ANCIENT Egyptians used simple roller conveyors in constructing their temples, and the statues on Easter Island were likely positioned in a similar way. Since prehistory, humans have used conveyors to transport goods and despite centuries of technological progress, they have retained their place in manufacturing.
According to Industrial Conveying Australia’s sales and marketing manager, Malcolm MacDowall, conveyors are now faster, smarter and more complex, and their role in manufacturing continues to expand as companies drive to reduce costs and manual handling.
“There are two facets really: the drive for price competitiveness in manufacturing; and also the occupational health and safety push. Ever increasing awareness of occupational danger within workplaces is driving quite a few companies to look at conveying and materials handling systems,” MacDowall told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
Conveyor specialist, Derek Vickers, who developed Conveying Technology’s range of conveyor systems, agrees. Vickers says manufacturers supplying the major retailers are under pressure to rapidly distribute various products to multiple locations. These companies, he claims, are turning to high speed conveying and sortation systems to save time and production costs.
“To do that it’s a question of taking product out of the areas where it’s stored, placing it onto some form of conveyor system, whether it be belt, roller or another type, bringing it to a location where it’s sorted at high speed and sorted into lots of destinations,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
High speed sortation systems can sort as many as 150 cartons per minute, depending on the size of the product, and according to Vickers, this means the conveyors feeding the sorters must also run more quickly.
Better quality components are needed for high speed systems Vickers added, such as high quality belting for belt conveyors. “At these higher speeds, once the belt starts losing traction, you’ve got serious problems,” he said.
MacDowall suggested systems are getting smarter as well as faster, and they now offer greater scope for process automation.
“That trend has changed the way [conveyors] operate right from the front door receiving to the rear door dispatch, so we’re seeing a fair change right through a range of manufacturing processes,” he said.
While conveyors used to be relatively “dumb” systems for moving products around, MacDowall says 95% of conveyors manufactured by Industrial Conveying are now supplied with PLCs, which help manufacturers control the system and include additional functions, such as moisture and temperature measurement.
MacDowall claims manufacturers are demanding customised materials handling systems that include robots, palletisers and other devices, in addition to conveyors.
“For example, we do substantial work with tobacco companies, and one of their requirements was for handling trays that cigarettes are stacked into. It’s a specific requirement that needs a custom designed handling system, which you wouldn’t call a conveying system, but it was required as part of the overall package,” MacDowall said.
A seating supplier to the automotive industry also requested a system that incorporated more than just the conveyor, he added.
“One of the challenges for them was to have a very efficient loading and unloading system,” MacDowall explained.
“In an automotive system, when you send seats to the customer and each seat has to be sequenced so that the seat, as it comes down the production line, matches the right colour, the right model, the right specifications of seat for that car. This is challenging because every car in a production line is different.”
Industrial Conveying helped the company set up its new seat assembly plant and installed a comprehensive handling system to convey the seats through production and into storage, or to a staging area for inspection and loading into trucks.
“We then, through the truck supplier, modified the truck so it holds two levels of seats inside the truck, one above the other. The truck was fitted with one of Industrial Conveying’s automotive chain floors inside both levels of the truck. We then had an automated loading and unloading dock that was fed by a series of staging conveyors.”
The trucks carry 24 sets of seats in the sequence requested to the customer’s factory, where they are automatically unloaded and fed into the customer’s production line.
“Rather than a load taking 25 minutes, or 20 minutes to load up with a forklift, an entire semi trailer can be loaded in the space of five minutes, which gives a production saving as well as removing forklifts as a hazard,” MacDowall said.