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Modular Conveyor System: "Quick-Change Artist" Where Traditional Conveyor Systems Hold Back the Food Industry

Thu, 12/09/2004 - 8:08am
Ed Sullivan
A modular conveyor system can help optimize production, incorporate accessories that enhance quality, and provide serviceability that increases uptime while lowering replacement costs

 

With the profusion of regulations, microprocessor-based processing equipment, formulation, testing, and other issues, the last thing that candy packagers need to be worried about is good old-fashioned material handling. Yet, this is an area that has become more sophisticated and can definitely impact both quality and the bottom line. Conveyors and accessory fixtures that are not precisely integrated into a production scheme can diminish productivity and even compromise quality standards.

Production optimization is compromised when the conveyor system does not include all the right features, either because they are viewed as expensive or are unknown to system designers. In other cases, traditional conveyor systems that start out fitting production needs exactly become "de-optimized" due to changes in production equipment, causing the conveyor systems to no longer provide a precise fit.

When a conveyor system is holding a company back, the company may also hold back on product design or packaging changes, which can be devastating in the marketplace. A recent National Food Laboratory (Dublin, CA) study concluded that up to 56 percent of consumers have recently purchased products they would not have purchased otherwise due to new and exciting packaging. Yet, some food packagers are not able to even contemplate packaging changes because their conveyor systems are inflexible.

In many situations, the flexibility required to provide the right features and fit especially in changing production environments is best supplied by modular conveyor systems. A truly modular conveyor system not only helps optimize production, it can also incorporate accessories that enhance quality and provide serviceability that increases uptime while lowering maintenance and replacement costs.

Carriage Candy Company (London, Ontario) found that a modular conveyor with variable-speed drive and attached cooling fans provided a remarkably cost-effective solution for cooling its Kapow! Pops brand lollipops by 215°F on a relatively short conveyor run of 14 feet en route to the packaging department.

In the past, it took 20-25 minutes to cool lollipops in molds riding on a conveyor belt between the kitchen and wrapping department. After installing a Modular Conveyor System, that cooling time has been reduced to 10 minutes, more than doubling productivity on the line.

"Before purchasing the modular conveyor we were convinced that we could improve product flow. We already had the kitchen capacity. All we needed to do was efficiently lower the temperature of the lollipops," says Bob Edgecombe, Carriage Candy principal and Plant Manager. "Initially, we thought about purchasing a cooling tunnel for our existing conveyor. But they were expensive and might not be adaptable to our future needs. So we looked at the DynaCon system."

Although Edgecombe was impressed with the solidness of the high-impact plastic conveyor sections and their availability in a variety of widths, most important was that the system offered a wide array of accessories, including cooling fans, that integrate with the conveyor modules.

Carriage Candy purchased a 14-foot modular system with 32 attachable fans that cool the lollipops in trays riding on a link belt. A variable-speed drive enables the conveyor operator to adjust the speed of the belt as required to ensure that the candy is sufficiently cool when it arrives at the wrapping department.

"The fans draw ambient air from underneath the belt and blow it up onto the molds, and the belt is open so that air is coming through the belt, hitting the molds and cooling them down," explains Edgecombe. "The system is highly efficient, expandable, easy to service and it saved us a lot of money."

When Carriage Candy ordered its system, a sales engineer inquired about possible future reconfigurations and new applications that the customer might have. When Bob Edgecombe said that eventually he planned to integrate a 90-degree radius turn and lengthen the conveyor run, the engineer advised him to upgrade the order to an appropriate drive and belting. When Carriage Candy moves ahead with the new configuration, they will be able to do so with almost no delay in production.

"For us to reconfigure with a 90-degree radius turn all we have to do is buy that conveyor module," Edgecombe explains. "We can extend the belt 18 inches or 8 feet, just by popping in the necessary number of 18-inch modules and adding a number of links to the belt. To clean the belt, we take it right off the conveyor, scrub it down in the sink, dry it off and put it back on. It's quick and it's easy. It's a beautiful system to work with."

A major advantage of a modular conveyor system is the ability to make adjustments for unforeseeable circumstances. Often the food processing industry uses a lot of equipment that is manufactured outside the U.S., and it is a significant advantage to be able to adjust the length or speed of the system to fit the requirements of new processing equipment that may come from anywhere in the world.

Serviceability is a major appeal of the modular conveyor system, and enhances its flexibility. In effect, it is the ability to reconfigure or even completely re-engineer the system, adding a variety of capabilities -- without having special in-house engineering capabilities. Any number and type of module can be integrated quickly and easily. For example, accessory items available include a Cooling Tunnel Module to cool products via air pumped into a covered section of conveyor; a stainless steel Water Bath Module with a built-in cooling element; a Drop Zone Reinforcement Module is available to absorb the shock of impact; and Exit Chutes that are used to control product flow by channeling products in a particular direction.

When needed, accessories and replacement parts for these systems can be shipped from some modular conveyor companies overnight, saving days or even weeks that would be required for the repair or replacement of conventional fixed conveyors.

The food industry is so large and diverse that the applications for modular conveyor systems seem to be limited only by the size and weight of the product. Other than that, it appears to be a question of imagination.

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