59 Football fields! Isn’t it large enough a warehouse to manage? And still, this mammoth Amazon fulfillment center manages millions of unique products efficiently. That’s the power of advanced automated conveyor systems.
Automated conveyor systems serve as the backbone of any medium to large industry. Do you wish to improve production efficiency and throughput significantly? Then put in place conveyor systems that match your product and conveying requirements.
Every business wants to improve profit and lower costs.
Extreme savings on labor costs and maintenance costs is possible. The modern automated conveyor systems are capable of giving that edge.
Different types of conveyor systems are mixed up while designing a complete conveying solution. The design is dependent on the type of conveying products and packs. A wide variety of factors plays a role in designing the system like:
- Product weight
- Product type
- Speed requirements
- Features desired (slowing, drying or wetting, guiding, twisting etc.)
- Environment (heat, dust, cold or wet)
- Coding requirements
- Tracking Requirements
To implement automated conveyor systems in your company, it is good to know the important components that make up this worthwhile investment.
The solutions and combinations in automated conveyor systems are endless. Most industries install the conveying solutions by consulting a conveyor engineering company. Most companies have standard installation modules and provide customized solutions depending on client requirements.
We will go into the details of components of an automated conveyor system. Before that, watch this 4 minutes long Fox News video that shows the Amazon Robbinsville fulfillment center in full action!
So, how did it go? Now we will now look at the major parts that build up a complete conveyor system.
The components of automated conveyor systems
There are mainly 4 parts for an automatic conveyor system.
Conveyor – The body of automated conveyor systems!
In most industries, a combination of two or more types is used to achieve the desired flexibility and throughput. Manufacturing industry mainly uses two variations of conveying systems. The material handling conveyors and bulk handling conveyors.
Major conveyor types used are as follows:
Industrial belt conveyor systems
A belt conveyor system uses one or more conveyor belts, a set of conveyor rollers and pulleys to convey objects from one point to another. The conveyor belt is a wide endless belt, which is made of rubber, fabric or metal. A gear motor drives it. It is a versatile material handling equipment used to transfer all kinds of products like rocks, mud, dirt, fruits, food boxes, and bags. It is highly durable and easy to maintain through a systematic approach.
Chain Conveyor or conveyor chain
Chain conveyors are highly durable conveyor system made of a series of links with a flat top. These conveyors are of stainless steel, rubber or high-grade Teflon/plastic material.
They are flexible in design and have different size and width choices. They also appear in different designs like
- Straight running
- Side Flexing (Flexibility for conveying path availability)
- Rubber top (for inclined conveyors)
- Abrasion resistant (for glass manufacturing industry)
- Gripper chains (for elevators and lowerators)
- Steel chains with different size, pitch and width
There is a type of conveyor where two chains run in parallel to each other. These chains convey pallets, racks, and heavy objects. These conveyors are also called chain conveyors.
Gravity conveyors are an excellent component in a conveyor system. Implementation of gravity conveyor will be in locations where an inclination is possible in the conveying line. They are easy to maintain and do not use power at all.
It uses gravity achieved by the inclination to move the objects. The three main classifications of gravity conveyors are
- Gravity rollers
- Gravity chute conveyors
- Skate wheel conveyors
Normally roller conveyors are used for transporting pallets. Here conveyor rollers are arranged in a sequence between two parallel metal bars. Gear motors with the help of chains drive these rollers.
Chain conveyors are also used for pallet conveying applications. A parallel arrangement of chains ( 2 or 3 chains) makes an excellent and highly durable conveyor system pallets or any heavy rectangular loads.
Bulk handling conveyors
To convey solid raw materials like beans, pebbles, vegetables specialized bulk handling conveyors are used. The major conveyor types are:
Pneumatic conveying systems with completely automated components with silos, screw conveyors, and rotary valves are available in handling powder products like dry sugar and milk powder.
Control System – The brain
A control system is a centralized controller unit or a series of industrial controllers, which controls the complete conveyor system.
In most implementations, the controllers would be Programmable Logic controllers (PLC) or Distributed Control Systems (DCS).
The controllers will have customized programs depending on the application. The control system learns the status of input devices (proximity switches, barcode readers etc) and commands from the operator. It then makes the decision based on the program logic. Then the controller controls the devices states connected as output (conveyor motors, brakes, diverters etc.)
Industrial displays called Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) helps the operators or engineers know the status from the above devices and give commands for the output devices. It allows a person to interact and control the complete system.
These controllers along with industrial communication networks make complex controls and scalability possible. Some of the major industrial communication protocols are :
- Industrial Ethernet
Input devices – Ears and Eyes
The input devices give the information to the controller about the status of each module or component of the complete system. Common input devices are:
- Proximity switches -To detect the position of objects
- Photo Electric sensors -To detect the position of objects
- Inductive and capacitive switches – To detect the position of objects
- Barcode readers – To track the objects and location
- Encoders – To detect the speed of conveyors
- Laser measure devices – To measure distances
- Fiber optic sensors – For counting and detecting in high-speed lines
- Limit switches – To limit the movement of objects mostly for safety purpose
Specialized input and detection devices help in the collection of advanced information or implementation of safer operations.
Examples are safety sensors, conveyor belt sway switches, belt damage switch etc.
Output devices – Arms!
The output devices function as per the instruction from PLCs or DCSs. These devices are the ones that work to run the conveyor system. Automated conveyor systems utilize different combinations of these devices to provide the kind of flexibility and features required by the organization.
Common output devices used in a conveyor system are:
- Motor starters/Contactors – To turn on/off conveyor motors
- Hydraulic cylinders – Lifting and tilting operations
- Label applicators – To label the boxes (barcode, address etc)
- Pneumatic cylinders – In braking systems, channeling, tilting operations
- Variable Frequency Drives – To control the speed of drive motors
Advanced automated conveyor technologies
Modern industrial automation uses robotics and advanced data intelligence extensively. Advanced and customized Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are available to code, track and automatically transfer pallets and racks.
Advanced tracking systems are used in modern assembly lines and conveying systems. Rockwell Automation, a pioneer in automation solutions, has developed iTrak Technology which is a break- through tracking and conveying solution. View this 5 min demonstration video of an automated assembly line using iTRAK here:
We saw the amazon fulfillment center using robots to transport and store 1 million unique products, in the first video. We will have a closer look of those robots below.
The robots handling one of the world’s largest store, the Amazon, is a beautiful sight. 30,000 robots moving around in perfect discipline and co-ordination!
The effectiveness and ease of transferring things are well demonstrated in this CNET news 3-minute video:
Implementation of automatic conveyor systems is always an excellent investment from the Returns on Investment point of view. It increases the productivity multifold and gives more control on your processes. It reduces the labor costs and wastage.
Most conveyor systems are highly durable with proper maintenance in place. If your organization is still running more on manual controls or outdated conveyor systems, it is a good idea to keep aside an amount in next budget for an upgrade.
There are a number of quality engineering companies specialized in implementing customized conveyor solutions. It will streamline your processes and will slowly start to pay back in terms of efficiency and cost savings.
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