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The Tote bin - the unsung hero in logistics and supply chain!

Posted: 15 March 2021


Many conveyor system suppliers believe that plastic tote bins are the "perfect" container for conveying products.

There are many benefits when conveying totes such as they are consistent by way of dimensions and weight, meaning the conveyor system is easier to specify as the sizes are a known quantity as opposed to multi-sized parcels.

If not already existing and/or running on an existing conveyor system, it is important to know that besides coming in all shapes and sizes, tote bins can be either stackable (one bin sits on the rim of another), nestable (one bin slides inside another for better storage when empty), or both (reversed ends).

A flat base on the tote bin is imperative to its success of being handled smoothly on a warehouse/factory conveyor system and avoid issues with it slewing/snagging up.

Some of the moulding processes and cheaper totes do not have flat bases so it is important to ensure that the more surface area to come in contact with the conveyor rollers or belt, the less issues there will be particularly if the tote bins are being tracked on the conveyor system.

The flatness tolerance of the base should always be considered when specifying a conveyor system that will be moving totes as the less expensive design of tote bin can prove costly if it will not transport properly on a conveyor system.

To avoid issues, most conveyor system suppliers can supply or specify tote bins which would be compatible for handling on its own range of conveyors and ensure its suitability depending upon weights and sizes to be handled.

If the totes are existing, the conveyor system supplier will ask for samples of all the variations in size, shape and colour so their conveyor engineers can carry out suitability testing of them back at the factory to eliminate future issues once the conveyors are installed.

Conveying totes on an incline

In the event that the tote bins have to travel up/down an incline on a conveyor system, there are a number of factors to consider when designing the layout.

Most conveyor system installations that have to handle tote bins are designed to ensure that as the bins generally carry loose loads that can slide about the bin and possibly tip it over on a slope, the angle of incline should be reduced.

To avoid tote bins sliding down inclines, a belt conveyor should be fitted with grip-top belting. If the conveyor exists and has a smooth top belt, totes with a textured base should be considered which is moulded into the underside of the container and creates a rough surface that a conveyor belt can grip and handle easier. The tote bins could also be moved between floors on a spiral or vertical elevator

Additional Factors

Tote bins should have a continuous rigid rim or "bumper" around the top which is the part of the bin which comes into contact with another when on a conveyor system. The larger the rim, the less chance there is of one “riding” up the adjacent bin ahead of it particularly if accumulating under pressure and the weight of the contents vary somewhat.

Besides running well on a conveyor system, tote bins are ergonomically designed for any additional manual handling, easily cleaned and washed if necessary, and reduce the maintenance issues associated with corrugated cardboard dust.

It may be advantageous for the tote bins to have hand holes in them as it is then easier for order pickers to lift/slide totes off a conveyor when they need to be removed.

Many totes are designed for RFID tags attached to them as well as positions to fit bar code labels for tracking and traceability on a conveyor system and can be supplied with lids and security ties for safe and secure shipping.