Interchangeable modular systems have dramatic effect on engineering flexible production lines.

From the production floor to the packaging line, there are a thousand pieces that must come together to make a manufacturing facility work. Although individual plants have unique processes and distinctive stumbling blocks to overcome, all manufacturers are susceptible to common issues that can bring production to a halt.

One of the most common pieces of equipment in a manufacturing facility is a conveyor. And although it may seem that all conveyors are created equal, many manufacturers have discovered that the use of reconfigurable modular conveyor systems have a dramatic effect on maintaining tight production schedules and engineering extremely flexible production lines.

“You don’t think much of a simple conveyor unless it is costing you and creating inefficiencies by breaking down, not working correctly or it’s contaminating the product,” says Bill Padgett, vice president of manufacturing at Custom Bottle. “In getting a product to the packaging line, there are so many things you can have problems with, so many different pieces of equipment, and the last thing you want to spend time on is what should be one of the simplest things out there – and that is a conveyor.”

When Padgett joined Naugatuck, Conn.-based Custom Bottle, a leading extrusion blow molder that provides a broad line of plastic bottles for clients in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and personal care industries, a primary goal was to enhance production efficiency by adding robotics and other automation equipment.  

In the beginning, Padgett says, “All I ever heard about in meetings were problems with the conveyors – problems with the rollers, problems with the belts coming off track, problems with the fibers from the belts contaminating the product.”

Standard conveyors and belts can be difficult to maintain and require a great deal of maintenance, such as frequent belt alignment, routine belt replacement, and lubrication of rollers and other components. As these standard belts stretch, they become misaligned and rub against conveyor parts, releasing small fibers.

“This is a common problem in our industry,” says Padgett. “If the belt moves just a little bit, these fibers get onto the belt and onto your product or even into your resin stream, and neither one is good.”

Even with extensive belt tensioning and maintenance, these fibers, often too small to see, can break loose and contaminate the product. When fibers are on the conveyor belt, the static electricity causes the fibers to stick to the outside of the bottle. When that bottle goes to the printing line, the fibers get under the ink and cause a void in the printing. Worse still is when fibers get down inside the bottles and have the potential to contaminate the customer’s product. Contamination such as this can cause an entire truckload of product to be rejected.

Padgett, who has built plants from the ground up and seen a multitude of equipment over the years, believes that the answer to making a consistent product that is profitable is to get it right the first time from an engineering aspect.

“If you don’t, the customer may still get the product they expected in the end, but on the engineering side if you don’t do it right, it will cost you more to produce than you realize,” he says.

According to Padgett, this is done by engineering out as many down-the-road flaws that can be conceived and by adding as many redundancies in the equipment as possible.

“Because at the end of the day, what manufacturers really sell is machine time,” he says. “If the machines aren’t running, manufacturers are not making money.”

Exasperated with the amount of maintenance time Custom Bottle spent on the plant’s old conveyors, Padgett sought out Muskegon, Mich.-based Dynamic Conveyor Corporation, manufacturer of maintenance-free, reconfigurable DynaCon conveyors.

Based on a unique “snap-in-place” concept of high-impact, interchangeable plastic modules, accessories and components, reconfigurable modular conveyor systems offer the flexibility and ease of reconfiguration to dramatically improve production or packaging flow and rapidly modify material handling schemes in order to handle more work.

These proprietary modular conveyor systems use a positive sprocket drive and tracking with the plastic link style belting that eliminates slippage and edge damage.

“With our old style conveyors, you would have to adjust the rollers to keep them on track. But the way these DynaCons are made, there is no real tracking with them. Because they are self-aligning, they don’t go off track,” says Padgett.

Before switching the plant’s entire operation over to the new conveyor system, which took approximately two years, an excessive amount of maintenance time was dedicated to the conveyors. Since replacing all of the old-style conveyors, Padgett says, “maintenance time for the conveyors has been reduced by 90 percent.”

“Every now and again,” he admits, “human error plays a factor or things get jammed and a piece of the belt may get damaged and need replacing, but you only have to replace one single component vs.  having to buy an entire belt. We can do that in half an hour with minimal cost.”

With the old-style conveyors, Custom Bottle would spend $600 to $700 to replace a single belt.

“I’ve seen other companies try to save $1,000 when buying a conveyor system, and it doesn’t make sense because they will spend that thousand with maintenance and such in the first year and for every year after that, or even more, because the conveyors won’t hold up,” he says.

The self-aligning modular plastic belting that reduced Custom Bottle’s maintenance costs by 95 percent and eliminated fiber contamination is what initially attracted Padgett to the system. However, he quickly discovered that this system was the first to offer the possibility of redundancy in a conveyor system as well as the ability to change the configuration when needed.

“A few years back as we were automating our processes, the ergonomics of the plant changed frequently in terms of how far something had to be conveyed and such. But because the pieces of these conveyors are all interchangeable, instead of going out and buying a new conveyor, I just added a section or two or took out a section or two.”

Due to their interchangeability, reconfigurable DynaCon modular conveyor systems allow manufacturers to engineer redundant conveyor systems that reduce spare parts inventory by choosing components that are the same width and use the same drives as other lines.

“What I have found is that I don’t need as many extra conveyors. I have one drive motor that fits most of my conveyors and that is because I engineered it that way,” says Padgett. “If I happen to have a conveyor down from some mishap, I can steal a component from another line.”

For a list of items to consider when calculating total cost of ownership, visit www.dynamicconveyor.com/whydynacon, or for more information about DynaCon conveyor solutions, contact Dynamic Conveyor Corporation, 5980 Grand Haven Road, Muskegon, MI 49441. You can also visit the Web site www.dynamicconveyor.com.