Not Your Father's Accumulation Conveyor

 

The Evolution of the Accumulation Conveyor

Back in your dad’s day – decades ago depending on your age, the accumulation conveyor had issues! They used air pressure and spring-loaded mechanical product sensor bars to move product along the rollers – a single point drive train was utilized to make the whole thing work - it wouldn’t be surprising to find a hamster on a wheel hidden somewhere running the darn thing.  Not only did they run continuously, but also the sensors required constant maintenance and if the product to be moved was too light – the product didn’t move at all! (Kind of defeats the purpose, right?)

The next developmental step for the accumulation conveyor may have occurred around the time you were in middle school – and just like that stage in life, things had gotten better but were still awkward.  Imagine replacing the old spring-loaded sensors with electronic photo sensors – less maintenance and no more leaving the lightweight products stranded - BUT -the conveyors still had to run constantly and required air pressure to do the job.

So the march of time did little to remedy the accumulation conveyor issues – they ran constantly, were noisy, needed compressed air to run, weren’t easily reconfigured and were still pretty expensive – what was a materials handler to do?

The Accumulation Conveyor – All Grown Up

Technology has stepped up and saved the day – the accumulation conveyor is all grown up and making life easier for anyone who needs to move product from here to there!  Thanks to advances in motorized drive roller (MDR) technology and distributed network-based controls technology (think no more air pressure for movement or spring-loaded mechanical sensors) the accumulation conveyor functions smoothly and has almost unlimited capabilities. It’s a SUPER CONVEYOR! MDR based accumulation conveyors are mechanically configured so that each product zone is actually its own individually controlled motorized section.  There are no complicated single point drive train or compressed air driven actuator mechanisms. Product on the conveyor moves from discrete (or separate) zone to discrete zone.

The benefits of the accumulation conveyor and it’s MDR and network based control technologies are numerous.

Reduced Energy Requirements – the discrete zones only run to accept product from upstream zone or move product to downstream zone.  This can amount to a 30% to 70% reduction in energy costs compared to early conveyor systems.

Reduced Noise Emissions – the discrete zones only run when they need to so the noise is considerably less than that of the old drivetrain conveyor that ran constantly.  A typical MDR conveyor installation can achieve 70db or less noise levels.

Safer for Operators – each discrete section is driven by a low voltage (24VDC typically) motor roller.  These smaller motors do not require much torque. In most designs, a person can literally grab a running motorized roller with their bare hand and make it stop with a handshake grip – quite a change from the belts, sprockets and chains of old that could be very hazardous to workers.

 

The Next Step

There is still a resemblance between the modern accumulation conveyor described above and the early conveyor from decades ago.  Conveyor systems including MDR designs still often use centralized control systems that require custom engineered and programmed solutions.  These can be very costly and challenging to engineer and install. Also, custom solutions tend to be difficult to modify or expand to accommodate changing business conditions. There may be new flexibility with the discrete zone set up but the control systems still have to be reworked at a considerable cost.  The bottom line is that this solution can cost as much time and money as a whole new system – so why bother?

The next step in this evolution is the Distributed Networked Control System for the MDR conveyor.  The latest technology for the MDR conveyor is to put the motor roller and logic control right at home in the discrete conveyor section.  These local control modules are equipped with high-speed intelligent network capability. The modules communicate with their neighboring modules to pass product from conveyor zone to conveyor zone; all without any centralized control required – amazing! With the proper tools and preparation - complex conveyor paths can be created and essentially be “pre-programmed” into the intelligent modules.  This flexible system has many benefits, among them reduced engineering time and cost, reduced installation time and cost – we’re saving time and money here. The system also allows for diagnostic data capturing and reporting – functions that would normally require an additional costly system – not so here – these functions are already in place in the network – BONUS!!!

We’re not strictly talking about moving product from zone to zone here either.  With the right strategy and control system tool these units can easily be applied to complex conveyor devices such as diverters and merges.  They can even keep track of data associated with product while it is on the conveyor, all without a centralized control system. The localized control can be instructed to divert and merge product and make specific product information available on the network.  The possibilities are limitless!!