Automated System Eliminates Manual Loading

Opening A Door To A Safer Manufacturing Operation

Automation Specialist: Scott Hartman

The Lowes Manufacturing plant in Thomasville, North Carolina, manufactures doors for Lowes Home Improvement stores.

The company was using gravity roller conveyor to transport stacks of doors to the packaging stations and ultimately to a forklift pickup station where the individually wrapped doors could be packed and shipped. The stacks of doors sometimes weighed up to 800 pounds and had to be manually pushed along the gravity conveyor by plant employees. To make things even more difficult, the conveyor had 90 degree transfers. Typically, when using roller conveyor, palletized loads can only travel in one direction. These 90 degree ball transfers required the plant to use plastic slip sheets underneath the pallet so that the load could make the 90 degree transfer.

Lowes wanted to do away with their existing manual equipment.

Most importantly, to Lowe’s plant executives, it was a potentially unsafe system. The company made the decision to look for a safer option. Enter AEC’s automation specialist, Scott Hartman. Scott was referred to Lowes through its packaging company, which supplied Lowes with the wrapping film for the doors. Scott, an account manager and systems engineer at Advanced, spoke with Lowes Operations Manager Mark Bailey about the issue.

“Lowes wanted to do away with their existing manual equipment and get something that was more ergonomically fitted toward the operators,” says Hartman. “They were manually pushing these loads down the long gravity line and, as you can imagine, it was a lot of work to push an 800 pound load down a piece of gravity conveyor.”

Eliminate manual loading and resolve safety concerns.

Hartman knew that they could design an automated conveyor that could completely eliminate the manual loading and ease Lowe’s ergonomic and safety concerns. However, there were some important challenges that had to be addressed.

“We had to design an automated conveyor that would fit in the same area that the existing conveyor took up,” he says. “It was a little challenging to get the correct heights and layout, but we were able to duplicate the layout while replacing the gravity conveyor with power conveyor.”

Hytrol 25CREZD with special loading zones and zero-pressure zoned accumulation.

Hartman and his team from AEC used Hytrol 25CREZD Conveyor with special loading zones and zero-pressure zoned accumulation for the project. The conveyor replaced the existing rollers with chain transfers, which eliminated the need for slip sheets, a major efficiency gain for Lowes.

Up and running full production on Monday morning.

It was important that the system be intuitive and easy to use. Hartman and his team were able to complete the installation over a weekend and have the plant 100 percent operational when they walked in on Monday morning.

“They did a similar project at an assembly plant in Tennessee,” says Hartman. “That project didn’t go quite as smoothly and there were some issues that had to be resolved. But with this project, they were running full production on Monday morning. There haven’t been any issues at all.”

Easing safety and ergonomic concerns.

Hartman and the team at AEC were able to not only give Lowe’s a more efficient system, they were also able to ease the safety and ergonomic concerns of the plant executives and free up employees who had previously been required to manually push the loads to do other tasks.

We should have done this sooner!

“The Lowe’s team has told me multiple times how happy they are with the final result,” Hartman says. “Their only complaint was that they didn’t decide to do the system sooner.”

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