As SKUs proliferate, bottle sizes change and economic pressures impact production, beverage bottlers require better performance from their plants and equipment. In response, conveyor manufacturers have created a new generation of solutions to address bottlers’ varying needs. Conveyor manufacturers are offering solutions that accommodate quick changeovers, limited space and eco-friendly concerns.

Whether bottlers are looking for retrofit options or investing in new equipment, more employees are taking control of the process to determine the right solution for their facility, says Doug Imes, manager of the material handling division for Hartness International, Greenville, S.C.

“I think there is a kind of a back-to-basics approach that a lot of customers are involved in,” Imes says. “They want to be more involved in the process of increasing their capacity in their plants or having new equipment installed.”

Variety adds demands
Bottlers’ demand for quick changeovers has impacted conveyor solutions, says Tom Eure, Emerson Industrial Automation’s business development manager for Solus brand products, Florence, Ky.

“Many plants are running a small bottle in the morning and then in the afternoon they have to fill a 2-liter bottle,” Eure says. “Solus has developed quick changeover bracketry and guide rail systems that allow you to do this without any tools. Where it took you an hour to change a line over five years ago, today it can be done in ten minutes without tools.”

In addition to recent innovations, Solus markets itself as a one-stop shop, Eure says. The company recently was acquired by Emerson Industrial Automation, which expands the options available to include Solus’ conveyor components, conveying chains and modular plastic belts as well as Emerson’s bearings, drives, controllers and components, he says.

Competition in beverage bottling has increased the need for conveyors that are more limber than ever, Hartness’ Imes says.

“They want as much flexibility as they can possibly get from their lines,” he says. “They’d like their lines to be able to run a variety of different bottle sizes. They would like their line to bundle or not. They’d like to be able to employ certain decorations on some bottle sleeves or some bottles where they are doing pressure-sensitive labeling on some bottles, so a lot of flexibility in the manufacturing lines.”

Hartness spotlights its Dynac line of conveyers in its Dynac-centric approach, which combines the line with machines in the bottling process.

“It’s a first-in, first-out zero-pressure accumulation system, and we make those both for single-file and for mass-flow applications,” Imes says. “A lot of our innovation is centered around that machine because we can take a process and have a short piece of conveyor going to a Dynac, another short piece of conveyor and then go to the next process. It allows us to short-couple processes, but still have accumulation but not have pressure.”

The zero-pressure aspect of the Dynac system is particularly important as lighter containers become more prevalent, he says.

“We see a lot of these super-lightweight bottles, including the featherweight water bottles,” Imes says. “Obviously you can’t have conveying strategies that create a lot of pressure on those bottles because it could damage or dent them.”

Flexible conveyor solutions also have been developed by Arrowhead Systems, says Pat Vincent, president and chief operating officer of the Oshkosh, Wis.-based company.

“With changes in container shapes and sizes in constant flux, the ability for hardware and line controls to be able to run efficiently and productively with a multitude of package configurations is a must,” Vincent says.

Arrowhead Systems offers the Sidewinder Dynamic Laning System that automatically divides a single-file lane of packages into multiple lanes without interrupting product flow. The Sidewinder uses a coiled rail system to provide product stability at high speeds, the company says.

“This feature eliminates product damage while reducing the overall footprint,” Vincent says. “The Sidewinder’s dual axis servo motion control also allows for changes to the number of discharge lanes with a simple menu selection on the system’s touchscreen interface.”

The Sidewinder can be configured to produce outputs for single-file to multiple lanes as wide as 22-inches. The system can be changed over without tools as well. It also can be installed as a complete system or retrofit over existing conveyor systems, the company says.

Bosch Rexroth, Hoffman Estates, Ill., offers its VarioFlow line of chain conveyor systems for many bottling applications, says Amy Defayette, product manager of U.S. VarioFlow Modular Conveyors. The VarioFlow 65/90 is well-suited for soft drink, bottled water and traditional beverage containers, she says, and another model is attracting attention for other containers.

