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CONVENTIONAL PALLETIZING: MANUFACTURING EVOLUTION
20 April 2018
Wild guess: You have a car; your father had a car and your grandfather had one before him. When you compare those three cars, common ground is that they all took you from point A to B. Now think of what your car does today that your grandfather's didn’t 60 years ago. The same applies to conventional palletizer machines. Technology evolves, palletizers do too.
To know where you’re going, you must know where you’re coming from. To better comprehend the knowledge behind conventional palletizers, it is best to understand the intensive course of action required to develop such equipment.
Early in the engineering process, several elements will be taken into consideration. The team needs to not only understand the challenges of your industry, but also come up with solutions to better address them. In addition to speed and maintenance, ease of use and safety are now accounted for and will become deal breakers if the solution provided does not meet requirements.
Conventional palletizers may have been around for quite some time, but they are far from being outdated. Here’s why they’re still at the top of their game.
Conventional palletizers often remain the fastest way to accomplish end-of-line operations. This is due to the fact that they don’t rely on the movement of a single arm-tool, allowing them to reach higher execution speeds. The accumulation of product on the conveyor ensures continuous processing for maximized operations.
Not only has the palletizing machine evolved over the years, its interaction has too. Two-way feedback is now possible, and data can be extracted from the HMI. Information on production rates, downtime, maintenance requirements and fault messaging are now easy to gather and analyze.
Long production runs of the same product are perfect for conventional palletizers. It is, however, possible to handle different SKUs with a conventional solution. The HMI allows quick and easy automatic product changeovers. Controls have predetermined settings in stored recipes to adapt when alternating products. These parameters will establish which pattern the conventional palletizing machine will obey for accurate palletizing.
The handling characteristics can vary as much as the product itself. Whether a plant is dealing with boxes, cases, bundles, bales, trays or all previously mentioned, the conventional palletizer has a way of knowing how to smoothly and reliably position the product in place.
Conventional palletizers are likely to be the best adapted solution for unconventional packages. Product can be small, large or unstable and still get palletized in an effective way. Continual improvements in technology now allow you to expand boundaries and reach new limits.
Nothing new here: Down-time is non-productive. Significant progress has been made to solidify reliability in conventional palletizing. Troubleshooting is made simpler with the ability to monitor input and output status of sensors and controls directly on the screen. If, for example, a machine cycle exceeds the established timeframe, or an unexpected condition occurs, timers or sensors will detect that and signal the programmable logic controller (PLC) to stop the machine. Fault messaging will then appear on the HMI explaining what went wrong so it can be assessed rapidly. Preventive maintenance is also made easy with quick on-screen messaging.
Today’s conventional palletizers require less maintenance and when they do, internal servicing is easier to manage. They are manufactured with fewer chains and sprockets, which require monitoring over time. Where direct drives are not effective, poly chain belts are favored since they require less care and do not require lubrication. Most motors are driven by variable-frequency drive, allowing the operation to ramp up or ramp down speed smoothly. The VFD not only takes stress off the equipment, it ensures gentle handling of the product.
Even though conventional palletizers do operate with more pieces, the repair costs will be lowered by the availability of replacement parts from local suppliers. Wearing surfaces are now made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMW) instead of steel. UHMW has a high level of shock resistance and its low friction coefficient allows it to slide easily on metallic faces. It is easy to change and costs less to replace.
Today, PLC’s and HMI’s are tied into overall plant networks through secure VPN communications or routers. This allows remote access to the palletizer for troubleshooting and service. A supplier who offers a full dedicated customer care service will then be better equipped to assess situations as they occur.
Over the years, the manufacturing industry has shifted in terms of safety priorities. Back then, operators could approach the equipment without proper guarding. Conventional palletizers now include advanced safety features to prevent injuries. The palletizing machine is safeguarded by fences. The doors and gates have trapped key interlocking. This feature creates a safe sequence while entering the equipment perimeter. For example, the key in charge of the power source will also be used to access high risk areas. Once the door is opened, the key will be trapped until it is closed again. A secondary key follows the operator into the fenced area. The equipment can’t be reinitiated without both keys in their proper place.
The presence of light curtains creates safety perimeters between personnel and the machine. If a person approaches the palletizer, the light beam will detect it and immediately place the machine in a safe condition. Handrails are installed on top of the equipment to reduce risk of injury when performing maintenance operations. Air dump valves are also in place so that if any stop were to be initiated, no stored energy would remain in the palletizer.
Conventional palletizers are now equipped with safety brakes and shafts if operations were to be interrupted while the hoist is up. This feature prevents unexpected movements while performing maintenance or repositioning pallets or product in the hoist area.
The customer now has better control of which team members can access different levels on the equipment. Functions on the HMI touchscreen now allow for adjustments to be made without entering the electrical panel. Since a maintenance technician is more likely to need access to the entire machine than an operator, different passwords will be generated for specific actions.
Some things aren’t made to change in conventional palletizing. As in the 40s, manufactured goods still go through the infeed, onto the conveyor and will wind up on a pallet at the end of the day. Although the principle remains, technology in this field has evolved over the past years to meet the ever-growing complexity of the market.
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