The earliest conveyor systems originated in the 18th century when the first conveyor belts were made from leather or canvas and supported by wooden frames. These rudimentary hand-operated conveyor belts were used mostly for conveying coal and other minerals in mines and factories. In the early 20th century, steel replaced the more fragile materials, which increased the belts’ weight capacity and speed – they were now able to carry heavy loads over longer distances (and at higher speeds).
Today, not only there is a wide range of materials for conveyor belt systems, but there are also conveyors that don’t have the shape (or function) of a belt at all. It isn’t easy to imagine an assembly line or warehouse without a conveyor solution of some sort. And with the increasing popularity of robotics, conveyors are becoming increasingly automated.
So, what makes a conveyor system automated?
Principles of material handling
While there are no strict rules for material handling, there are ten principles set forth by the College Industry Council on Material Handling Education (CICMHE) together with the Material Handling Institute. These principles are the result of decades of research in the field of ergonomics and material handling, and they include:
- Planning principle
- Standardization principle
- Work principle
- Ergonomic principle
- Unit load principle
- Space utilization principle
- System principle
- Automation principle
- Environmental principle
- Life cycle cost principle
While we could go into detail about each of these, we will only focus on the automation principle.
The automation principle stipulates that material handling operations should be automated or mechanized wherever possible to improve productivity, workplace safety, and product quality. In other words, if a task can be done without human intervention (or with very little human intervention), it should be.
This is where conveyor systems come in. Conveyors can automate many tasks that would otherwise have to be done by hand, such as sorting, loading and unloading, and more. In addition, they can improve safety by keeping workers away from dangerous tasks or areas.
Let’s look at which segments of conveying materials in the manufacturing process can be automated.
Loading and unloading
Loading materials onto a conveyor system used to be done entirely by hand. Today, however, there are many conveyor systems that come with automatic loading and unloading features. These features can include:
Automatic loaders: These loaders attach to the conveyor and can be programmed to load materials at a specific rate. They are often used with sensors that tell the loader when the conveyor is full.
Automatic unloaders: These unloaders can be programmed to release materials at specific intervals, making them ideal for tasks such as packaging or labeling.
Infeed and outfeed tables: Infeed and outfeed tables can be used to load and unload materials onto a conveyor system automatically. The infeed table is used to load the materials onto the conveyor, while the outfeed table is used to empty the materials from the conveyor.
Another task that can be automated with a conveyor system is sorting. This is often done with sensors that are placed along the conveyor. The ideal type of conveyor for sorting is a belt conveyor or a roller conveyor, as it can be equipped with sensors that can detect the presence of an object on the belt. Once the object is detected, the conveyor can be programmed to sort it into the correct category.
This means that facility workers no longer have to spend time sorting materials by hand. Instead, they can focus on other tasks, such as quality control.
Labeling and packaging
Labeling and packaging are two more tasks that can be automated with a conveyor system. A conveyor cannot label or package materials on its own, but it can be used in conjunction with a labeling or packaging machine.
For example, a product that needs to be labeled can be fed into a labeling machine by a conveyor. Once the product is marked, the conveyor can move it to the packaging machine. The same process can be used for products that need to be packaged.
Conveying control system
Increasing or decreasing the conveying speed, stopping and starting the conveying system, and changing the direction of the conveying system are all tasks that can be automated. They can be pre-programmed into the conveyor system or motor, or they can be controlled by an operator.
In terms of controls, there is a wide range of alerts and alarms that can be automated with a conveyor system. For example, an operator can be alerted if the conveyor is overloaded or if there is an obstruction on the belt or in the conveyor tube.
In addition, an alarm can be set to go off if the conveyor system is not working properly. This helps to ensure that the system is always operating at peak efficiency.
In order to understand how a conveyor system performs, it is important to track its performance data. This data can improve the system’s efficiency and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.
Some of the performance data that can be tracked include:
- Speed – how fast the conveyor is moving materials.
- Distance – how far the conveyor is moving materials.
- Belt or tube load – the amount of material that is on the belt or in the tube.
This data can be tracked manually or automatically. Automated tracking is often done with sensors that are placed along the conveyor. These sensors can track the performance data in real-time, which is helpful for instantly addressing any issues that might occur.
It is also possible to track the performance data of an automated conveyor system over time. Typically, some type of software is in charge of automated tracking, a program designed specifically for this purpose. This software can be used to generate reports that show the performance of the conveyor system over time. This data can be used to improve the system’s efficiency and identify any trends that may emerge.
Some conveyor systems are equipped with automated maintenance features. These features can be used to perform tasks such as lubricating the conveyor belt or cleaning the conveyor tubes.
For example, Cablevey conveyors utilize a pneumatic tensioning device to ensure that the cable in our conveyors is properly tensioned. This device allows an operator to easily and quickly adjust the tension on the line, which helps to extend the life of the conveyor.
In addition, our conveyors are equipped with a self-cleaning feature that helps to keep the tubes clean and free of debris. This is an important feature, as it helps to ensure that the conveyor system is contamination and germ-free.
Conveyor systems can also be equipped with additional features that make them even more automated. These features include:
Bar code readers: Bar code readers can track the movement of materials through a facility. This information can be used to improve inventory control and management.
Weight sensors: Weight sensors can be used to weigh materials as they are being conveyed. This information can be used to track the movement of materials through a facility and calculate the cost of shipping.
RFID tags: RFID tags can track the movement of materials through a facility. This information can be used to improve inventory control and management.
Camera systems: Camera systems can monitor the conveyor system and the materials being conveyed. This information can be used to improve safety and track the movement of materials through a facility.
Automated conveyors are becoming increasingly popular in many different industries. They offer many advantages over manual systems, including increased efficiency, accuracy, and safety. In addition, automated conveyor systems can be equipped with a variety of features that make them even more convenient and efficient.
But what makes a conveyor system automated? The definition of automation can vary depending on the context. Still, in general, automation refers to using technology to perform a task that a human would otherwise perform. In the case of conveyor systems, factory automation can refer to the use of sensors, bar code readers, weight sensors, RFID tags, camera systems, and other technologies to track materials’ movement and perform tasks such as maintenance and inventory management.
If you’re interested in a conveyor system that will save you time and money, be sure to ask about the automation features that are available. Contact Cablevey to learn more about our automated systems.