“When we look at variations like juice boxes, pouches and other newer less-traditional styles, the gentle handling, optional stainless steel construction, wide sweep curves and other options offered by VarioFlow S are gaining popularity,” Defayette says.

Bosch Rexroth’s VarioFlow conveyor is designed on a modular system which can accommodate different widths of conveyors at specific points in the production process, Defayette says. The modularity provides flexibility as plant changes occur, she says.

“If the labeler or other machines shift in location, during or after commissioning, much more of the VarioFlow S product can be reused and repurposed because the major components of the drives, idlers, conveyor beam, etc., are identical in the two widths,” she says.

Utilizing space
Many bottlers also are faced with producing more products in the same amount of space. To that end, many companies offer conveyor solutions that make better use of existing space. Ambaflex, Bedford, Texas, and Ryson International, Yorktown, Va., both offer spiral conveyors that leverage the vertical space in a plant. Ambaflex’s most recent solution was designed to help product accumulation, says Phil Miller, president of the company.

“Sometimes you’ll see in beverage plants, huge accumulation tables either before or after a filler and we’re able to do that in a spiral so they don’t take up that 20 to 30 foot footprint on the floor, they just take up an area that’s maybe 8-feet by 8-feet, but it goes up 20 feet so it’s a better utilization of space from that standpoint,” Miller says. “We’re able to accumulate those bottles and move those bottles in mass flow or single file.”

Ambaflex’s solution built on its spiral design and used a series of 4-inch wide tracks placed side-by-side to be able to accommodate upright bottles and cans in single file or mass flow, Miller says. Its spiral solutions are custom built for an application and easy to maintain, he says. The company continues to innovate working with its customers to create solutions to new industry trends, such as various container materials, weights and sizes, he says.

Also responding to industry needs, Ryson developed a spiral conveyor with a high-capacity belt that can accommodate more elevation change or a larger number of turns, says Ole Rygh, president of Ryson. The company’s 16-inch and 20-inch slats are able to handle higher capacities of bottles. The 16-inch slats can handle 1,200 bottles or cans per minute and the 20-inch slats as much as 2,000 bottles or cans per minute, Rygh says.

Ryson also increased the size and strength of the conveyor’s chain to pull more load. Increased capacity will continue to be an industry trend, Rygh says. The company also is developing solutions to address depalletizing options and other industry trends, he says.

“What we’re seeing is people aren’t building so many new plants, they are trying to squeeze another bottling line into an existing facility and this is where we shine,” Rygh says.

Running dry
Environmental concerns also are impacting plants. Emerson has seen the trend toward running equipment without lubrication, Eure says. The company developed its new generation chain and belt materials as well as Nolu-S wearstrips to perform in dry- or reduced-water applications, Eure says. Nolu-S wearstrips are made of material with inherent lubrication properties that provide lower frictions between the belt and chain material and the bottles on the line, he says. In addition to running without lubricant, the new generation of Emerson conveyor solutions can help reduce the noise level of production in the plant, Eure says.

Lubricant companies also are addressing the trend. TM Smart Track is available from Thonhauser USA Inc., Cincinnati, and is a dry-lubrication system. The synthetic liquid lubricant is applied with an automated brush system that uses self-controlled servicing with telematics to deliver a fine lubricating film onto the conveyor, says Matt La Cava, Thonhauser’s business development manager for track treatment systems and CIP instant verification of clean solutions. TM Smart Track is well-suited for PET bottle, can, carton and glass applications, the company says.

Ecolab, St. Paul, Minn., developed an additional dry-lubrication innovation, its DryExx conveyor lubricant management program targeted for PET and carton packaging applications, says Terri Bringgold, senior marketing communications manager. DryExx is dispensed with traditional spray nozzles using patented technology. Ecolab estimates its dry-lubrication technology has saved about 700,000 gallons of water per year. BI