Engineer
Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co.

Pushback Rack allows your storage system to have maximum capacity while maintaining condensed storage and a small footprint. Pushback is considered a “Last In, First Out” style of storage, or LIFO.

Having a pushback system installed at your facility will save overall floor space. Instead of having fork truck aisles between rows of rack, these rows of rack can be condensed together.

Push Back Rack can allow storage of product back to back from two deep rows all the way up to 6 deep rows. Bays can either be single pallet wide or double pallet wide. The rack will have an inclined rail/track system the will start in the first position and will gradually pitch to the back rack position. Within this runway, there will be between (1) and (5) carts that are nested in each other. These carts will have wheels that are enclosed within the track, not allowing the carts to ever escape the track. Each front beam of the system will have a bolt on front pallet stop in order to ensure product does not fall off the system. The top cart will also have a bolt on back pallet stop in order to ensure product does not fall off the system in the deepest pallet position.

Pallets are loaded from the front of the system. The first pallet entered into the system will sit on the very first top cart. When a second pallet is ready to enter into the system, the fork truck operator will carefully push the first stored pallet with the 2nd pallet, which will reveal the second cart beneath and the operator will release the second pallet on the second cart. To unload the system, the fork truck operator will enter its forks into the pallet on the edge and slowly back up and take the pallet out of the system. The remaining pallets will then enter into the previous pallet’s position.  Thomas Conveyor & Equipment recently had a customer who needed multiple SKU tote storage. They had over 75 different SKU’s and needed to get product off the floor, which was their current storage operation.

Thomas Conveyor Automation Solutions Engineers visited the customer to discuss their needs and to find out what space they had, taking into account an overhead sprinkler system. After taking measurements and assessing needs and space allotment. TCE configured a custom push back rack system maximizing storage at the facility.  TCE’s custom depictions showed both a  plan view and an elevation view of their warehouse. Once the project was approved for purchase, we shipped a sample of the warehouse tote to our factory to ensure this style of tote would work properly on the push back racking.

Push Back Racking

Side View Push Back Racking

After product testing, it was determined that design modifications were needed.  TCE engineers provided a recommendation to change the cart style from Wire Deck to a serrated pallet grip support deck style. This was based on a safety feature that prevented the steel rim at the bottom of totes to slip within the cart.

Please contact Thomas Conveyor and Equipment Company for your pushback rack application along with any other racking and material handling needs.

New Solutions to Old Problems

by Larry Tarson
Automation Engineer
Thomas Conveyor & Equipment Co.

During our site assessments, we do case studies to find something that could have been done differently or more efficiently.  In a recent study on a job site, it was found that adequate maintenance clearance was not given around the center drive and take-up assembly of an existing conveyor system.

The original conveyor was installed early during the initial construction phase near 25 years ago. Time passed, and alterations to the area were made and floor to ceiling partition walls were fitted, with very little clearance given to the existing conveyor.   This made for difficulty in making modifications to the take-up, and only minor adjustments were possible.

The warehouse layout was such:  The conveyor ran the length of the receiving area to the stockroom. Alongside the conveyor was a staircase with a floor-to-ceiling partition wall. The client wanted to keep the wall, yet the conveyor needed to be replaced. The partition wall had to be opened up to remove the existing conveyor and install the new unit.

After careful inspection, Thomas Conveyor & Equipment found that two walls had been built: one which ran alongside the stairs and another alongside the conveyor.  The dead space between the walls was more than ample to provide the space needed for conveyor maintenance and upkeep.  The solution became evident; eliminate the extra wall alongside the conveyor to gain much-needed elbow room.   Tall side guards could be added to the new conveyor to contain totes and cartons instead of the extra wall.

Thomas Conveyor & Equipment submitted plans and specifications for the warehouse remodel and permits were required and obtained.   The city was satisfied that the work conformed to current codes and ordinances and we received approval to move ahead with the modification. Our subcontractors were properly licensed and since this was a simple remodel, complete architectural drawings were not required.

Thomas Conveyor & Equipment coordinated with the client to limit interference to his operations during the conveyor replacement, wall demolition, minor wall addition, and painting of the newly exposed wall.  

Our end result: The client received an updated operating area and a new conveyor which has space for service and maintenance.