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Conveyors as efficiency and productivity improvement tools

17 September 2017

Conveyors are a critical link between processing operations. Despite this they are often not given due consideration when designing processing lines. Food Processing looks at a variety of applications which demonstrate the important role that conveyors can play in helping maximise efficiency and productivity. 

Since the 1980s Aryzta has transformed itself from a single Irish bakery into a worldwide corporation that has driven bakery innovation forward. The company turned to Conveyor Systems (CSL) when it needed a pallet conveyor solution that would be suitable for use within a cold store environment.

The project resulted as part of a planned upgrade to a decommissioned cold store for one of its UK sites. The company wanted to bring cold storage back in-house as its subcontracted cold storage was becoming an increasingly costly option which led to a decision to invest in the site and in the company’s own existing assets.

CSL was asked to design, supply and install a system to handle a range of pallet types for weights up to 1500kg that could operate in both cold store and ambient conditions, while maintaining the standard design structure throughout.  Part of the challenge was to work within the restrictions of the existing site layout.

Due to a step in building heights between the cold store and ambient area, the system, which was dual lane – with each lane being 12m long – needed to be supported from a steel structure.

The criteria was to provide a dual lane conveyor solution, that was fully reversible, to store pallets in the cold store and deliver into an ambient lobby area ready for loading onto refrigerated trailers.  The cold store operated at -25 and the lobby area +8°C. 

As part of the control function and to overcome the issues caused by cold store environments, such as condensation, which interferes with normal Photo Electric Cells (PECS), CSL employed its specially- designed sensor rollers in place of the normally used PECs, to detect the presence of a pallet and to provide a non-contact accumulation conveyor system.  As the conveyor was reversible, two sensor rollers were used within each zone.

A main control panel was sited away from the main area, up in the control room, with a remote HMI positioned close to the ambient Lobby area.  A second remote panel was located within the cold store for dual function control.

As part of the process, CSL needed to work alongside other suppliers and had to provide a turnkey solution which included interfacing with an air curtain system and rapid shutter door.  These interfaces were critical to ensuring the pallets were discharged in a sequenced and controlled manner, while maintaining the cold store temperature.

Friction and tension issues
In another baking application, a conveying solution was needed to solve the problems of high belt tension, time and product loss, and extensive cleaning cycles, on a three-year old spiral belt line. 

The spiral belt was being challenged with the problem of friction between the drum and the belt edges due to high butter content in the dough being carried on the belt.  Friction between the belt and belt support also changed due to residues from the toppings on the pastries. The changing friction factors created high belt tension problems, resulting in the belt Christmas treeing, leading to product loss. 

The baker initially attempted to manage the situation by adjusting the settings during production, which proved to be very time-consuming. Intermediate cleaning cycles were also implemented. However, none of the efforts gave the baker full control of the spiral system.

Finally a solution was found when the company spoke to L.A.C Conveyors, which suggested the installation of an Intralox S2700 DirectDrive belt onto the spiral belt line. DirectDrive technology allows the belt and the drum to engage without friction.  With the new belt, there is no longer a need to schedule intermediate cleaning during production week, and belt tensioning has been dramatically reduced. Belt flipping has been virtually eliminated.  
The plant manager at the bakery has reported that since installation of the new belt on the line there has been no production loss or downtime.  Plant efficiency has dramatically increased and production capacity has been maximised.  

The success of this solution prompted the bakery to specify the use of DirectDrive again, on the freezer belt of a new croissant line. In addition, it will also be used to replace a third-party belt on another of the bakeries spiral freezer lines very soon.
A sweet solution
An international confectioner needed to find a conveying solution to transfer products from ten process machines through to filling and assembly, totally automatically over a conveying distance of 150m per line for six lines, as part of a 24/7 production operation.

UPM Conveyors was able to provide a system comprising a total of 900m of conveyors. All the equipment used in production has been interfaced via Ethernet I/P protocol to a central controller which gives the company the ability to connect it to the factory’s main control system.

The conveying solution allows product to be diverted to any of the six stations when required, as dictated by level sensors located throughout the system which oversees the movement of over 1.5 million containers every day. Since completion of the project efficiency and production lead times at the facility have improved.
The PLC/HMI software which formed part of the solution was developed in-house by UPM utilising two Allen Bradley 5380 Compact Logix Systems with 15in colour touch screens, with a total of 34 Powerflex 525 variable speed drives (VSDs). The two controls were centrally located with slave HMIs with ‘read-only’ displays installed for the convenience of operators, giving them easy access to simple navigation steps, active alarms and historical alarm pages at various points around the production area.

To maximise the production floor area and to provide an aesthetically pleasing installation all of the high-rise conveyors were suspended from the ceiling. 

The system was delivered to the confectioner ahead of schedule. Roy Fowler, director at UPM explains how this was made possible: “We have invested heavily in 3D mechanical solid modelling design to allow us to create 3D digital prototypes using the design visualisation and simulation of products. This allows customers to visualise the proposed solution for the product handling application from all angles, as the image can be rotated through 360°. This eliminates any risk of the system not interfacing to existing equipment and ensures that it will accommodated within the allocated production area.”  The software also includes assembly stress analysis which also enables UPM Conveyors to input driving loads; friction characteristics and dynamic components then to run dynamic simulation tests to see how a product would work under real world conditions.

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