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Lessons Learned from Conveyor Design: A Modular Conveyor Development Success

Bastian Solutions | 05 November 2010

What is the most important part of selecting the right conveyor? That depends on who you ask.  At its core, each conveyor is a balance of both the quantifiable (energy use, cost, noise...) and the qualitative (aesthetics, color, design...).  As an independent conveyor systems integrator, Bastian is not tied to any model or manufacturer, so our primary focus is helping our customers determine the right conveyor system for their needs. Once the needs of the conveyor system are determined and prioritized, we can help you choose what specific models of conveyors to use within that system in order to achieve your goals. Modular product development is becoming more prevalent across all industries and markets. This practice offers a cost effective solution to make the largest number of unique consumers happy, while decreasing the overall cost burden of having hundreds of available solutions.  A tangible example of modular product development is in the automotive industry. Almost every car company offers more models than they did 30 years ago, while at the same time the cost to produce these cars has gone down.  Today, modular product development enables car companies to produce multiple cars from the same chassis architecture, with drastically different styling and interior options. Increasingly, we are seeing this process affecting conveyor design, and in turn conveyor system design--as material handling systems are often made up of many models of a single family of conveyors. When Bastian partnered with Bastian Custom Automation to design ZiPline conveyor, a zero accumulation conveyor, we knew that there would be hundreds of different products that would have to be conveyed.  Thus, we manufactured a conveyor that could handle very small products as well as large and heavy boxes on inclines, declines and horizontal conveying applications. We learned a lot from turning modular product development into "Modular Conveyor Development"!  Below are a few of those lessons learned. Conveying Small Products Conveying small products typically requires moving items using a belt conveyor, and the gap between belt sections needs to be as small as possible.  This allows for a smooth transition between each zone along the conveyor, and decreases the likelihood of hang-ups.  On accumulation conveyors, small products also call for the use of photoeyes--Photoeye on Conveyorsensors that detect distance, absence, and presence of objects using a light transmitter and a photoelectric receiver. These photoeyes are placed along the walls of each conveyor section and trigger the control logic for the conveyor.  For small items, photoeyes must be placed very close to the conveying surface of the belt.  When large boxes accelerate and decelerate quickly, they can "wheelie" or "nose-dive" similar to a car accelerating at a drag race or a car slamming on its brakes.  This rotation can allow for the photoeye beam to shoot under the box and disrupt the accumulation logic.  However, if there is one thing I learned in engineering school, it is easier to fix something with controls than with mechanical Band-Aids.  By changing the acceleration and deceleration timing with the use of simple PC software connected via standard Ethernet cable, we were able to dial in the appropriate acceleration rates so that the accumulation logic would function correctly. Conveying Large Products As an example, if you have a facility where 90 percent of your products fit in boxes less than 21 inches long but 10 percent fit in boxes over 24 inches long, it can be painful to design your accumulation zone length to accommodate the longer boxes.  This means that your system will require more accumulation conveyor--raising the price of the system--or fewer accumulation zones--decreasing the throughput of your conveyor system.  With ZiPline, you don't have to make that choice due to dynamic zone allocation.  The control cards recognize that a box is long enough to occupy two zones and will accommodate two zones for that box as it travels down the length of the conveyor system.  Once that box has completed its journey, the smaller boxes upstream will move down the conveyor only occupying one zone--as seen in the video below.
Conveying Heavy Products: I had a wise professor who gave me a generalized form of efficiency:

Efficiency Equation

This seems obvious but it provides insight to problems like calculating how much torque you need to pull a box up an incline.  Sometimes using a motor with more horsepower seems like the only option, but what if you could increase the efficiency of your system instead?  With ZiPline conveyors, the efficient power transmission of 24V brushless DC motors and a very flexible belt over a precision bearing roller bed allow you to use a much smaller motor to achieve the material handling solutions you need. The largest contributors to overall efficiency for any belt conveyor system are the motor efficiency, the belt stiffness that causes torque loss, and the bed that supports the conveyor belt. If overall efficiency is defined as:

Overall Efficiency Equation

then calculating conveyor efficiency with some thumb rules is as follows:

Calculating Conveyor Efficiency

This means that you could use a motor that has 50 percent less horsepower to do the same amount of work.  Utilizing this knowledge, ZiPline can handle surprisingly heavy loads--up to 150 lbs on a horizontal surface and 100 lbs on inclines as steep as 20 degrees with only a 50W DC motor. There have been many lessons learned in the development of a modular conveyor system. Products of varying sizes and weights present their own unique conveying challenges; however, none of which were unsolvable. Email us at for more information on ZiPline, modular conveyor development, or for help with any of your material handling needs.  You can also visit our Website to see ZiPline conveyor in action.

Author: Bastian Solutions


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