Rules of the Roll

Industrial roll handling is a complex science. It requires equipment designers and installers to understand the best way to wind or unwind and transport rolls of material, how the material will behave in the process, and how to integrate roll handling equipment with existing systems.

Whether you design roll handling equipment in-house or have a machine shop or material handling vendor handle the project, without extensive roll handling experience, you may end up spending more money and time than necessary.

Selecting a company with past experience in roll handling equipment design, manufacture, and installation is important because of the number of variables involved. The average material handling vendor — let alone machine shop — may not have adequate experience when starting such a project.

Considering the high stakes involved, here are some “rules of the road” when undertaking your next roll handling project.

  1. Bypass Low-Ball Bidders

    As with any other bid business, roll handling vendors may low-ball the price to win a project or may unintentionally underestimate the complexities of the processes involved. Even ethical vendors that inadvertently underbid roll handling projects due to inexperience will run out of money. The question is: Will they run out on the job, leaving their client high and dry? Or will they go back to the converter — who is already on the hook — and require more money to complete the job?

    Jeff Holt, a mechanical engineer at paper converter Konica Minolta Mfg. USA, Whitsett, NC, says, “I've dealt with a lot of vendors, including material handling and machine shops. Many of them will give you a low-ball price to get the contract. You find out later on that they have cut corners to save some money, and you suffer from that later, possibly for a long period.”

  2. Hire Engineering Expertise

    Some companies may tend to use their own engineering staff to design roll handling equipment. Senior management may agree with that idea, hoping to save money. Or there may be the tendency to use existing material handling vendors or machine shops.

    For more complex projects such as roll handling, the vendor should be responsible for everything from submitting designs to installing and integrating the system, and then starting up the equipment. Having a roll handling equipment supplier with engineering capabilities is vital.

  3. Use Experienced System Integrators

    Roll handling equipment often must interface with existing equipment, sometimes involving systems the roll handling contractor did not install. It is crucial the systems interface correctly.

    Roll handling specialists provide extensive capabilities in that sort of system integration. They have a lot of experience in putting together the pieces of an entire plant floor and then connecting those pieces to make the entire system work automatically.

  4. Deal with Vendors That Know Your Materials

    Rolls present their own unique set of problems with transportation and lifting or conveying them — whatever is needed to handle them internally and/or package and ship them. These requirements are completely different than what is encountered with other types of material handling.

    The material itself can pose any number of problems, including rolling, rewinding, or transportation difficulties. Soft material, for example, often will wind on a roll loosely and when set down, may compress and create a flat spot on the bottom. Such rolls will not roll very easily on the production line.

    Other products, such as silicon release paper, are slick and therefore present winding problems. Lifting such a roll with a core gripper, for instance, could cause the core to telescope right out of the roll.

    Rolls from a cast film line may appear hard and uniform like paper rolls, yet the profile of film is not as flat as paper, so there usually are irregularities in the diameter of the roll. When rolled down a ramp, they tend to skew toward the side or become locked together.

    Those who have in-depth experience in roll handling evaluate all of these different factors before they propose a system. This requires them to be experts in a number of areas, such as mill roll handling and transport, roll handling for converters, wrapping, and preparation for storage or shipment.

  5. Confirm On-Board Talent

    With a wide variety of companies in the business of designing and fabricating custom equipment today, it is important to know that you are doing business with a roll handling specialist that has the necessary talent pool on hand. This includes mechanical and electrical engineers, systems integrators, fabricators, maintenance experts, and sales personnel. In some instances a roll handling company may have built a strong reputation over the years, but the people who built that reputation may have moved on to other companies or retired.

  6. Require Commissioning

    Beyond the design and installation of roll handling equipment, there is also the matter of startup. Not surprisingly, many smaller shops will beg off this responsibility, leaving the customer to handle any problems if the system doesn't work properly. A full-fledged design, engineering, and installation firm with roll handling experience, however, is willing to handle the commissioning of the equipment and any equipment they've subcontracted.

“I've had complex projects where there are multiple pieces of complicated equipment,” says Holt. “In those cases I choose to have one vendor be responsible for providing all of the equipment, rather than buying from five different vendors and then having me put it together. I'll have the main vendor buy everything and make certain that it all works together. You pay a little bit more that way, but you are assured that an expert is responsible.”

Your roll handling equipment is going to be running for years, so it's critical that you work with a supplier with hands-on experience and the engineering capabilities to meet your evolving application requirements.

Terry Benton is general sales manager for S2F Engineering, Blissfield, MI, a systems integrator and single-source supplier of roll handling systems, material handling equipment, and specialized machines. S2F has designed, engineered, and implemented roll handling projects for clients ranging from startups to industrial giants in a wide variety of industries.

The views and opinions expressed in Technical Reports are those of the author(s), not those of the editors of PFFC. Please address comments to author(s).


S2F Engineering Inc. — PFFC-ASAP 318.

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