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Achieving Conveyor Automation Starts with Product Orientation

As more companies look to automate their processing lines, product orientation becomes more critical – here’s why…

By: Mike Hosch, Contributor

ARB conveyor with package orientation. Image courtesy of Dorner.

New waves of technologies are transforming not only the way products are produced and packaged, but manufacturing facilities as a whole. Flexibility and connectivity are the names of the game when it comes to equipment, and that’s certainly the case for conveyors.

Conveyors today have become integral components in all phases of the automation, assembly and industrial markets. And while some of the dominant global brands have been the early adopters to embracing the full potential of conveyors, more companies of all sizes are taking a closer look at how they too can better integrate conveyor systems to ultimately improve the entire line.

An effective conveyor system not only moves product from one point to another, but also orientates that product to be in the correct position for the next step in the manufacturing or packaging process. A well-engineered conveyor system can really complement the overall efficiency of a line when its able to successfully orientate and sort products. Here are some different types of conveyors to consider in your next project that excel in orientating products.

Pallet System Conveyors

Precision move pallet conveyor. Image
courtesy of Dorner.

The manufacturing environment inside facilities is much different than what it was a generation ago. Automation is now a prime driver behind the way products are being produced. Many applications include both manual processes and robotic interaction, and as such, conveyors today need to be engineered to meet these challenges. That’s why pallet system conveyors have become a popular choice.

Pallet system conveyors are ideal for many automation-focused applications that require exact movements and positioning of parts, as they can be setup or programmed to start and stop at specific intervals to sync up with robotic interaction or other processes. Pallet system conveyors typically come on three different platforms to convey the pallet, either a dual belt configuration powered by a common drive on a flexible plastic chain belt design or a linear motor. The pallets can stop, raise up off the belts and rotate the pallet 90° or 180° to reposition product as necessary. Companies using a pallet system conveyor are also doing so for the accuracy. They need their product at an exact location, and the conveyor’s lift and location station deliver repeatability of 0.002”.

Flexible Chain Conveyors

Some application designs dictate product to be moved in and around equipment and machinery. To accommodate this need, conveyors need to be flexible and make tight turns – which is ideal for flexible chain conveyors.

Automation applications within the processing and packaging, industrial, medical, life sciences and health industries, typically operate in an environment that has tight spaces or elevation changes; these are ideal settings for flexible chain conveyors.

Precision Timing Belt Conveyors

Many industrial automation, product assembly, manufacturing and packaging applications require product to be in an exact spot on the conveyor at the right time. The right choice here is precision timing belt conveyors.

Powering the conveyor to deliver accurate alignment of time and distance are servo motors that provide indexing repeatability of +/- .040”, all at a rate of 100 indexes per minute. This level of precision is critical, especially for robotic applications.

Selecting the Right Conveyor System

As you can see, there are many conveyors engineered for automation-type applications, but the trick is to select the right one for your needs. Conveyors today are built to your specifications to improve efficiency and output of your production line. There’s no reason to settle for a conveyor that’s being shoe-horned into your application, especially when a system can be engineered to seamlessly integrate into a larger process.

But to do that requires an understanding of what the goals and expectations are for your conveyors – in other words, what do you need your conveyors to do? Knowing this upfront will set you up for success with a conveyor system that’s designed to perform – and perform well.

Whether you’re an OEM or integrator, a small family-owned shop or a multinational business, everyone has the same concerns regarding their new conveyor system. A good place to start is by considering these questions:

  • How do you see the conveyor system integrating with what you’re trying to build?
  • What is the height, weight and shape of the product(s) being moved?
  • What’s the targeted rate of production?
  • How much space is available for the conveyors?
  • Is space likely to be tight, requiring conveyors to make sharp turns or go up inclines?
  • Is the machine/production line manual or automated?
  • Is the anticipated flow of production linear or oval?

Knowing this information upfront helps define the scope of the project and allows the conveyor supplier to streamline the quotation process by gaining a more complete picture of the application.

Product orientation and sortation are essential factors to consider in your conveyor system. That’s because automation relies heavily on products being positioned correctly at a specific time and location. Making this happen can be a daunting task, but you don’t have to do it alone. The first step is to evaluate your application and determine the expectations for your conveyor system. There are a number of resources available to assist you in this. The right conveyor system is out there, it’s just waiting to be designed. WMHS

Mike Hosch is the Vice President, Industrial Products for Dorner (www.dornerconveyors.com). He can be reached at Mike.hosch@dorner.com.

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