Canadian Biomass Magazine

Consider ancillary conveyor costs in installation projects

November 14, 2022
By Biomass Engineering & Equipment

Photo: Biomass Engineering & Equipment

In any capital project, the project team prioritizes costs. They must. Management has given them a budget, and with it, incentives to spend as little money as possible while still meeting the project’s benchmarks. However, project managers sometimes unintentionally overspend on bulk handling systems, particularly conveyors. This happens not because they fail to identify the lowest-cost machines but because they don’t account for the ancillary costs of the equipment they purchase.

Determining ancillary costs isn’t as straightforward as gathering conveyor quotes. It requires project managers to A) know what those ancillary costs are and B) know what questions to ask their vendors to determine those costs for each piece of machinery. It may also require a project team to scrap the detailed, technical requirements and libraried designs they bid out to fabricators and instead rely on functional requirements bid out to dedicated conveyor manufacturers. In doing so, the team can compare the solutions expert manufacturers provide with their own design. Neglecting this step means the team has no point of reference to evaluate their own technical requirements to see whether they’re making the most economical choice.

And ancillary costs account for a large portion of the total cost of a conveyor. In fact, they can cost more than the conveyor itself, especially in a greenfield project. Consider just these five costs:

  • Engineering
  • Structural work
  • Civil work
  • Construction
  • Spare parts

These costs are not insignificant, especially for a large project. So, it’s surprising that many project teams don’t consider them more closely when selecting bulk handling equipment. Project teams often compare only the upfront costs but not the total installation costs, which can result in them spending more money. Worse, it can result in a busted budget.


Let’s delve into a few of these costs, beginning with engineering. Time is required, first off, to design the conveyor. The cost of such time is usually inconsequential to a project’s budget, as engineering firms usually have pre-made designs they can pull from, and conveyor manufacturers bake this cost into their prices, so unless the team requests a wholly custom design, it’s not an extra. But design is important because it affects how long it takes to integrate the conveyor into the layout of an industrial facility. This can add cost, even if it’s the cost of the project team’s own engineering hours. The more support components a conveyor requires, the greater the chances are that the team will encounter interferences as they integrate the system into a layout, particularly in a brownfield site. Those interferences take time to resolve. And time is needed to design the supports themselves, as well. So, conveyors with fewer supports are more likely to cost less in terms of engineering than those with more.

Structural components add cost to procure, too. For any significant span, the typical conveyor requires extensive trusswork, beams down the length of the conveyor, and vertical supports every 20′. Depending on the length of the conveyor and its height off the ground, the cost of the support steel itself can be more than the conveyor.

Not only does the steel add cost, but also the preparatory civil work. For example, a conveyor that requires vertical supports every 20 feet requires twice as many footpads as a conveyor that can span 40 feet between supports. That’s twice as much concrete and construction time the project team must pay for. Even a brownfield site may have spots that require prep work – up to two times as many. In respect to civil work, the advantages of the conveyor with fewer supports should be clear.

Of course, construction isn’t complete once the site is ready. And obviously, it will take more time to install a greater number of supports, so construction costs will go up thousands of dollars. Field pay for welders and other specialized workmen isn’t cheap, and placing the components takes time.

Besides the cost of constructing the supports, the conveyor itself can affect installation time. Consider:

  • How many conveyor sections can a crane carry?
  • Do sections bolt together, or must installation crews weld them?
  • What additional welding is required?
  • Must field crews load the chains?
  • How easy is it for crews to attach components like gates, conduit supports, and explosion panels?
  • Is the conveyor designed with target points or target areas for attaching to vertical supports?

The last point is notable because slight imperfections in how the tower’s concrete is poured can result in the tower being off target. Thus, if the conveyor is designed with only one point at which it can attach to the tower, crews can find it difficult to weld it to the conveyor, and delays will ensue. A target area, on the other hand, provides a wider area that the support tower can connect to, which reduces the risk that crews will encounter difficulties.

Even post-installation, there are costs to consider, spare parts being one of them. The reality is that some manufacturers aim to sell as many spare parts as possible because they constitute the business’s primary source of income. Thus, they build their equipment on the cheap. Even between vendors who don’t strategize this way, costs vary regarding how many and what spare components their customers will need. If the spares requirements are extensive, the cost will be expensive.

Finally, there’s the cost of risk involved with an installation. The longer it takes to install a machine – trusses, towers, and conveyors – the more likely it is that something will go wrong. And don’t forget the risk that the conveyor may face trouble or even fail at startup, something which is more likely to happen with a low-bid machine. Cheap conveyors cost what they do because they receive less attention and lack features that enable the more expensive conveyors to perform better. It’s a matter of quality, and less quality equates to a higher risk.

The cost of a conveyor is more than the machine itself. For this reason, project teams are at an advantage when they procure conveyors that need fewer support components because doing so lowers the total installation cost. Yet, even if it doesn’t – say a conveyor with fewer supports itself costs more than one that requires more – it’s still worth considering. The total cost for each conveyor may come out close. In that case, the team can choose the conveyor with the superior design without significant, if any, extra capital.

If you’re wondering whether all this matters – whether there are even conveyors that require notably fewer supports than others – then take BE&E’s SMART Conveyor as an example. Because SMART Conveyors are designed with 10 bends in their sidewalls, they’re highly rigid and require few structural supports. As a result, they can span 40 feet between supports without trusswork, cable towers, or I-beams running down their length. Their ability to support themselves cuts much of the cost of steel and dramatically reduces installation time.

Their rigidity further speeds up installation because crews can drop in 40-feet sections. This halves the time it takes to get other conveyors in place. The time is further shortened because SMART Conveyors arrive on site with chains preloaded in the conveyor sections. Installation technicians need only attach the links and then bolt the sections together.

The mounting design on SMART Conveyors also speeds up installation by incorporating 5-foot target areas for attaching the conveyors to support structures. Thus, crews can weld the conveyor in place more quickly.

As for risk, SMART Conveyors are among the most reliable drag chain conveyors on the market. They run so well, in fact, that plant managers have questioned whether other conveyors they installed afterward were working properly. Plus, we back them up with a one-year warranty against factory defects – a pledge to which customers can attest we stand committed because we want their future orders, and our company’s revenue certainly does not come primarily from spare parts orders, of which there are relatively few.

SMART Conveyors cut installation time, reduce construction costs, and lower the amount of structural steel the team needs to procure. They can get better conveyors and stay within their budgets – or even save money. SMART Conveyors make it possible.

Print this page


Stories continue below