The travel agents12 June 2012
Conveyors are expected to do more than get products from A to B, writes Lynda Searby. They have to be hygienic, energy efficient and ‘contactless’, as well as providing fast payback
Conveyors are the taxis and couriers of production and packaging highways. It is their job to deliver product to its destination intact and on time, avoiding bumps, jolts and pile-ups along the way. However, the current drive to reduce secondary packaging is making this job more difficult.
“Eliminating pads, trays and partitions between bottles and light-weighting containers means conveyors must support the base surface, but also handle the packs gently,” says Scott Shannon, global team leader of brew, beverage and consumer goods with Intralox. “This often makes bump turns and ram pushers obsolete. Producers must find a way to orient and manipulate packs ‘touchless’.”
It is no coincidence that some conveyor manufacturers are experiencing an upturn in demand for pressureless conveying systems, as companies look to protect lighter weight cases and vulnerable packs by controlling spacing and minimising contact during transportation.
“We are increasingly being asked to supply zero pressure accumulation conveyors,” notes Roger Pendleton, sales director with Astec Conveyors. “To this end, we have developed a zoned conveyor system that incorporates energy efficient 24V DC brushless roller drives. Each zone is controlled independently and only runs when required to do so. This saves on energy versus a conveyor system that runs constantly.”
In line with this trend, Swiss conveying specialist Interroll has expanded its Intelliveyor zero pressure accumulation technology to include belt conveyor modules. This modular range of products was previously focused on roller modules for conveying boxes and containers, but now also includes straight and curved belt conveyor modules for small, lightweight items such as DVDs, books and pharmaceutical products. The company says the complete spectrum of units from 50g to 35kg can now be conveyed cost effectively and gently, at low and high throughput rates. It says the closed belt surface also makes it possible to transport safely, and without pressure accumulation, products with soft or uneven bases that are unsuitable for roller conveyors.
This development also addresses a second trend, identified by Intralox: the need for end-of-line equipment to be able to handle smaller packs.
“Companies are introducing lots of new SKUs and many of them involve twinpacks, four-packs and six-packs. This often makes roller conveyors obsolete. Customers need a smooth, flat surface...this is perfect for modular plastics belt conveyor systems,” says Scott Shannon.
For Intralox, the growth in small and individual pack applications is driving demand for its DARB 90 degree sorter.
“While the DARB sorter was released several years ago, we have seen increased adaption of the technology in the last 12 months,” says Shannon. “This is because it handles very small products (75 x 51mm) at high speeds (up to 200ppm), yet has a very small footprint.
“Robotic integrators are using it to efficiently feed their palletising systems, and many beverage plants and breweries are using it for a high speed, space saving and cost effective reject divert.”
Swedish conveying specialist FlexLink, meanwhile, identifies energy consumption and cleanliness as two of the main focus areas for conveying technology.
“Energy consumption is an issue that is high on the agenda”, says corporate communications manager Klas Alander. “Even if the conveyors play only a small role in the energy consumption of factories today, the difference between conveyor solutions can be as large as 80%.”
He adds that increased hygiene demands are another strong trend, even for packaged products. “This follows stricter legal requirements, increasing consumer power and demands, and the ambitions of brand owners and producing companies.”
FlexLink has responded to energy consumption concerns with high efficiency drive systems for its X45e conveyor platform, which also includes mechatronic devices for diverting and merging products in a flow and is used in the pharmaceutical industry.
Last year, FlexLink also launched a new generation of stainless steel conveyors. Sales targets for the first year were met in three months, providing proof of the need for conveying equipment that combines cleanliness, production efficiency and flexibility, says Alander.
“Previously, producers had to choose between these features as the solutions available on the market could not offer them combined,” he says.
The modular conveyors are available in three widths: 85, 180 and 300mm, and three versions: wash-down, wipe-off and covered return chain. They are designed for use on production and packaging lines in the FMCG and healthcare segments.
Both the exterior and interior are engineered so that pockets for dirt or residual water after cleaning are minimised. In addition, cast stainless steel spacers have good cleaning and drainage properties and make the design robust, says FlexLink.
