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Modular conveyor systems setting a new standard for manufacturing efficiency. (Process Machinery).

With all the investments made in automation and other production line advancements in recent years, it is almost startling to realize that material handling via conveyor systems has lagged behind considerably in many manufacturing operations, despite the presence of more advanced equipment and methods.

Although some production lines continue to operate successfully using traditional fixed conveyors, many manufacturers with light and medium duty applications could benefit enormously, operation-wise and dollar-wise, by upgrading to more flexible, efficient and reusable modular conveyor systems. And the very latest modular conveyor technologies can make dramatic improvements on uptime. agility, overhead, ROI (return on investment) and other critical business issues.

While light duty and medium duty applications are somewhat elusive terms, generally they mean the handling of products or filled containers up to 20 lbs., and do not involve objects dropping onto the conveyor with high impact.

Modular is another somewhat ambiguous term. By definition, modular means "designed with standardized units or dimensions, as for easy assembly and repair or flexible arrangement and variety of use." Given that meaning, many so-called modular conveyors and accessories are actually sectional units or adaptable accessories, and may suit only limited production line requirements.

Such products, including special belts and flights, may indeed offer significant benefits. However, the benefits can become much more substantial when the entire conveyor system is designed to be totally modular. A Truly Modular (TM) conveyor system is essentially composed of the entire array of basic conveyor components, as well as accessories that integrate into the total assembly that can be serviced or modified using parts that are common to the rest of the system. Specifying a modular conveyor system that will provide the benefits required by the user requires some analysis. Dynamic Conveyor, Muskegon, MI, offers expert design and construction of modular conveyor technologies and Truly Modular systems. Time DynaCon conveyor line, developed specifically for light and medium duty applications, is a totally integrated design that encompasses the entire conveyor system, including a wide choice of interlocking modules and accessories--in essence a TM system. Those involved in the specification of light and medium duty conveyor systems should look for a number of benefits that can be achieved with modular systems.

Flexibility

Modular conveyor systems should offer a high degree of flexibility. Standardization of components is the key. With standardized modules available in a range of sizes and shapes, a modular system can provide manufacturers with important agility benefits. This is especially true to job shops and manufacturers who need to be able to retool a production line quickly to meet deadlines.

Also, modular conveyor systems allow users to reconfigure quickly whenever there is a tooling change due to product redesign. The ability to use various conveyor modules to customize the configuration of their conveyor lines may also enable users to fine-tune production lines to fit confined cell spaces, even allowing for ergonomic considerations for operator comfort and safety. If the system is TM, such reconfigurations or fine-tune adjustments can be performed in a matter of hours, instead of weeks that may be required to replace a standard fixed conveyor.

Reusability

The use of modular conveyor systems can maximize ROI by reducing or even eliminating the conveyor boneyard, where no longer usable standard conveyors gather dust or rust. While in some cases manufacturers are able to cannibalize motors or components from old conveyors in the boneyard, there may be some risk to doing so.

Modular design enables users to extend the lifespan of at least some of their conveyor equipment. A TM conveyor system provides the ultimate in ROI through continuous reuse, allowing virtually limitless reconfiguration through its standardization of modules and interlocking design. Modules not in current use can be inventoried for replacement or future system reconfiguration.

Lightweight construction

The old heavy fixed metal conveyor is a technology of the past, as far as light and medium duty applications are concerned. There are a number of advantages resulting from lightweight conveyor construction, especially if the system is modular. Examples include safety, ease of handling and added flexibility. Systems primarily composed of high-impact plastic, including polypropylene and polycarbonate flights, sidewalls and other conveyor components are becoming increasingly sought after by manufacturers. Lightweight construction also enhances system configuration choices, such as walk-under configurations or suspending the conveyor from ceilings.

Fixed metal conveyors are relatively heavy, and often require multiple motors to handle the torque requirements of long runs. Multiple motors mean added capital and service expenses. With lightweight plastic systems, a single motor may be all that is required to drive conveyors of 100 feet or more.

Non-corrosive and rust-resistant plastic conveyors with synthetic belts allow users to add water bath and wash-down applications without requiring expensive custom conveyor sections.

A plastic modular conveyor system also enables users to have an accurate system for detection of metal parts, and provides a more product-friendly material handling environment. To the degree that the system is TM, the benefits of lightweight construction are compounded.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Uptime factors

Downtime is a problem for any production line and, as a consequence, for a company's bottom line. Not only will reconfiguration of conveyor systems often cause downtime, but repairing a section of a standard fixed conveyor line damaged by a forklift can cause delays in deliveries and resulting contract problems.

