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The art of conveying baggage.

The rapid growth in air traffic, and increasing passenger volumes, have forced airport operators to continually reorient their overall planning. Central to this planning is the understanding that an airport's baggage conveying system is one of the most essential subsystems in the overall airport infrastructure.

As a major component of contemporary infrastructure facilities, today's airports have attained a hitherto unimagined significance in transport. This will increase in the future with airports becoming not only multi-modal transport centres, but also trade and service centres for traffic, goods transport and communications.

Within this context, several new industry requirements will place greater demands on an airport's baggage conveying system, including:

* Decentralised check-in that will extend transport routes up to actual turnover to aircraft baggage containers

* Integration of baggage screening devices into automatic transport systems

* Integration of the flow of materials and passenger/baggage data

* The dynamic early-baggage storage system will become a basic element in baggage conveying systems

* Baggage sorting concepts will become crucial

* Short transfer periods for transit passengers will demand greater conveying speeds over long distance

Hold baggage now comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Soft baggage, in particular, such as rucksacks, is on the increase, a development which places great demands on automated conveying systems and their data acquisition functions. The volume of bulky baggage such as golf bags, baby buggies and surfboards has also increased.

Container conveying

Today, conveyor belt systems can handle almost all baggage items with dimensions of up to approximately 800 x 600 x 400 mm, and with a maximum mass of around 40 kg. Currently, however, the transport of such bulky baggage is usually manual, and highly cost-intensive.

Container conveying systems, however, are capable of effectively fulfilling this growing requirement. Containers for such conveying systems have dimensions of 1,030 x 830 x 330 mm, and it is also possible to employ oversize containers in the same conveyor cycles (at approximately 2,000 x 830 x 330 mm in size).

Container conveyor systems ensure not only gentle transport of soft baggage, but also high throughput and excellent transfer rates.

Airport operators have countered passenger growth by constructing new and often connected terminals and pier complexes. But, although airports are being continuously expanded, one stipulation remains - that is the need to maintain the transfer and conveying times of baggage, often over far greater distances.

Intelligent transport car systems, or Destination Coded Vehicles (DCVs) as they are known, can cover such long distances (often far more than 500 metres) with speeds of up to 10 m/s. These systems also perform sorting functions by virtue of the individual transport of each item of baggage in a separate container.

There are a variety of technical concepts embodied in today's DCVs. One approach is that of combining the `active conveyor line with the passive DCV'. Another is that of the `passive conveyor line and the active DCV'.

The actual selection of conveying technology is determined by criteria such as throughput volume, sorting complexity, the type of conveyor network involved, and fixed building/construction constraints. The prospective user must also relate these criteria to the individual DCV system to be implemented, and must evaluate the respective benefits.

It is important for airports to consider a baggage conveying system in terms of functional requirements, and control configuration requirements.

Two-level concept

The functions expected of a baggage conveying system cover essentially: the check-in of baggage, sorting and transfer; pick-up of baggage by passengers; buffering of baggage in a holding area; facilities for arrival baggage; and the provision of special workplaces.

Nowadays, the physical configuration of the control system is often found in the form of a two-level concept. The first level includes the field elements such as sensors and actuators, while high-performance group control units coordinate the switching, signal reporting, data acquisition, and monitoring of the kinematics of the conveyor elements.

The PLC systems available on the market optimally satisfy these requirements. In the near future, we shall surely see PC-based systems that can be reliably employed for the rugged operations of a baggage conveying system.

The assignment of function areas and function elements to a control unit is critical when designing a system so as to assure redundancy and ease of maintenance. It is possible here, for example, to provide separate open-loop control systems for each baggage check-in counter, for each collection conveyor belt, and for each baggage pick-up carrousel. It is also possible to combine several of these units into one group with one control system.

This aspect is essential for the operation of the baggage conveying system with respect to concerted, manual disposition of resources and for speedy elimination of malfunctions from the central control point.

The second level consists of supervisory and material flow computers responsible for higher-ranking operations entailing open-loop control, disposition, management, operator control, and visualisation of the sections of one or several linked baggage conveying systems. Such functions are implemented now on the basis of high-availability server systems provided by established hardware suppliers. The system software employed includes Unix, OpenVMS, and, increasingly, Windows NT.

The realisation of an advanced, integrated open-loop control system for a baggage conveying system is not possible without a stable, high-performance network. The required networks must be based on industrial standards for hardware and protocols, in order to ensure communication between the individual control sub-systems and the supervisory computer of the baggage conveying system.

Redundant networks

In addition, redundant networks are becoming increasingly necessary for reasons of safety and reliability. Such networks form the communications spine, and guarantee the unimpeded exchange of data between the distributed automation systems and the control centre (as well as with display and data-collection systems).

The integration of host systems - such as the airlines' DCS, the FIDS and so on - enables the implementation of a comprehensive, integrated information system with a common, logical data base.

As a long term investment, it is prudent to explore what kind of systems and structures are flexible enough to continue offering cost-efficient and reliable operation over a period of time. Certainly, baggage conveying systems can become obsolete technically, or may not meet the new requirements of airlines (driven by factors such as an increase in transfer passengers).

An upgrade may also be required for no other reason than the greater demands being placed on system productivity because of keen competition between airports.

As a result of such potential developments, it is essential to evaluate each individual module in the baggage handling process chain.

Certainly, considering the pace of change in IT, it is often necessary as an initial step in upgrading to change a system's control and computer technology (the mechanical components themselves, often with lengthy service lives, are not always of prime concern).

Upgrading a baggage conveying system demands thorough planning, not least because the modernisation of an airport's baggage conveying system must take place without interrupting day-to-day operations.

However, it is not always advisable to combine upgrading with expansion. Since the demands for the availability of the systems to be modernised are always extremely high for daily operations, the only solution to assure continued operations is to pursue a structured, phased process of replacement. Rather than drastic change in the existing concept, the key here is to use moderation and to pursue reasonable goals to enable judicious evolution in the existing baggage conveying system.

The selection of the control elements and products provides a new basis for an open system: one whose flexibility allows modifications in operational sequences in future years with a minimum of expense.

It is also essential to establish an experienced project management echelon consisting of airport operator and systems supplier. The objective here is to carry out the objective of replacing the control and computer systems, and to achieve the qualitative and quantitative goals of modernisation.


The basic and ongoing training of the staff responsible for operation, service, and repair of the baggage conveying system must be incorporated into the planning of these activities. This training represents an essential element in securing reliable operation of the upgraded systems.

For modernisation of a baggage conveying system, the airport operator should select a general contractor with the expertise required to carry out all tasks required. Such a solution can avoid the problems which frequently arise here, such as software incompatibility, great expense on the part of the airport operator for project coordination, and difficulties and arguments over the scope of responsibility in particular cases.

Top-level providers can assure satisfaction with respect to project performance, functional effectiveness, deadline conformity, project price, and quality - ideally all from one source, bringing crucial time savings and high levels of reliability in the operation of the baggage conveying systems.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Franz, Peter
Publication:Airports International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 1999
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