Conveyor collaboration lets one drive do job of four

Cooperation by a builder’s electrical and mechanical engineers led to the creation of a more integrated straight-track conveyor, which uses one onboard drive motor to do the work of four.

By Jim Montague, Executive Editor


Frank Lauyans is a patient man. After waiting two or three decades to merge the mechanical and electrical sides of designing and building his company’s material handling solutions, he finally found a suitable opportunity for marrying the two disciplines about a year a half ago.

This level of collaboration was essential in helping Lauyans and his colleagues, system integrator Controltouch Systems and supplier Schneider Electric, work together to create a more integrated straight-track conveyor, which uses one onboard drive motor to do the work of the four drives found in traditional conveyors. Lauyans says this approach reduces both upfront and lifecycle costs.

Lauyans is president of Lauyans & Co. in Louisville, Ky., which builds automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RSs), overhead conveyors, automated transfer solutions, and other engineered solutions. The company recently designed and built its patent-pending Transporter 2007 conveyor system to feed AR/RSs in -20 ºF or above freezer applications in which pallet loads are transported from a mainline conveyor, and presented to a stacker crane within a ±0.25 in. tolerance. Besides eliminating 75% of the usual drives, the new conveyor also gets rid of hydraulic lift tables at the stacker crane interface.




  Lauyans & Co.

Lauyans & Co. uses one drive instead of four.

These gains required some unusually close cooperation from all participants. “Electrical and mechanical engineers often don’t know what the others are doing,” says Lauyans. “We had to inform each other better, and set goals in our design and engineering meetings, so we could see if our new components would fit into Transporter’s major systems, which enabled us to build its controls into its mechanical systems. Our system integrators, Frank and Rick Dahl at Controltouch, really pulled us together when we working on Transporter’s panels, logic, systems engineering, and electrical components. We wouldn’t have been able to complete this development process and build Transporter without each other.”


For example, Lauyans wanted to use proximity sensors and targets to accomplish Transporter’s positioning functions, but this required shifting some traditionally mechanical functions onto the electrical side. Controltouch is expert in using proximity sensors to perform encoder-type functions, in which a PLC counts pulses as its motor rotates, and can then makes decisions based on that data. “This was less costly than using encoders, and was a solution that could be used at low temperatures,” adds Lauyans.

Transporter 2007 uses seven proximity switches and four photo eyes, and all of their signals are processed through Schneider’s Twido micro PLC, which uses variable-frequency drives (VFDs) to manage three-phase power to its motor on the conveyor’s car. The sensors check various positions, such as when its lift is up, when a pallet is on that lift, or if over-travel has occurred. Previously, these sensors were located along the track, and so they couldn’t adequately tell if a load was on the car, according to Lauyans. Likewise, Transporter’s onboard safety systems reportedly also are safer than if these systems weren’t located on the car.

As it moves along its track, Transporter’s one drive motor completes all the tasks that conventional conveyors need four drives to perform. These include picking up a load from a chain-transfer device, moving it forward, lifting it, and presenting it to the crane. Using one drive motor instead of four means Lauyans’ end-users can save all the costs of using three more drives, as well as saving on their wiring, power, labor, and time.

In addition, installation and startup of Transporter 2007 is simplified by its single-piece construction. Electrical devices and optional controls are pre-wired and tested at Lauyans’ facility before shipment. This reduces overall cost of installation, field wiring, and startup of the system. In addition, Transporter’s major components can be pulled out and replaced to minimize production downtime. There also are visual and audio aids to help maintenance personnel detect a potential problem before it becomes serious.

“Because many builders still separate their electrical and mechanical development, the controls engineers may not learn about jams and other problems until startup,” add Lauyans. “The real value of marrying electrical and mechanical development is that we now can prewire and pretest more functions and equipment, solve a lot more configuration problems, and greatly reduce commissioning time. We just didn’t realize how much we could save for out customers.”

Lauyans adds that Transporter 2007 is one of the first systems its planned series of conveyor equipment for freezer applications. The newly built Transporter will be exhibited at Pro Mat tradeshow (Booth # 3908) on Jan. 8-11 at McCormick Place in Chicago.