To keep up with the proliferation of new package sizes and increasing SKUs, beverage warehouse and distribution facilities have turned to other industries for inspiration. Beverage makers are choosing conveyor technology and systems that have been proven in other industries, such as retail and consumer products distribution centers, says Bryan Boyce, product manager for Intelligrated Inc., Mason, Ohio. The new solutions feature conveyors that can handle multiple material types, offer automated options and make better use of the facility’s space.

Consolidation in warehouse and distribution also has affected the demands on conveyors, says Rich Rittermann, vice president of operations for Conveyor Handling Co. Inc., Elkridge, Md.

“The result is they need to convey higher volumes of product with faster conveyor speeds from the picking areas through accumulation, merging and sortation to the trucks,” Rittermann says.

Updated designs
High volumes require high-tech conveyor solutions, including precision control, photo eye sensors and zero-pressure accumulation, Rittermann says. The industry standard used to be 1.9-inch diameter rollers on 3-inch centers. Now the trend is to use 2-inch roller centers with precision bearings to handle high-speeds and lightweight packages, he says. In addition, the incline or decline angle has decreased from 20-degrees to 18-degrees or less, which helps reduce case tipping when the conveyor runs at higher speeds, he says.

Another trend is the conversion from sensing rollers to photo eye sensors to detect product, Rittermann says.

“This has been very beneficial to beverage distribution because of noise reduction and the elimination of premature sensing valve failure due to product spillage,” he says. “Another benefit to the electronic sensors is the ability to program them to control case rates during accumulation and release.”

Conveyor Handling Co. also offers high-speed combiners equipped with scanners and sliding shoe sorters with 20-degree angles or less that can sort between 75 and 200 cases per minute. The company also has noticed the need for zero-pressure accumulation that reduces case contact and product breakage, especially for partial cases that are popular in wine and spirits distribution, Rittermann says.

Zero-pressure also is the focus of innovation for Arrowhead Systems, Oshkosh, Wis. The company offers its newly redesigned zero-pressure accumulation zones for its ArrowElite roller-less case conveyors. The roller-less design incorporates both table-top and mat-top carrying surfaces and is suited for reduced weight packaging and applications with more changeovers, says Pat Vincent, president and chief operating officer of Arrowhead Systems.

Heavy-duty mat-top and table-top conveyors in stainless steel and mild steel also are available from Arrowhead Systems. The conveyors use fewer components to reduce cost and maintenance, Vincent says.

System Plast, a brand of Emerson Industrial Automation, St. Louis, has noticed a move away from roller-based conveyors to reduce noise and maintenance, says Tom Eure, business development manager for System Plast.

“We have seen the trend of taking these conveyors and retrofitting them to a modular belt or table-top chain conveyor, utilizing the same side frames, just taking the rollers out and then putting the necessary wear strips and the necessary belt,” Eure says. “What you get then, is a very quiet system and a very reliable system. You went from 15 to 20 moving parts to two moving parts in a two or three foot section, so you reduce your noise and you reduce your maintenance.”

Growing larger
The proliferation of product SKUs caused warehouse and distribution center operators to look for solutions that can handle a large volume of products. Hytrol Conveyor Co., Jonesboro, Ark., developed Track-a-Pack technology that keeps tabs on packages and pallet loads as they move through a company’s system. Track-a-Pack monitors a product or pallet through to its destination, and is able to transfer information through a gateway. The system also can help build custom pallet loads by providing information on individual products, the company says.

Custom pallet loads also are more popular with larger distribution centers that handle many products, Intelligrated’s Boyce says. To best suit a line, Intelligrated offers hybrid systems that combine roller and mat-top conveyors, Boyce says. The company also has options for automatic side guides that have multiple positions to handle the various package sizes, he says.

Intelligrated also reports increased requests for multi-line systems and sortation systems, Boyce says. Its line sortation systems incorporate patented soft-touch software that gently diverts products, which is suited for glass bottles, he says.

Warehouse operators also are making better use of their space by building multiple levels of product storage.

“People want to use more of the cubic space in the building, not so much the flat square footage, but they are going up and using as much room as possible,” says Phil Miller, president of AmbaFlex Inc., Bedford, Texas.

AmbaFlex manufactures spiral conveyors that can reach multiple levels of a warehouse, Miller says.

“We’ve been doing a lot of it with facilities that have a whole lot of SKUs and a lot of product moving through there every day,” Miller says. “It really helps them to have a more efficient footprint, and it runs at the same speed as the rest of the conveyor system, so they still get the volume of product flowing through the system.”

AmbaFlex also offers a model of spiral conveyor with two 16-inch wide tracks on one frame that allows for an incline and a decline track side-by-side. The company also has seen an increase in the variety of materials transported within one facility. It is developing options with higher friction materials that can reach high levels and handle a range of materials, such as paperboard boxes or plastic totes, Miller says.

Spiral conveyor-maker Ryson International Inc., Yorktown, Va., has upgraded its spirals to reach higher elevations and handle more weight. The company also has developed a high-capacity spiral with multiple in-lets, says Ole Rygh, president of Ryson. Multiple in-lets are suited for operations that are picking product from several elevations, he says.

“In the beverage industry, a lot of what we’re seeing now is a big push for picking or sending out mixed pallets,” Rygh says. “In some of those applications where you’re sending products from different levels, this spiral conveyor will certainly have an application.”

Green outlook
While operators continue to demand higher speeds to accommodate the growing list of products, conveyor companies say sustainability will be a top demand going forward. Packaging trends, including lightweighting, will continue to affect conveyor solutions, Intelligrated’s Boyce says.

“You can only assume that packaging is going to get lighter, thinner, etc.,” he says. “I believe also that energy conservation – fewer drives required – is going to be big. As far as energy conservation that could also include accumulation conveyors that do not require the use of air because air costs money, too.”

Companies also are looking for more efficient power sources. Hytrol has developed product lines for the beverage industry that use 24-volt decentralized drives, which provide low-energy consumption, do not require regular maintenance and are simple to install, the company says. Conveyor Handling Co. has tested DC motor driven conveyors in beverage distribution, Rittermann says. BI