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Materials handling solutions - more than getting product from A to B.

Modern day output from food and drink factories demands more from materials handling system designers than simply moving product between A and B.

Today's systems have to combine high speed with reliability, product position control and exceptional operating efficiency; a complete handling system is often bespoke to one company.

Portec UK has been involved in materials handling for many years and has a strong base in the manufacturing and supply of conveyor bends and wire guidance systems. This expertise has now been extended into the delivery of complex system solutions through strategic acquisitions by the company over the past two years.

Portec Systems Engineering (PSEL) now offers the food and beverage industry materials handling solutions to unique problems in the post production processing and packaging of product.

A multi disciplinary engineering team offers a strategic service to take the customer from concept to finished solution whether for a complete new packaging system or the replacement and upgrade of existing facilities. Indeed through working in partnership with leading UK packaging companies PSEL can implement complete packaging systems.

Expertise in high speed control technology has led to bespoke systems for Portec clients providing levels of speed, flexibility and efficiency unmatched by equipment traditionally available to industry. PSEL uses computer control systems specifically designed for high performance applications.

In cases where output requirements are not served by existing machinery, the company's pedigree as a hardware designer enables PSEL to offer a practical custom design service. A range of proven Portec materials handling modules are incorporated into the design of systems as appropriate, minimising development costs and reducing project timescales. For example, PSEL has implemented robotic pick and place solutions over many years where projects demand such a solution.

PSEL's unique ancestry of system design and development, and the hardware manufacturer capabilities of Portec, gives the materials handling division an important role to play in the European market for handling and packaging.


As packaging machine speeds increase new problems of flexibility and efficiency are created for the up stream conveying and handling systems. Advances in the digital computer control of machines now enables Portec's systems to combine high speed, high reliability and efficiency, with the facility to make quick and certain changes to accommodate different product size, orientation and placement.

Portec Systems Engineering has successfully integrated the high speed orientation and delivery of product with the input requirements of the most demanding packaging and processing equipment. This position control expertise has been developed over many years. Such complete systems introduce the concept of in line "live" buffer storage that is an integrated system unit in its own right.

The basic philosophy is to look at each stage in the process as a module not only designed to carry out specific operations but to deal with a variety of imperfections in the product and its presentation to the next module. Thus each module does more than simply carry out its unit operation, it is also designed to restore order.

In each case there are carefully designed emergency and recovery strategies which are activated if things get out of hand. These strategies keep the system running and minimise stoppages.

These adaptive control strategies, developed by PSEL, result in a system that is simpler, more reliable, more compact and probably cheaper.

Over the past two years Portec Systems Engineering has gained a deserved reputation for solving individual handling problems, coming up with several innovative solutions. We have highlighted two typical applications overleaf to give you a flavour of the company's expertise.


A recent application involving Portec Systems Engineering demanded a feeder to transfer products, presented eight units at a time onto a crossfeed conveyor, to a carousel which places them in a container. Accurate presentation was essential to achieve high efficiency.

The feeder transfers the units past a vision inspection system at a regular pitch and into a queuing system. Units are then delivered to the carousel from the queue. The feeder is geared electronically to the carousel which determines the overall speed of the system which can run up to 500 units per minute.

A sensor generates a pulse for each pickup head of the carousel and a further sensor measures the position of each unit on the feeder. This information is used continuously to adjust the presentation of units delivered to the carousel ensuring a very high pickup rate.

PSEL also provided the position control system for the product supply mechanism prior to the feeder. In all a total of 14 servo axis motors were controlled by a networked control system supervised by a programmable logic controller.

Digital control and feedback systems enable the entire system to be managed smoothly with minimum wastage. An entirely mechanical solution would have been extremely complicated if not impossible.


A modern food processing plant has an output of 1000 items per minute. The challenge facing Portec System Engineering was to direct these products towards one of three flow wrap machines and to collate these into two stacks of three, to form a six pack, before they are wrapped into a completed package.

The finished system was divided into two elements. First, the main distribution system to the feeding legs and second, the automatic feeding legs, each of which queues, separates and collates the products before dispensing into the wrapper infeed.

Main Distribution System

A single conveyor is the link between the production line and each of the three automatic feeding legs.

Each product is diverted into one of the three feeding legs by a series of paddles on the main distribution conveyor. Each of these paddles can be switched between one of the two fixed positions so each product unit can be either guided across the conveyor or pass through undisturbed.

The first three paddles on the conveyor divide the products into three streams. Adjusting the positions of these and subsequent paddles downstream on the conveyor determines which wrapping leg receives each stream of product.

Automatic Feeding Leg

Once a stream of products is directed into a particular feeding leg it is split into two streams by a control guide on the conveyor. From here products are guided into four queues of units by dividers on a subsequent gate conveyor. Finally the units are stacked into four stacks of three, or two six packs, before being dispensed into the wrapper infeed. The completed system is robust and simple.


Modern food and beverage factories are demanding higher outputs from limited factory space. The decision to invest in a complete packaging system to match, demands that you involve a multiskilled team of engineers capable of making the system work first time. Portec provides that resource.

The final result from Portec Systems Engineering is a materials handling system capable of precise position control at high speed, that is simple to operate, flexible enough to incorporate product change, reliable, compact and cost effective.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Food Trade Press Ltd.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Portec Systems Engineering Ltd.'s products
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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