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What to look for in an 'ideal' conveyor system

Whether you're installing a new pharmaceutical packaging line or reconfiguring an existing one, consider the following list of attributes.

• Modularity. Select conveyor systems that feature preengineered modules and components like turns, guiderails, and motor and drive systems that can be freely combined for customized layout and function. The ideal conveyor will require minimal time for assembly and integration, thus lowering direct labor requirements and implementation costs. Consider also the ease with which ancillary process equipment such as vision systems and marking systems can be mounted directly to the conveyor body.

• Flexibility. Look for conveyors that can easily and quickly accommodate different packaging container sizes, geometries, and formats. The ideal conveyor should incorporate quick-adjust and positive-positioning elements to ensure both speed and repeatability of changeover. It should offer a full range of transport media—usually variants of multiflexing plastic chain with specialized surface features such as cleats, rollers, and friction pads to handle the broadest possible range of packaging content and specific transport tasks. The conveyor should also be easy to assemble and disassemble, thus facilitating efficient inspection, cleaning, and maintenance.

• Size/configuration. Select a conveyor that offers a small footprint, allowing you to maximize floor space and optimize labor productivity. Go for systems that can be configured as vertical accumulation conveyors to save floor space and to keep upstream and downstream packaging equipment running during brief stoppages of other equipment.

• Adaptability. The conveyor system can be tailored to layout and function initially and adapted quickly and cost-effectively to changes in product mix, process routing, or market priorities. This not only will improve your responsiveness and time-to-market cycles but also will protect your investment in productivity, thus lowering total cost of ownership.

• Scalability. If your company is new to packaging line automation, or if you're looking to grow automation content over a specific time horizon, select a conveyor that facilitates rapid production scale-up. The ideal conveyor system will be modular and flexible to handle custom applications while accommodating an extensive range of product and packaging types.

Conclusions

Conveyor systems are not only mechanically necessary to automated packaging processes but also a critical element in a coordinated and productive pharmaceutical packaging line. Properly arranged buffer systems, for example, can increase productivity by up to 25% with return on investment often achieved in six months or less. Conveyors that accommodate varying container sizes—while providing flawless transitions in and out of packaging process steps—increase operational agility, cut waste, and optimize machinery utilization. Conveyor systems should be considered early in the process planning cycle, evaluated as an investment in productivity, and selected on the basis of strategic value.

Become familiar with the relationship between marketing priorities and packaging operations. Understand your packaging line. Perform downtime analyses and rigorously study the results. Identify process constraints and leverage conveyor systems for optimal product flow. Although more detailed than conventional approaches to selecting and implementing conveyor systems, Packaging Flow Management—a thorough review that focuses on the linkage between the packaging process and conveyor capabilities—provides a superior framework for designing conveying solutions that improve productivity while minimizing total cost of ownership. [HCP]

Tony Barr is product marketing manager for modular chain conveyor systems with Bosch Rexroth Corp.'s Linear Motion and Assembly Technologies Group.


By Tony Barr (last in a series)
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