Conveyors are no strangers to the challenges of beverage production. Increasing production speeds, handling the growing number of SKUs and packaging varieties, and decreasing energy costs are all impacting conveyors too.
In addition, conveyors are expected to be safe, reliable and maintenance free, all in as little space as possible. And as the industry’s demands advance, so does this essential middle man’s responsibilities.
A strong piece of conveyor equipment is manufactured to meet demands such as installation requirements, operation necessities and maintenance needs, says Pat Vincent, president and chief operation officer at Arrowhead Systems Inc., Oshkosh, Wis., a company that offers equipment including air, open-top, closed-top, case and pallet conveyors. Questions to consider when comparing conveyor equipment are: Is the conveyor flimsy? Can it be moved around and placed in position without twisting and bending? When considering the operations, is the conveyor designed for worse-case scenario, especially for customers running multiple containers? Can the equipment be maintained without needing to take it apart?
In addition to these requirements, beverage companies are demanding “higher speeds, more reliability and less maintenance” from conveying equipment, says Ole Rygh, president of Ryson International Inc., Yorktown, Va.
“We’re seeing that the customers are looking for equipment that is easy to maintain,” he says. “The trend that we are seeing is that these corporations are cutting down on their maintenance staff. Very often they have outside people maintaining it. If it isn’t easy to maintain, than it’s just not being maintained.”
A provider of pallet conveyors, Wulftec International Inc., Ayer’s Cliff, Quebec, sees customers requiring heavy-duty construction, especially for pallet conveyors, which need to resist impact.
“Sometimes they can be impacted when people are loading, either with a forklift or dropping pallets on a conveyor, so they need it to be built really strong,” says Priscille Tremblay, sales manager for Wulftec. “Some of the things that you need to look for in a strong conveyor are the thickness of the conveyor frame; the thickness of a roller. Then there is also the size of the chain, the size of the roller shaft and the bearings.”
The strength and position of the drive systems is also a consideration. “It’s better to have a motor system that’s located in the center of the conveyor, because this ensures good bidirectional operation,” Tremblay says.
To manage the demands of production, conveyors must provide the right amount of accumulation between machines to maximize line efficiency, says Stephane Banville, general manager of Sidel Inc., Norcross, Ga.
“Some of the trends on conveyors that we have seen over the last few years are more compact conveyor designs that require less floor space to provide the same amount of accumulation as classic mass flow conveyors,” Banville says. An example of a more compact design is Sidel’s AQmax accumulation table, which uses nearly all of its surface for accumulation of plastic, glass and aluminum packages in a trim space, he says.
Ryson, which manufactures spiral conveyors, also hears beverage companies asking for help in conserving space. “We made spirals that have a very small diameter, which will save space,” Rygh says. “We see that the packaging lines are faster, and they take more space and the buildings are the same. So we are working on conveyors that take less space that can operate faster.”
Beverage companies also are looking to maximize their conveyor equipment by setting up lines to be more flexible. “Conveyors in particular need to handle a multitude of container sizes and shapes,” Arrowhead’s Vincent says.
“The bottom line in better production numbers is the original layout of the equipment and conveyors,” he continues. “An efficient layout will optimize each machine in the line by accommodating the right length and style of conveyors. But ultimately, it is the conveyor/system controls that will make or break those efficiency goals.”
Getting beverage packaging from point A to point B is a continual improvement process for conveyor manufacturers. “It seems that more and more of our customers are seeing the performance benefits of container accumulation in their production lines,” says Dave Rynders, layout department manager, product manager – conveying technology for KHS USA Inc., Waukesha, Wis. “Line efficiencies of 70 percent or 80 percent are no longer acceptable. With the proper accumulation times designed into a production line, line efficiencies of 90 percent are easily attainable.”
Conveyors also are becoming “smarter,” which amounts to cost savings, says Boyce Bonham, manager of quality assurance at Hytrol Conveyor Co. Inc., Jonesboro, Ark. Hytrol offers EZLogic Gen 3, a control that’s mounted along the side of the conveyor to provide intelligence to each zone of the conveyor. EZLogic offers a program that knows that a pallet has been picked up and is being unloaded from the conveyor, so beverage companies don’t have to have external wiring.
Increased technology also offers beverage companies more versatility. For companies handling multiple size pallets on a single line, EZLogic can determine how long the pallet is and assign the correct number of zones to accommodate that, Bonham says. And in regard to interacting with other parts of the line, if a company has areas where products need to merge, EZLogic controls can be set so that one conveyor will stop while the other conveyor releases.
Conveyors also are providing more information that can be taken to feed lines and take-away equipment, Bonham says. “…It’s all done internal to the conveyor, so it saves on installation time, start up time and obviously cuts down on the amount of electrical wiring that has to be done.”