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Going modular: Conveyors join the trend

July 6, 2006

9 Min Read
Going modular: Conveyors join the trend

Back-lit conveyors from Conveyor Technologies (above) and an inclined unit from EMI (below) illustrate the wide diversity of conveyors called for by processors.

DynaCon shows its big-basin moving capability, including both incline and turning features.

The aptly named Move-It conveyors from Bunting Magnetics suit either under-the-press or beside-the-press needs with flat or inclined models.

Dorner ?s dual-width conveyor illustrates its capability to meet unusual or unique needs.

A Harvard Factory Automation setup is shown here with an Engel injection molding machine. Custom manufactured systems meet specific needs.

Slideways (Worcester, MA) uses this photo to exemplify applications where washdown of parts is needed for cleaning or cooling purposes. Both the belt and the tracks are fabricated of plastics materials. While a food application is illustrated here, the gear is just as well-suited to transporting molded plastics parts.

Before putting together this story about parts-handling conveyors, I decided to get some thinking from ?outside the box? by posing a few questions to someone outside the plastics processing industry. My thought was that I would get some response that was not available from people accustomed to applying repeatedly the same set of assumptions. I got some surprises, all right, and some suggestions that are not necessarily practical, but certainly food for thought:

Q. Do you know why I am going to write an article about conveyors?

A. Why bother? They aren?t made out of plastic, anyway, are they? (Well, actually, some of them are.)

Q. What should I do with parts coming out of the mold mounted in the machine?

A. Why not just put them directly in a truck? (That one set loose a bunch of images.)

Q. How should I handle those 16-lb baby seats that are taken off the machine by a six-axis articulating robot?

A. Have the robot put the baby seat directly in the car.

At this point I quit asking questions. The suggestions made so much sense from an outsider?s point of view, and seem so impossible to put into practice from my standpoint as an insider, relatively speaking at least.

Putting parts directly into a truck or a car (answers 2 and 3) certainly could happen, and maybe should, but in the real world other things happen. A great variety of companies supply parts-handling conveying equipment. For a sampling, go to p. 32 of our May/June edition, either in print or in the web edition (www.pma-magazine.com/buyersguide) and check our ?Parts Handling, Robotics Equipment? Buyers Guide. Note that pneumatic and other raw-material conveying is outside the scope of this article.

Dynamic Conveyor Corp. (DynaCon; Muskegon, MI) provides modular conveyor systems for many light- and medium-duty applications, offering processors the advantage of rapid reconfiguration as needed.

To help processors determine whether the conventional fixed-length metal conveyor or the new modular conveyor is right for their application, DynaCon offers 10 questions to use as a guideline:

1. Can you use one conveyor to handle parts at two or more locations? Moving a fixed metal conveyor is difficult, if not impossible. Portability and even the ability to easily move a conveyor out of the way may be highly desirable.

2. How easy is conveyor repair or belt replacement? Take into account mishaps that can put a production line out of commission. Even temporary interruptions are expensive in terms of loss of production.

3. How quickly can I get replacement parts? With modular systems you can stock a few replacement modules or accessories according to your use. 4. How easy is it to change the configuration if my needs change? Flexibility is often an important advantage. Reusability means capital preservation?always a benefit.

5. What are standard maintenance requirements for my conveyor? Ease of maintenance is critical.

6. Can I use the conveyor in my cleanroom? The requirement to meet cleanroom standards has become increasingly important for processors in medical equipment, pharmaceutical, microelectronics, and aerospace applications. Nearly all standard 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.

7. What belting options are available? Will they suit the application?

8. Can my system include configuration options such as turns and inclines? A conveyor system should go wherever you need it to go, and by the most efficient pathway. This often involves special turns, inclines/declines, and corresponding flights or lifts. Modular systems should offer a wide array of accessories and specialized-application modules that completely integrate with other modules, providing users with dependability and cost savings.

9. How comprehensive is warranty coverage? Many conventional conveyors and even custom fabricated ones have a short limited warranty period. Basically an insurance policy, a short warranty policy can save on purchase price, but is usually a dangerous gamble especially when an expired warranty affects service response.

10. What is the cost and method of installing the conveyor and related items? Modular conveyor systems can offer robust features while eliminating special engineering and installation requirements. It can be helpful to consult a modular conveyor system specialist before deciding on a new system.

