With the goal to get products out the door as quickly and efficiently as possible, bottlers and distributors would like to keep the line moving effectively so they can focus their attention to the numerous other tasks at hand. Conveyor manufacturers have created solutions to help the industry do just that.

For a dependable conveyor system, manufacturers and distributors take into consideration material thickness and what gauge of material the frame is, says Patris Vincent, president and chief operating officer of Arrowhead Systems Inc., Oshkosh, Wis.

“They are looking at the strength and build of the brackets and the supports,” he says. “They look at the size and strength of the guide rails that sit on the side of conveyors. They also are looking at the number of brackets per foot of a conveyor and the shaft diameters.”

In addition, all conveyors must offer perfor-mance reliability.

“Equally as important is ease of maintenance and frequency to reduce downtime and ensure high production rates typical of beverage applications,” says Phil Miller, president of AmbaFlex Inc., Bedford, Texas.

A trend that Hytrol Conveyor Co. Inc., Jonesboro, Ark., is seeing from a variety of manufacturing and distribution markets is a lack of maintenance personnel in facilities.

“We had one customer actually tell us that they were not a good maintainer, so that’s an issue we have to address when designing conveyors for the industry — making sure our solutions are easy to service, and in some cases, making them as maintenance free as possible,” says Chris Glenn, Hytrol’s director of product technology.

In addition to a conveyor’s reliability and ease of maintenance, a company also needs to make sure the conveyor meets future needs of throughput and new package types, says Scott Shannon, packaging team leader North and Latin America at Intralox LLC, Harahan, La. Enabling achievement of a company’s goals, such as reduced waste, reduced material usage and reduced production costs, also should be considerations, he adds.

Beverage manufacturers also want conveyors that keep their products protected, increase productivity and are flexible enough to work with various parts of the line with as little downtime as possible.

“Conveyors must be versatile and flexible enough to handle the proliferation of SKUs and do this under more severe operating conditions, all the while maintaining and protecting the package and label integrity and graphics,” says Dave Gruettner, strategic account manager at Rexnord, Milwaukee. “Major beverage producers have told me on several occasions that they consider conveyors and conveying component selection decisions as strategic because conveyors touch their product and impact their productivity.”

To handle numerous SKUs, manufacturers and distributors are looking for conveyor lines that offer more flexibility and can run multiple products in different dimensions, Arrowhead’s Vincent says. It’s important that multiple SKUs can be handled without major changeover costs, he adds.

Need for speed
Just-in-time delivery and reduced inventory means high production rates are needed in the beverage industry, AmbaFlex’s Miller says. Reliable and efficient conveyors are a must, he says.

Manufacturers and wholesalers often demand faster conveyors, but another important point to consider is throughput.

“You don’t necessarily have to go faster to get more throughput,” Hytrol’s Glenn says. “We’re delivering some unique solutions with accumulation conveyors that minimize gaps and increase flow through particular areas. Speed is always a priority, but we still have to look at throughput.”

With the trend of increasing container filling and packaging speeds along with SKU proliferation and container lightweighting, conveyors are now expected to run faster with more difficult-to-handle and more easily damaged containers and packages, Rexnord’s Gruettner says.

Smaller packs require faster line speeds to maintain filler throughput, Intralox’s Shannon adds. In addition, lightweighting of containers and reduction of secondary packaging materials, such as pads, trays and partitions, require conveyors that are able to transport and manipulate packages more gently and often touchless, he says.

“Conveyor designers and manufacturers are being asked to develop solutions that do more than transport products from one application to another along a packaging line,” Shannon says. “Conveyors are now being developed to actually complete applications such as turning, switching, merging, aligning, singulating and registering as they are being transported.”

Ryson International, Yorktown, Va., offers a solution to handle faster speeds and higher capacities, says Ole Rygh, the company’s president. Ryson offers a Mass Flow Spiral designed to handle full and empty bottles and cans. Products are conveyed up or down in a continuous mass flow rate of up to 2,000 bottles or cans a minute.

Ryson also is seeing a trend toward modular designs so lines can be reconfigured easily, Rygh says. Spiral conveyors have worked well because of their modular design and small footprint, he says.

In addition, spiral conveyors assist in the trend toward mixed pallet loads. Mixed loads have made it necessary for conveyors to move a wider range of product sizes, weights and packaging types, AmbaFlex’s Miller says.

“Customers are looking for a lot of flexibility in a conveyor system,” Hytrol’s Glenn adds. “Mix load distribution and manufacturing require our systems to be versatile and capable of handling a wide range of configurations. If it’s bottles, cans, syrup boxes or anything that holds liquid, for instance, we must be able to efficiently convey their product in a variety of sizes.”

