The XMY stainless steel chain conveyor from FlexLink features an open design.

by Pan Demetrakakes, editor

“Hurry up and wait” is a cliché of disgruntled soldiers and others.

The economic situation has turned a lot of conveyor projects into what might be called “wait and hurry up.”

Because of economic uncertainty, it has become difficult at many food and beverage plants to get final approval for a major equipment purchase. But the need to change, expand or update a line doesn’t go away. The only thing the delay in approval changes is the time window that remains to get the project up and running.

“The economic downturn has certainly impacted a lot of buying decisions that are taking place,” says Matt Jones, sales manager at Dorner Manufacturing. “The buying cycle often takes longer, because there’s a lot of questioning that takes place. So there’s a real need for speed out there. Things are happening real-time, but we’re finding that we’re doing multiple revisions of projects.”

Flexibility enables Dorner and other conveyor suppliers to cope with situations like these. In Dorner’s case, having many options for conveyor segments pre-engineered helps fill orders faster.

“Those pre-engineered conveyor designs with multiple platforms really allow us to [execute projects quickly],” Jones says. “We have a lot of flexibility.”

Flexibility shows itself in other aspects of Dorner’s operations. With conveyors, flexibility involves being able to handle packages of different sizes and weights. One way Dorner equipment can do this is by using a “center-drive” principle. By locating a motor and drive in the center of a conveyor segment, the sprocket gears at the ends can be reduced in size. This allows for a narrower gap between segments, which makes it easier for smaller packages to be transferred while maintaining the needed strength for larger ones.

Mike Hilsy, director of marketing at FlexLink, agrees that flexibility is a high priority.

“What we’re seeing is requirements for flexible solutions that are able to handle various package sizes on the same line,” Hilsy says. “They want to have a flexible line, and they want to be able to do quick changeover as well.” One way to do that is to incorporate servomotors into adjustable parts such as guiderails, although Hilsy admits that this is not yet in wide demand in the consumer packaged goods industry.

Energy savings is another priority, which can be addressed in a number of ways. Raque Food Systems has developed a method to conserve energy that stems from its specialty of providing equipment to fill multi-target applications, such as several-course frozen dinners. The conveyors it provides to accompany its filling equipment can be synched to keep moving while the trays or other containers are being filled.

“We’ve got a device...where the Multi-Fill’s deposit will be placed into a container while the container is moving,” says Tim Kent, marketing director for Raque. “We can make sure the deposit occurs in a specific location of that tray.” This eliminates the need for constant stopping and starting, which increases both maintenance and energy costs.

“We feel that if we can give the customer a system where the conveyor is continuously running, not only do they have a system that has the highest throughput, but they also have a reduction in energy costs,” Kent says.

Here are some recent offerings from leading conveyor manufacturers:

Dorner’s 5300 Series belt conveyors come in modular 15-inch curve segments and side rail design for quick and easy reconfiguration. Specially designed slots make mounting controls and accessories simple. A patented sprocket alignment key allows quick belt alignment, while a completely contained belt reduces pinch points.

FlexLink has the XMY stainless steel chain conveyor. This 83-millimeter-wide conveyor features an open design, which facilitates cleaning with foam and water; a design that brings only food-approved materials in direct contact with food; the ability to operate in temperatures between -4° F. and 140° F. with relative humidity from 10% to 95%; and a noise level at 70 meters per minute of 70 dBA or less.

tna offers the tna rofloHM 3 horizontal-motion conveyor and the tna rofloVM 3 vibratory motion conveyor. They can be used independently or combined in a completely gateless proportional control, making the installation easy to clean with minimal maintenance requirements. Both systems increase performance, energy savings and return on investment through creating weigher/bagmaker efficiencies.

Arrowhead Systems offers ArrowAdvance mat-top conveyors. Features include a bolt-together design with of vibration-resistant fasteners, compatibility with industry standard modular plastic belts offering a continuous conveying surface, and a full array of complementary accessories, including guide rails, brackets (fixed and adjustable), product gating (powered and manual), dust covers, drip pans, supports and transfer aids.

SpanTech LLC has the MicroZone, a new 24 volt, low-profile, zero-pressure accumulation conveyor system. Each standard 300 x 300mm zone is individually driven by an innovative 24-volt “pancake” motor. Shaft-mounted sprockets engage with the 5mm pitch MicroSpan plastic chain for positive tracking. Each MicroZone unit is made from a unique, two-piece fabricated assembly. The drive, sprocket, belt and end roller assembly can be removed or replaced in seconds.

AmbaFlex offers the AccuVeyor family of dynamic accumulators with first-in, first-out buffering. These in-line buffers can extend their accumulation capacity as dictated by the speed difference between in- and outflowing items. A complete range of accumulators is available for all kinds of applications, including aseptic filling lines, individual bottles and jars, packaged unstable items such as bottle packs, and tote accumulation.

FleetwoodGoldcoWyard has the Tight Pitch Live Transfer Conveyor for shrink wrap packs, corrugated 4-packs, 6-packs, 8- packs and 12-packs. The design eliminates deadplates, which can cause products to drag and skew. The conveyor utilizes a 0.3-inch pitched chain wrapped around a quarter-inch nosebar to minimize deadplates from chain-to-chain transfers. The conveyor is designed to be driven off an existing chain with no need for a motor and is also available as a standalone conveyor.