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Airport baggage receives an upgrade

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Most air travellers would jump at the chance of an upgraded ticket, but at Sydney Airport’s Terminal 3 (Qantas Domestic Terminal), it’s an upgraded baggage handling area that is giving passengers enhanced service. Earlier bag drop-off and higher reliability are a direct result of a new conveyor line installation, powered by energy-efficient drive equipment from SEW-EURODRIVE.

It’s a scene that is repeated thousands of times daily, in airports all around the world. Collect the boarding pass. Drop the bag at the check-in counter. Proceed to the departure lounge, sometimes with time to spare and sometimes in a last minute dash.

Not so familiar to most travellers, though, is the technology that delivers baggage to the aircraft once the items disappear from view at the check-in point. Behind the scenes is a sophisticated system of conveyor lines, sortation, storage facilities and controls, all designed to ensure that each bag proceeds efficiently to the right aircraft at the right time. By improving these systems, terminal operators are able to increase capacity, cut costs and improve service to their customers.

Keeping the conveyor lines rolling is clearly fundamental to the smooth running of the terminal. Consequently, choosing the most appropriate motors and drives to power the conveyors is a major requirement for any new system.

Martin Broglia, SEW-EURODRIVE Sales Manager NSW, says that in addition to reliability, energy usage is an important consideration for designers. “For these projects, the specifications generally require a solution that reduces energy costs. SEW’s decentralised technology MOVIGEAR® DAC, with its direct AS-interface communications, achieves this due to the high efficiency of all its components – gear unit, motor and electronics all within one product. And in turn, this shortens the payback period,” he says.

Automated bag store

As Qantas geared up for the end-of-year rush in 2013, Bill Mason, Projects Manager at ICM Airport Technics Australia, oversaw the design and installation of such a baggage handling upgrade in one of the airport’s busiest departure terminals. ICM chose the latest version MOVIGEAR® DAC drive system from SEW-EURODRIVE for the upgrade, based on its power saving features and reduced requirements for spares holding.

Following the upgrade, the resulting increase in capacity has dramatically increased throughput at the terminal. This has contributed to facilitating the Qantas Group moving the operations of QantasLink from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3, within the existing building’s constraints.

Key to the increased capacity was the installation of an automated bag store. Mason says that because of the new storage facilities, which can accommodate 200 bags at a time, capacity has been extended to over 10,000 bags per day. Bags that have been checked in well before flight time are held in the new automated bag store on ‘early arrival’ conveyor lanes. There are a number of ways of configuring automated bag stores at airports. “We use standard conveyors, with bags packed tightly together on storage lanes using smart technology,” says Mason.

At the departure point the baggage is placed in unit load devices (ULDs), which are the aluminium containers familiar to passengers who watch their baggage brought out on trolleys and loaded in to the aircraft hold. The new storage facilities include an integrated batch building ball deck, consisting of a large array of steel balls that can rotate in any direction. The ball deck allows the ULDs to be positioned easily, both for storage and in readiness for assembly for the appropriate flight. This also allows pre-loading of batches of bags into ULDs well before flight departure.

Prior to the upgrade, early arrival bags were manually removed from the conveyors, stored on a trolley, and then manually returned to the conveyors in time for departure. “It was a lot more handling,” says Mason. “In fact, each item would be handled three times instead of once.”

In addition to the automated bag store, the upgrade included a set of general improvements, with ICM’s team replacing the high level control and SCADA systems. As a result of the upgrade, and the ability to temporarily store the bags in a fully automated bag storage area, baggage handling supervisors can accurately call the bags down to the handlers in a controlled and precise manner.

The supervisors can see how many bags are in the store for each flight and, while the store will automatically eject the bags according to their flight times, the supervisors can override the auto setting and call bags down in batches to specific destinations. This gives them far greater control and also means that the double handling of early bags is greatly reduced. In essence, this gives the supervisors the ability to tightly manage the baggage system and making the whole process far more efficient.

Driving the improvements

With more than 10,000 bags being handled each day, reliability of the conveyor system is all important. To keep the conveyors rolling, ICM required around 100 of the MOVIGEAR® DAC drive units.

The design calculations confirmed a short payback period for the drives, which combine the motor, gears and drive electronics within a single unit and provide control communications via a standard AS-interface. This high level of integration resulted in fewer components being necessary for the conveyor system. In turn, this led to the reduction in spare parts requirements and a corresponding increase in the calculated availability figures.

Designed for maximum energy efficiency, the selected drives provide up to 50 per cent improvement over traditional systems. “Power consumption is very important for these projects. Power costs money. Both the calculations and results for the drives have been fantastic to date,” says Mason. “Delivery time was an important factor in the project too. SEW bettered their delivery time estimate, which helps immensely on tight project timelines.”

Tuning the system

Drawing on extensive experience with similar projects, SEW-EURODRIVE assisted during the design phase by specifying the size of the units required and working with ICM Airport Technics Australia’s engineers to optimise the system design. Mason’s team then carried out ‘whole of system’ tuning to maximise the throughput of the new baggage handling system. “There’s no point achieving a rate of 100 items per minute in one area when another area can only do 20. You need to tune the whole system for maximum throughput,” he says.

To tune the new baggage handling system, ICM’s team used emulation software packages set up specifically for the project. The initial step consisted of ‘zooming in’ to each element of the conveyor system, with typical elements comprising X-ray lines, baggage carousels, or simply sections of the conveyor system. The tuning involved tasks such as checking that PLC codes were correct for both optimal performance of the element and consistency with the overall system. With each element tuned for maximum throughput, the engineering team could zoom out and check the performance of the system as a whole. The engineers then conducted further refinements as necessary, in order to make the final adjustments.

Having worked with SEW-EURODRIVE equipment since 2005, staff at ICM Airport Technics Australia required minimal training. The brief hands-on course was provided on site and was also made available to the incumbent maintenance team, to ensure that the new baggage handling system would continue to run smoothly over its predicted lifetime.

With the baggage handling upgrade completed and a maintenance program in place, departing passengers from one of Sydney Airport’s busiest terminals will continue to enjoy shorter queues and faster check-in service long into the future.

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