Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve compiled a list of our more commonly asked questions below for quick reference. Of course, if you don’t find an answer here, just contact us and we’ll be happy to chat.
Oh, and you should see the list of the less common questions we get. The quick answers are:
- While it’s possible to get Grandma’s chair upstairs with our systems, builds are already in place that are designed for such a purpose that won’t get us sued.
- That is correct; we do have the second-largest Popeye memorabilia collection in Chester, IL.
- No, you can’t ride that.
It is a fairly common thought that you always need a conveyor that is wider than your product; but that actually isn’t always the case. You may be able to move your parts, boxes, cartons, and cases on conveyors that are significantly narrower than your product and it can actually have some benefits!
Let’s not dance around it: The main benefit is usually cost. A thinner conveyor is generally a more cost effective solution. And we love to think thin!
End-to-end transfers can be much smoother when the conveyor is thinner than your product. Mounting rails or slide plates to the side of your drive or idler can prevent your product from dipping into the gap between radiuses. This avoids products being stuck or defaced by hesitation in the transfer between the two conveyors. A smoother process means a cleaner product.
Also, if you add some automatic, adjustable guiderail, you can haul multiple sizes of product on a narrow conveyor, just like you can with a wider model.
Don’t assume that you need a wider conveying surface without considering a thinner possibility!
It seems like every trade show that we do someone asks us about elevating solutions. There are so many great ways of inclining and declining products out there that it can get a little confusing, not to mention overwhelming, trying to figure out what the best solution is (especially when you don’t live and breathe material handling day-in and day-out).
We in the conveyor industry tend to embrace our jargon with a passion which only makes things worse. It can be awfully confusing to try and translate what exactly someone means when they say “Alpine” or “Blanket Conveyor.” We’ve tried to use layman’s terms, but where’s the fun in that?
So, without further ado and with a little insight into their names, here are seven elevating options from Flex-Line Automation!
Incline/decline conveyors are the most basic elevation changing option. They usually use friction chain, friction belt, cleated chain, cleated belt, roller cleats or small elevation changes over a long run in order to get a product moving up or down in a controlled manner. They are great when you have a lot of room or don’t need drastic height changes. The roller cleat style can even feed product in between the cleats with no additional automation!
Alpine conveyors are what immediately springs to my mind when I think of FlexLink conveyor choices. I’m not even going to pretend that they aren’t my personal favorite. We strapped a camera to a pallet moving through one of these once. It was awesome. You can check it out here.
These conveyors are named after their shape, which is reminiscent of a switchback trail up and down a mountain slope. They are especially fantastic for accumulation applications where you have a limited amount of floor space available. They are a great way to utilize your vertical space.
Spiral conveyors are another great choice for elevation changes. Again, the name says it all. These conveyors spiral product up or down with a small footprint. You don’t get as much accumulation as you can with an Alpine, but a thirty foot tall spiral can carry a bunch of boxes up to a mezzanine quickly and efficiently!
Wedge conveyors, also known as side grip conveyors, are another classic choice. While they don’t provide much by way of accumulation, their ability to pick up individual products from a horizontal belt and transfer them vertically at angles up to 90 degrees is incredibly useful and a great space saver. You can even run them at different speeds than your main line as a built-in singulation station. They are also wonderful for vision check and base coding applications.
Blanket conveyors are actually a dual conveyor system. The lower incline belt usually is plain chain, and the top belt usually has friction links or cleats, which lay down over products as they move up the incline, blanketing the product and holding it securely in place as it moves through its elevation change. This is a great option for moving products, especially bagged goods.
This style of conveyor was showcased at Pack Expo in 2014 with what everyone affectionately called the “Drawbridge” conveyor. That particular blanket conveyor uses a section of chain beam to add more weight to the chain and helps to singulate product. Another option under the Blanket umbrella is actually to sandwich products between two running conveyors, which is a great way to move heavier items.
Hold down rails are often used with incline conveyors in order to provide a little bit of down pressure on products to keep them in line as they move. Hold downs can be fixed, adjustable, or even made of rollers, depending on your exact needs. The use of a hold down rail and cleated chain is a very economical way of elevating within a small footprint.
Elevators/lift stations work when none of the other options are a good fit. They can be electric or pneumatic, and provide rapid ascent and descent in very tight quarters. They are especially useful with moving pallets, trays, or larger, unwieldy products.
I hope that this has helped you to see some of the wide variety of options we have for elevating/lowerating your products! Would you like more information on any of these options? Feel free to give us a ring and take advantage of our experienced engineering department!
Or you can call just to talk to me about how cool Alpines are. That works, too.
Replacing or repairing chain is usually done at the drive where catenary sag is present. It can also be done in adaptable sections if you are using guided drives, but you can also take the side plates off of the idler if the drive is guarded or guided and replace the chain there.
It is easiest to check for wear on wear strips in vertical bends. Look for dusting on the outer radius. If the anodizing begins to shine, it is time to replace your wear strip. You can also look for dust accumulating on the outside of your beam. The wear strip is very important to prolong the life of your conveyor. The chain can actually eat through the aluminum chain beam otherwise.