In the current economic climate, the ability to demonstrate payback through labour reduction has also taken on greater importance, to the extent that it is currently a requisite of every installation UPM Conveyors is being asked to quote for.
“Every enquiry we’re looking at currently only carries financial viability if it enables redeployment of labour,” says UPM sales director Roy Fowler. “Yes, companies want conveying equipment to be more efficient, lower maintenance and more hygienic, but only if it is going to allow them to save on labour costs.”
A project carried out by UPM for UK meat and poultry processor Pinnacle Foods illustrates this point. Pinnacle was moving production to a new purpose built 30,000ft2 factory in Alton, Hampshire and commissioned UPM to design the complete product handling system for the plant, which involved the transportation of meat and poultry from ‘goods in’ right through to bagging and packing. The meat processor wanted to see a speedy return on investment through a reduction in labour and increase in productivity for the 24/7, 3 tonnes/hour operation.
The UPM system has resulted in a 30% increase in production with a reduction of planned personnel, achieving a six month payback on the investment.
3D simulation software is also helping UPM to encourage companies to invest in new equipment, despite the economic climate. The software enables UPM to create 3D prototypes of conveying lines prior to building them.
CSL takes bottling hall to a higher level
Overhead transport is a feature of a new conveying system designed by Conveyor Systems Ltd (CSL) for drinks giant Diageo’s new state-of-the-art bottling plant in Leven, UK.
CSL was commissioned to design and supply a system to convey empty boxes from automatic case erectors in the palletising hall through to a number of lines in the bottling hall.
Empty cases are fed into the bottling hall and accumulated before being lowered via spiral conveyors adjacent to the bottling line. On demand cases are fed by vertically adjustable luffing belts to either hand packing stations for low volumes or ‘specials’, or directly through to automated packers. Some of the lines are fitted with tiered manual packing stations that were specially designed by CSL in conjunction with Diageo to provide infinite height adjustment while ensuring optimum ergonomic positioning for manual case packing.
After packing, full cases are coded and passed through checkweighers and case gluers. Various case sizes including the standard six and 12-bottle packs are handled, with some cases turned through 90 degrees to ensure accurate pack orientation for presenting the finished product in the ideal plane, either long side or short side for automatic coding. This was achieved by integrating twin-speed, multi-slat conveyors to provide a smooth controlled braking and slewing action to turn the cases. By inverter control from remote HMI panels, the multi-slat conveyor speed can be changed when necessary to feed cases straight through without turning for long face coding.
Full bottle cases are conveyed up spiral elevators, which to date total 54 as part of the various systems installed throughout the Diageo group in Scotland, onto high level conveyors to transfer back to the new warehouse and to the palletisers. The conveyors entering the warehouse are grouped together and mounted onto multi-tier supports to provide good platform walkway access and for maintenance to each line feeding the multiple palletisers on an ‘on-demand’ basis.
Accumulation zones are used to create a train of products to provide controlled feed from pairs of conveyors, each feeding a Krones RoboBox palletiser. Thereby, while one lane feeds the palletiser, the second can be accumulating more than a pallet load of cases with non-contact queuing for the following load.
According to CSL’s managing director Steve Graham, the new end-of-line system provides Diageo with a “highly efficient and flexible packaging operation, which can respond quickly to future changing demands and opportunities”.
FlexLink's X45e conveyor system has been adopted by the pharmaceutical industry FlexLink's X45e conveyor system Interroll's Intelliveyor zero pressure accumulation range now also includes straight and curved belt conveyor modules for small, lightweight items Interroll's Intelliveyor The system installed by UPM at Pinnacle Foods has resulted in a 30% increase in production with a reduction of planned personnel System installed by UPM Interroll's Conveyor Control technology is billed as an intelligent alternative to highly complex PLC programming Interroll's Conveyor Control technology CSL Diageo Leven, model 28: Overhead transport is a feature of a new conveying system designed by Conveyor Systems Ltd (CSL) for DiageoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s new bottling plant in Leven, UK CSL Diageo Leven The Intralox DARB sorter Intralox DARB sorter