When purchasing a new roller chain, it can be tempting to look primarily at the upfront cost. You simply choose the best price, buy a whole bunch of chain and it's job done. Or is it?
The reality for many buyers of industrial chains is that, once you've factored in the ongoing operating costs, opting for a lower-priced option can actually end up being more expensive. What's just as important to consider is the total cost of ownership (TCO).
Different materials handling applications need very different types of industrial chain - whether that's maintenance free chain for when lubrication is an issue; double capacity chain to avoid overload failures; or corrosion resistant chain that's been specially designed for use in damp environments.
And it's often the simplest of solutions that can make the biggest difference. Take for example the length of chain that you buy.
Choosing pre-cut roller chain
Most roller chain is sold in standard boxed lengths which means if you need to replace a longer length, you then have to join two or more shorter lengths together, using slip-fit plates on connecting links.
But the problem with connecting smaller lengths is that the overall strength of your chain can be compromised - with some chains roller seeing a reduction in tensile strength of as much as 20%. You're also more likely to be left with unusable off-cuts that can significantly bump up the overall price of your chain.
So why not consider another strategy and opt for chain that comes pre-cut to the required length. If your drive or conveyor needs a 7.2 metres chain then it will be supplied exactly as needed - with no cutting required and zero waste.
Lube free chain is another roller chain solution that can have a higher upfront cost, but that can be more cost-effective in the long-run.
Think about your standard roller chain, which requires frequent lubrication. You're not only incurring the cost of the lubricant itself (bearing in mind that good quality lubricant starts at around £6.00 per litre), but you also need to factor in the application costs.
Many companies rely on manual application using highly skilled maintenance staff. But even an automated system feeding lubricant onto the roller chain needs replenishment and attention to ensure it remains carefully positioned so oil is directed into the roller chain's innermost links.
Replacement is the biggest single cost element in most roller chain applications. There's the cost of the new chain, the responsibility of organising and carrying out the replacement and the knock-on effects of operational downtime.
Low-cost roller chain that is replaced frequently is also more likely to have a higher TCO. Take for example the following case experienced by a waste handling company. A small length of 1 ¼ inch pitch roller chain costing £190 had been breaking once a month, resulting in lost processing time and a monthly cost of £1000.
Space restrictions made fitting a duplex or larger chain difficult - so the best solution was to replace it with a double capacity chain priced at £450. While the new chain was more than double the price of the cheaper option - it ran trouble free for a full six months.
It should go without saying that any reputable chain manufacturer will be using the highest quality materials (both plastics and metals) and that they'll be implementing the latest manufacturing procedures.
But you may find that true value comes from the manufacturer who thinks a bit differently from the rest.
So before you pick up an ‘off the shelf’ roller chain, make sure you've calculated the overall cost - and that you've considered the alternatives.
The best deal may lie in looking not simply for a high-volume roller chain supplier but in finding the one that can offer the most useful long-term solutions for your needs.
Opting for bespoke solutions to your roller chain needs may cost you more in the short-term. But over time you'll notice the benefits - with less down time, improved product performance and a significant reduction in your TCO.