Manufacturers using modular systems have the advantage of much quicker repair or replacement. Using a system with an interlocking design capability, such as in a TM system, operators can literally unlock and replace sections of the conveyor or accessory items within hours instead of days or even weeks. To minimize repair-time problems, an inventory of spare modules enables repairs to be made conceivably in a matter of minutes.

Ease of maintenance

Ease of maintenance is closely related to uptime. Most standard conveyors require lubrication, either due to continuous usage or after cleanups with water. Companies should look for a modular system equipped with a self-lubricating capability.

Another important advantage, lightweight systems, particularly the TM interlocking type, can be easily disengaged and pushed out of the way while production facilities are retooled, again reducing downtime.

Conveyor systems of plastic construction are much easier to keep clean than metal ones. Plastic can be cleaned with water or mild soap without risking rust, which may be very important in various applications.

Vital accessories

Modular systems that integrate with a wide choice of accessories can greatly enhance workflow and automation. Users of many standard conveyor systems design and fabricate accessories in house, often at relatively high expense. For example, cooling elements such as tunnels and baths are often constructed using plant welding equipment and commercial materials. Such conveyor accessories can be expensive and successful only through a costly and time-consuming trial-and-error process. More sophisticated accessory items, such as radius turns and ascending/descending conveyor angles, may be overlooked.

A truly modular system offers a wide array of accessories and special modules that completely integrate with standard modules, providing users with added configuration latitude, dependable performance and cost savings. Primary accessories can include such devices as cooling tunnels, separators and water bath tanks for cooling products carried by the conveyor system. Radius turn conveyors that flow flat, or on an incline or decline, provide for ascending and descending angles with bowl feeding and walk-under applications. Available electrical accessories can include box filling via counting machine cycles, electronic eyes for parts counting and placement, as well as electrical controls for indexing, reversing and cutting conveyor power.

Self-tracking belts

Conveyor belts can require high maintenance. Standard tensioned belts have a tendency to stretch, and need to be adjusted or replaced. That requires a certain amount of expertise that not all users have in-house. It also requires a special punch tool and insertion of staples.

In many instances, belts do not stretch evenly due to side loads or turns in conveyor units. The use of a self-tracking belt, available with TM systems, can eliminate stretching and other service problems.

Heat-resistant nylon belts can prevent nicks that occur when hot, malleable molded plastic parts are dropped from tile molding equipment onto metal belts. With a self-tracking drive system, many belts can run in the same drive path off the same drive, enabling users to add or subtract conveyor flights at any time, and change belts as user needs change.

This kind of belting provides customers with more belting options, allows for longer length conveyors, and provides the user with more convenience and ease than ever before.

Clean rooms

The requirement to meet clean-room standards has become increasingly important for manufacturers in the medical equipment, pharmaceutical, microelectronics, aerospace and other industries. Nearly all conveyor systems have problems meeting this standard due to the lubricants used on their rollers or dust emitting from variable-speed motors using brushes.

The primary need is to use brushless variable-speed motors. The other basic need is to use self-lubricating moving conveyor parts. This type of system enables manufacturers to step up production throughput.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Safety

In today's safety conscious manufacturing environments, there is still a risk of injury from heavy metal fixed conveyor systems. Many such systems have pinch points along the conveyor belt, where clothing or fingers may be caught in the belt or rollers, causing serious injury. Heavy metal conveyors have been known to fall, another serious safety hazard.

Plastic conveyor belts greatly reduce these hazards. There are no pinch points along belts or rollers, nor sharp edges. And if a section of conveyor should somehow fall, the risk of serious injury is minimized.

Consult an expert

Most manufacturing organizations have engineers and fabricators who have at least some degree of direct experience with conveyor systems, as well as other material handling systems. Naturally, they have certain ideas about what type of system they need from their experience, as well as reading trade journals and visiting trade shows.

But with the latest developments in modular conveyor systems, consulting a specialist can greatly enhance the final performance outcome for an application. Some users, especially smaller ones, will think that consulting a specialist may be somewhat extravagant. But it will pay off in ways that can affect a company's profitability, agility and future.
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Author:Sullivan, Ed
Publication:Rubber World
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:1689
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