It’s okay. We get that all the time. There are so many options out there that it is easy to get overwhelmed.
It is just a rail to hold product in place. How hard should it be, right? But should it be UHMW? Aluminum? Polyethylene? Steel? Do you need a roller rail? OMG, what about adjustment? Manual or automatic? Electric or pneumatic?
Just breathe, and think about your product. The most important thing to consider when deciding on what kind of rails to use is your product. Do you have a lot of product size change over on your line, or is it dedicated? Does your product mar as easily as a hot bottle in a blow molding application, or is there some resilience? Does your product even need guide rail? Not everyone does.
The general rule of thumb is that automatic adjustable guide rail is best for applications where you are going to have multiple change overs per day. You can get by using manual adjustments, and we do have star knobs and ways of marking distances to make that easier, but when you make many manual changes there is more room for error. Depending on your application the additional cost can be well worth it.
If your products are likely to mar then we need to consider the material they are made of in order to determine the best solution. You would think that low friction roller rail would be the way to go, but for many of our customers simply adding on a guide rail cover does the trick.
The design of the guide rail itself is determined by your product too, there isn’t a one size fits all solution; but we have had great success guiding both tall and tippy and short and shaky products. A good guideline can be found in the download section of our website in the FlexLink catalog under “GR,” you can also explore our whitepage on different solutions we have done in the past, or you can always call us for a consult.
tl;dr Just call us, or buffers are important. There are lots of options. Two types of accumulation tables are great, but big. Alpines have lots of benefits and are in a smaller footprint. Serpentine buffers are especially useful overhead. “Vee” buffers are good for round parts.
What does a buffer do? Buffers are used to store parts between production operations. In each of the different types of buffers described below, the conveyor system or table is used to accumulate parts in queue for the next operation.
So, as you can guess, buffers are an important part of many line designs, and boy do we have options.
We’ve got you covered with a full range of solutions including: FlexLink bi-flow accumulation tables, mk bi-flow accumulation tables, Titan circular accumulation tables, “single screw” FlexLink alpine buffers, “double screw” FlexLink alpine buffers, serpentine buffers, and “vee” chain buffers. Heck, you can even use the FlexLink compact spirals for a bit of a buffer as they elevate and lower your product!
First, a caveat, bi-flow and circular accumulation tables are only suitable for round parts where random orientation and sequence are acceptable to the operation. Bi-Flow accumulation tables include several lanes running in opposite directions to reduce queue pressure on the parts, but the drawback is that they require a large amount of floor space. Circular accumulation tables also require more floor space than an alpine buffer.
FlexLink Alpine Buffers
FlexLink alpine conveyor systems provide a maximum amount of accumulation in a minimum amount of space. They are ideal for providing a compact accumulation zone, space and time for cooling and drying, and frequently the most desired: a combination of product accumulation and elevation change (gotta use that vertical space).
Alpine conveyors are typically used to reduce the effects of temporary machine interruptions of production flow by providing a large amount of product accumulation between machines. When downstream operations stop, product can be diverted into the alpine for accumulation allowing the upstream operation to continue without interruption. When normal production is resumed, product in the alpine can be gradually reintroduced to the line. Alpine conveyors are a simple and efficient way of connecting production lines which operate at different speeds.
Another benefit of an alpine? They can also be utilized for cooling or drying of products without interrupting normal product flow. FlexLink alpines can handle a wide variety of product shapes and sizes and can be configured with infeed and discharge at the same or different elevations. Standard 5 degree or 7 degree vertical bends are available for inclines and declines.
The alpine buffer can accept a variety of part shapes (we have used them on everything from pallet systems, to syringes, and is usually configured so that the part “first in” is the “first out” of the system. Parts enter the typical “single screw” alpine buffer at one level and exit at another level. This feature is useful when transporting parts overhead the buffer will lower the part, and store the part in a small footprint next to the machine. If the change in elevation is not acceptable, then a cleated elevator is often required, to place the part entry and exit at the same elevation. Another option is to use a “double screw” alpine buffer.
The “double screw” alpine buffer places the part entry and exit at the same level. This is accomplished by using a horizontal bend cross over. In this design adjacent buffer levels flow in opposite directions. These “double screw” buffers are not suitable for very tall parts unless the overall length of the buffer increases. This alpine buffer can also be easily configured for continuous recirculation.
The Flex-Line serpentine buffer utilizes wheelbends to stow parts. Serpentine buffer are frequently installed overhead to save floor space. The tight wheelbend radius offers high density accumulation with minimum distance between tracks.
Vee Chain Buffer
The Vee Chain Buffer is a good choice for accumulating round parts that have a smaller width than diameter dimension, but will stand on end. The buffer is often constructed from two chains at a 45 degree angle as shown here.
The Vee Chain Buffer can also use a single FlexLink X65 chain with the special vee-cleat for smaller diameter parts, so don’t worry. We’ve got you covered!
This video by our partner, mk is a great example of a bi-flow table!