New technologies
Some of the biggest advancements in conveyors would be new technologies that use less energy, longer runs without maintenance and the use of more automation, such as smaller robots or servos for higher speed applications.

“The entire world is talking about being green, and on the conveyor side the thing that we’re working toward and we see the market demanding is less servo motors per line and less usage of compressed air,” Arrowhead’s Vincent says. “The overall energy usage of the line is less. Also the longevity and the reliability of the lines are higher.”

Arrowhead offers ArrowElite Rollerless Case Conveyors for which it has redesigned the zero pressure and accumulation zones to require less maintenance over the life of the conveyors. In addition, it released Intralox angled roller belts for moving the package from one conveyor to another or changing the orientation of the package without the hard impact of the package, Vincent says.

AmbaFlex has developed many spiral conveying solutions for the beverage industry, including the Spiralveyor model SVM, a multi-lane conveyor for conveying single lane or mass flow movement of bottles and cans. The company also offers multi-entry SV-ML Spirals for inducting product on different levels of the spiral and dual lane SVX-DL Spirals for conveying bottle packs in multiple lanes for conveying packs side by side on a single spiral. SVX-DL lanes can be independently driven with both lanes going up or down or a combination of one lane up with the other lane running down, which offers flexibility on a single spiral, the company says.

Maintenance on all AmbaFlex Spirals is simple and integration is easy, Miller says. “We offer easy to follow instructions for integration, installation and maintenance,” he adds. “We also include spare parts with every new spiral.”

Frequently used for complex switches and also at shrink tunnel discharge, Series 7000 technology from Intralox orients, merges and switches packages of varying sizes, shapes and designs. The company also offers 0.6-inch pitch S1000 Insert Roller belt that provides low-pressure accumulation of packages while allowing for very tight transfers.

For package orientation, Intralox supplies a touchless high-speed case turner that can turn up to 225 packs a minute. It also offers a retrofit package for high-speed palletizers that replace the existing turning and laning function. These functions can be integrated into new palletizers as well, Shannon says.

Intralox also has a new radius belt using a bearing edge that replaces sliding friction with rolling friction. “This allows for longer belt and component service, higher speeds, longer conveyor lengths and the ability to complete 180 degree radius applications with ease,” Shannon says.

For mixed pallet building, Intralox offers a pallet layer descrambler for the front end of the system that can descramble, singulate and orient full pallet layers into a single file stream of product at rates of up to six layers a minute. “This allows for less equipment to be used and higher rates to be achieved in the overall mixed pallet building solution,” Shannon says.

Conroll, Wilmington, N.C., also supplies conveying modules with its ShaftDrive product line. The systems have no exposed belts or guards and feature 24-volt brushless motors. The ShaftDrive conveying modules are IP65-rated sanitary modules for wash-down. Modules available are Zero Pressure (ZPA), Low Pressure Accumulation, Transport, Non-Powered and Tapered Roller Curve.

Hytrol has seen more requests for its E24. Driven by a series of brushless, gearless motors, the solution provides a quieter and more efficient alternative to motor-driven rollers. E24 works with Hytrol’s EZLogic accumulation systems, and in most cases, does not require air. One motor also works for all widths and speeds, which means fewer parts need to be to stocked, Glenn says.

“We are seeing a shift toward 24-volt technology in several areas,” he adds. “From a green perspective, the low voltage and total cost of ownership of E24 over its lifetime are sizable advantages. And again, when maintenance is a concern, most of the 24-volt components do not require an electrician to replace.”
Cincinnati-based Intelligrated offers the MDR conveyor that uses rollers with integral motors, which are able to configure the conveyor to a number of different applications. Designed with individually powered zones, the Intelligrated MDR provides non-contact, zero pressure accumulation, the company says. Each zone is equipped with a mounted photo eye sensor that detects product, allowing the zones to be controlled independently and run only when product is present. This significantly lowers energy consumption, the company says.

Rexnord has released Low Backline Pressure systems designed to protect sustainable containers and packages by lowering backline pressure during accumulation. The company also offers roller conveyor technology upgrades that reduce maintenance and operational costs. In regard to eco-friendly options, Rexnord has enhanced self-lubricated materials that reduce water consumption and dry lubrication technology to improve energy efficiency and reduce water use.

“Major beverage manufacturers have defined very aggressive water conservation, package weight reduction and energy conservation strategic initiatives,” Rexnord’s Gruettner says. “Conveyor technology has a significant impact on achieving these sustainability goals.” BI