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Time is money

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World Cement,

When comparing imported conveyor belts with those manufactured by major European brands the price discrepancy is large, yet conveyor specialist Leslie David explains why this may be justified when considering the ‘whole life’ cost.

For most cement plants, conveyor belts are an indispensable part of the cement manufacturing process. They can also be a considerable overhead. The conveyor belt market is extremely competitive, something often signified by huge variations in the selling price of belts that are supposedly the same specification. No matter what price one pays, it is how long the conveyor belts last before they need to be replaced that actually dictates how much they cost. So, are cement producers getting the best value for money?

‘Price is what you pay, cost is what you spend’

It is fair to say that the ‘headline price’ of an item usually has the biggest influence on the purchasing decisions consumers make both in their professional and personal lives. In private life, it is usually simply a question of ‘can I afford it?’ but in business it is most often budgetary constraints that come first, followed by a number of other considerations. However, buying something because it is ‘competitively priced’ compared to other offers but which then proves to be unreliable or unsuitable can be a very costly mistake.

To calculate the true cost to a business, particularly when buying complex and vitally important components such as conveyer belts, it is first necessary to include as many other directly related costs as possible in the calculation. The ‘above the line’ price that is paid for a conveyor belt is one thing but the perhaps less obvious ‘below the line’ costs are what companies will actually spend. People who are responsible for conveyors will probably know how much has been lost in terms of volume when there is an unplanned stoppage, but they may not necessarily know the full cost associated with that lost output.

Not all conveyor belts are created equal

Although they may outwardly look the same, there are often huge differences between the performance of one conveyor belt and another, even when they both claim to meet certain specifications and international quality standards. Compared to other industries, the cement industry arguably places the toughest demands on rubber conveyor belts because nothing destroys a rubber conveyor belt faster than high temperatures. There are numerous, well-documented reasons for these huge differences in performance and longevity, but they are not always easy to spot at the buying stage.

Ironically, one of the best warning signs is the price. The biggest source of rubber belting imported into Europe is from China, which now dominates the market. The approach these suppliers use for the conveyor belt market is the same as is used for virtually every other industrial market, which is mass volume manufacturing at a barely acceptable (and often unacceptable) standard of quality at hugely subsidised prices.

It is not uncommon to see belts manufactured in Southeast Asia that are half the price of those being offered by European manufacturers. However, as with virtually any product, price ultimately determines the quality. In the case of imported conveyor belts, the difference in quality is invariably reflected in the need for repeated repairs, a general lack of resistance to wear and heat damage and ultimately, much shorter operational lifetimes. Indeed, all the evidence points to top quality European-made belts being able to provide up to four or five times longer operational lifetimes than those of their Asian counterparts. Their overall cost over their working life is therefore appreciably less.

Unfortunately, it is extremely rare for those who are responsible for purchasing and capital expenditure to understand the technical differences associated with the performance and longevity of a conveyor belt and consequently do not consider them. To be fair, they cannot be an expert on every product they are required to source. Trying to convince buyers and accountants can be difficult but it becomes a lot easier when they are presented with an argument that is based on factual, ‘whole life’ cost comparisons.

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