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Smarter technology

03 March 2016

Pallet conveyors are proving increasingly versatile and sophisticated, says Gebhardt-ECS.

Pallet conveyors may seem to be the simple, strong players in the materials handling game – the tough prop forwards rather than the elegant, clever wing three-quarters on the carton-handling side of the industry.

But these heavy lifters are increasingly versatile and sophisticated, as manufacturers such as Gebhardt-ECS apply their research and development resources to them, allowing the handling of a wide variety of loads to be automated in manufacturing as well as warehousing situations.

Pallet handling systems have been an important part of the G-ECS portfolio for many years and are based on the company’s well-proven 525.20 accumulation conveyor, which is characterised by its low power demand, slim-profile construction and low noise levels compared with other systems. Pallets are transported on powered rollers and accumulate automatically without touching, ensuring loads are not damaged and no shunting can occur. Being powered, the system is safer than a gravity system and generally requires less space. The accumulation technology is mechanical with simple, reliable controls.

A recent installation took advantages of these features to transform the transportation of output from the production area to a separate warehouse building. Because of the layout of the site this had previously required a semi-trailer and a fleet of fork lift trucks. Pallets are now carried from production up an elevator, across a bridge and back down to the warehouse fully automatically until they reach their take-off points.

A shuttle car links three spurs in production to the start of the new conveyor system, where each pallet is labelled with a unique bar-code denoting its storage destination. Bar-code readers at various decision points on the system direct the pallets to one of five areas in the warehouse, where they are taken off by fork trucks and put away in racking. Extensive use of zero line pressure accumulation allows over 250 pallets to be held on the conveyors, excluding turntables and powered roller modules.

In a manufacturing situation sheer volume may not be an issue, but efficiency and safety will be, particularly if heavy or awkward loads are involved. This was the case for a specialist manufacturer of automotive components that required a system for moving door casings without manual handling, while maintaining accurate stock control. The conveyor system was designed to carry special stillages from the processing area to the door assembly area, transferring stock on a first-in, first-out basis as required. On the assembly side five take-off conveyors were provided for unloading the stillages, which are then re-circulated automatically back to the processing area.

For automating pallet storage in existing warehouse buildings Gebhardt’s StoreBiter 500 is a very practical storage and retrieval solution. It comprises a satellite load handling device that is combined with a transfer car and is generally installed in multi-deep racking, providing very high storage density. Each level is fitted with its own transfer car/satellite, and one or more elevators lift and lower pallets from the shuttles to the infeed/outfeed conveyors.

The latest development of the StoreBiter 500 is the StoreBiter OLPS, or One Level Pallet Shuttle. This shuttle eliminates the need for both transfer car and satellite on each level – and is effectively one machine to do both functions. It can move bi-directionally – that is, forwards/backwards and left/right – and is effectively free to roam throughout a racking system. Energy is on-board in the form of supercapacitors.

The system is again very dense in terms of pallet storage but offers huge flexibility. The system can be easily enlarged with more racking and the addition of more OLPS shuttles. The system can create fully automated pallet storage that can fit easily into existing buildings of virtually any shape or size.