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Increasing demand for bespoke conveyor solutions

18 July 2016

A dramatically changing food processing market has required UPM Conveyors to update its conveyor technology and processes. Roy Fowler explains why. 

I envisage seeing simple, traditional belt conveyors becoming obsolete in the future with bespoke engineered solutions instead becoming the norm. This is due to companies, by necessity, getting leaner and no longer having the capability to design and integrate a fully automatic production cell in-house. This is, in-part, due to the lack of investment in training and apprenticeships over the past five years which has resulted in a shortage of skilled personnel in the UK.

Automation is key to improving efficiency which in turn leads to the increase in profitability and the increases in costs for manual operations allows processors to consider fully automatic cells as an economically viable solution.

We have witnessed a change, with food processors demanding more integration of belt conveyors into fully automatic cells – incorporating product orientation; singulation and counting prior to presentation to packaging/assembly machines.

The days of offering a simple belt conveyor to transfer food products from each production phase to final packing have now almost disappeared and this has resulted in UPM establishing a product testing area in conjunction with 3D software to simulate the customer's production environment.

This helps prove the viability of a solution and allows us to offer a performance guarantee, based on equipment performing to an agreed specification. In the event of any issues arising, we then supply labour and parts to remedy the situation free of charge.

Such tailor-made solutions naturally require more sophisticated control systems which caters for vision; barcode reading product positioning; interfacing with robots and orientation requiring PLC programming allowing a single point of use of a complete cell with data capture being sent to a central PC.

Today we class ourselves as system integrators and have needed to create an infrastructure to cater for total turnkey projects. 

Bespoke solution for Finlays
This transition can be demonstrated by a project for Finlays Fresh Produce, the first suppliers of Fairtrade vegetables into the UK and a company known for its ethical beverage packaging.

Roger Broughton, group engineering manager at Finlays Fresh Produce, said: “UPM was selected because of its ability to offer bespoke solutions to product handling in Kenya where trouble free operations and zero maintenance are priorities. 3D layouts in Inventor (CAD) proved to us that the conveyors would locate within the confined production area.”

The solution to Finlays application was based on triple decker belt conveyors.  This allowed four operators per side to transfer products from the lower conveyor to fill boxes on the middle conveyor. Empty boxes are transferred on the top roller at a rate of 2,000 kilos per hour.

Each stage of food production is monitored to ensure only good products are transported via swan neck belt conveyors to high level conveyors which minimises floor area occupied. Then, they move through a firewall to assembly/filling lines with over capacity storage facilities, subject to high-level detectors. 

 This is completed without any manual involvement. It is achieved by the incorporation of multi-way diverters which are based on the unique conveyor design, uniquely developed by UPM which resulted in the business being awarded the A Queen’s Award for Innovation.

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