Wide Selection Available

No processor who needs a conveyor need go without for very long. The market is occupied by many suppliers that offer a wide array of conveying possibilities. The information that follows has been supplied recently by a sampling of various companies in the parts-handling conveyor business. EMI (Wickliffe, OH) now offers the new ProLumina conveyor built using new, interlocking, slot and groove construction, which provides excellent stability and a smooth, clean profile. The drive motor, gear box, belt, and leg sets are the same high quality as those provided on the company?s higher priced models. Conveyor frames ship in one piece. Leg sets are included in the price, and frames and leg sets are shipped unattached to save on shipping. Each leg set bolts easily to the frame using only four bolts.

Conveyors are supplied in widths of 6, 12, 18, and 24 inches and lengths of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 feet. Features include a direct drive 1?4-hp 110/60/1 C-faced 20-fpm drive package, a sealed gear reducer, and 1?8-inch anodized aluminum construction. The maximum load is 30 lb. The white PVC belt is double V-guided and FDA approved. An incline model has 11?2-inch high flexible cleats on 18-inch centers, and 2-inch by 90° aluminum side rails. For steel leg sets with swivel castors, specify belt heights of 11-inch minimum, 48-inch maximum.

Harvard Factory Automation (Harvard, IL) supplies a U-Slide under-press product chute. The unit was designed to eliminate the cardboard and duct-tape remedy to slide parts out from under the press. The U-Slide is custom manufactured to accommodate the molder?s size and style of machine and is made from blue or white UHMWPE and rigid aluminum-frame construction, reducing maintenance needs. The guide-rail system allows for easy installation and removal of the chute. The price is $450 for conveyors fitting injection presses up to 400 tons.

Harvard Factory Automation also supplies box-fill systems that are custom manufactured to accommodate the molder?s size and quantity of boxes, totes, or bags. The box-fill systems can be manufactured to fill automatically by cycle count, weight, or weigh count in several different styles. The entire system operates on 110V AC, (no compressed air required), with controls that display job name, preset weight, and current weight. The control panel also includes a database that allows for storage of multiple jobs. The included standard audible and visual alarms signal the operator that the system is full and/or empty and the weigh systems include ?trickle feed? to allow accurate filling of containers.

Bunting Magnetics? (Newton, KS) Move-It conveyors are available as stock units in most common conveyor sizes and can be ordered in custom sizes to fit a broad range of applications. All models feature sturdy, straightforward construction that is reliable and easy to service. The conveyors can be ordered with single-speed or variable-speed motors. They come standard with industrial-grade PVC belts featuring V-guides that resist drift and keep on center. Optional cleated belts and modular plastic belting handle a wide array of applications. Fixed and adjustable-angle models facilitate moving parts and scrap up and down inclines as well as along horizontal runs for maximum layout flexibility.

The company?s Move-It systems include standard horizontal models for a multitude of uses, flat-to-incline models for under-press and beside-the-press applications, straight incline conveyors for box loading and scrap removal, and Z-shaped models for any application requiring a tri-plane conveyor. Each has robust components and is engineered for easy operation and maintenance. Moveable stands on wheels give the conveyors instant portability for on-demand use at multiple workstations.

Flat-to-incline models have a 20-50° adjustable-angle frame. With their belts placed directly under the discharge of a molding machine, both flat-to-incline and Z-shaped models combine the capabilities of horizontal and incline conveyors in a single unit. Seamless horizontal-to-incline transitions ensure smooth part transfer. The cleated-belt option eliminates rollback and keeps difficult parts moving upward. Heavy-duty construction handles heavy service. The incline and horizontal conveyors meet the need for many under-the-press and beside-the-press applications.

Dorner (Hartland, WI) promotes its use of what it calls the Conveyor Selector Tool. Processors are asked a series of 10 questions about their application, such as desired belt width, belt speed, load capacity, drive motor location, and so on. Each question comes with an explanation to assist the processor in making the correct choice. The entire application questionnaire takes only a few minutes to complete, and provides a list of conveyors with the specifications that best accommodated the processor?s applications.

Conveyor Technologies? (Milford, OH) AccuVision internal backlit conveyor has an internal light that projects a strong, uniform light field through the translucent belt on the low profile conveyor, illuminating part profile and appearance for automatic or manual vision inspection capabilities. The internal light source is rated for 16,000 hours and available in three light tones: warm white, cool white, and daylight. Compatibility with high-speed digital cameras is facilitated by the use of electronic high frequency ballasts.

The light field is available in five lengths ranging from 2-7 inches and the light field width can be customized to specific dimensions by using multiple banks of lights. Belt widths range from 2.5 to 24 inches.

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