Alfacon has taken a leadership role in defining adaptive conveying
The increased consumer expectations and demand for greater efficiency, economy, and productivity present new challenges and opportunities in warehouse automation. The steady increase over the past decade in E-commerce is driving a large majority of the need for innovation. Consumer expectations for faster order fulfillment and the need to quickly replenish brick and mortar site inventory is driving the demand for speed and efficiency by the distribution centers. As a result. supply chain management and material handling technology have advanced over the past several years, providing higher throughputs, accuracy, and efficiency. These requirements support the need for supporting systems in the supply chain to be flexible.
Realizing an increasing need for material handling solutions to accommodate much more in today’s logistics environment, Alfacon coined the phrase, Adaptive Conveying. The hallmarks of adaptive conveying centers on efficiency, versatility, scalability, and reconfigurability.
Adaptive Conveying Versatility
In addition to the typical need for a material handling solution to convey a wide range of product, versatility, as defined for Adaptive Conveying, speaks more for the solution to have the ability to accommodate a wide range of application needs through reconfiguration and flexible integration with other hardware solutions and platforms. This is a growing need that current players in the logistics market are understanding must be accommodated to continue to compete in a profitable manner at a higher level. The time required to react to the application requirement (daily or seasonally) is key to delivering profitability to the process.
Adaptive Conveying Reconfigurability
As a subset to versatility, there is a growing desire for material handling systems to have the ability to react efficiently to multiple requirements based on specific time-based needs within the same industrial space. With the demands for product to be delivered more efficiency at a lower cost, while the cost of facility space continues to increase, many couriers and 3PL’s (Third Party Logistics Company) are seeking out material handling solutions that can reconfigure material handling systems to accommodate dynamic needs. These requirements can alter during the course of each day or change with peak seasonal demands. The ability to reconfigure an existing space or quickly set up a temporary site to handle a seasonal based volume spike has become a strategy to service the increasing demand and customer expectations while maintaining an acceptable level of profitability.
Alfacon has worked closely with select couriers to create a building block style approach to this need. Alfacon’s Configurable Cart Conveyor system utilizes sections of conveyor designed and built for the application(s) to be incorporated. These sections, typically 8 – 10 ft long, consist of independent components that are daisy chained together to work as a system. The conveying technology utilized is dependent on the application while standard and non-standard options can be implemented within each cart or as a separate component (Ex. Accumulation, diverts, scales, scanning, print and apply labeling). The result is a series of components designed in modular form and pieced together like Lego’s. If you do not remember Lego’s please Google it. The solution is designed to reconfigure quickly in order to repurpose the space for multiple needs.
Stand alone system includes: Induction belt conveyor, scan tunnel, configurable conveyor carts with accumulation for manual sort.
Adaptive Conveying: Intelligence Monitoring & Scalability
Adaptive conveying prepares for the future of conveying technology as modular systems allow new technology to be integrated easily into existing systems. Self-aware systems can provide maintenance warnings as well as in some cases make necessary adjustments to minimize maintenance and maximize productivity.
An adaptive solution must always provide for scalability. Whether growth is realized in increased volume, thus increasing the size or scope of the system, or the need to adapt to new technology, the solution must be able to accommodate future needs. The conveying system must be viewed as the foundation in which all other components are integrated.
Adaptive Conveying: Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) / Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR)
On April 1, 1913, the first moving assembly line for a large-scale manufacturing application began to operate at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Highland Park, MI. For over 100 years conveyors have been a common method of moving product within an industrial facility. The inherent limitation with traditional conveying has been that no single technology can handle all products and the layout is typically fixed.
More than a decade ago, Assembly magazine postulated that there was a battle between AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) and conveyors. Now we know better. The argument was to question whether conveyors still make sense in the lean, flexible manufacturing, and materials handling world. The two are not adversarial options, but rather cooperative elements in adaptive conveying. There was, and still is, a strong advocacy for AGVs as a better alternative for material handling, depending on the specific application.
Facilities which incorporate high levels of material handling have begun to adopt a wide range of technologies that can accommodate a larger portion of products to be processed in the most efficient manner. In many cases automated distribution centers have minimized human touch to no more than two events (inbound and outbound). With the need to improve efficiency to compete in the growing e-commerce market, coupled with a labor shortage, the use of mobile conveying technology has increased substantially for material handling applications. AGV’s and other robotic versions, have made great strides in technology advancements in the last decade.
Global AGV sales surged by 48.8 percent from a year earlier to more than 30,000 units. This surge can be contributed to favorable policies such as industry 4.0, advancements in intelligent automation, and the exploding e-commerce marketplace which is projected to account for 50% of the use of mobile material handling solutions by 2021.
Interestingly in global markets, particularly China, restricted by technology, AGCs (Automated Guided Carts) are more of the standard, making up around 63 percent in 2018; AGVs with heavy load and linkage will be key products in China’s AGV industry layout, according to the Development Plan for China Robotics Industry
Alfacon Solutions works with some of the leading AGV and AMR companies globally, manufacturing material handling appliances that enhance the value proposition of the mobile solution. The return on investment (ROI) in some applications is substantial when the material handling appliance, integrated with the mobile device, can automate additional steps in the process. Alfacon’s appliance solution allows the mobile device to perform tasks in addition to moving product from point A to point B. Products can be automatically transferred from infeed systems as well as released to other processes by use of a conveyor style appliance integrated to the unit. Other examples include but not limited to lifts, tilts, turn tables, and containment for transporting non conveyables.
An Alfacon engineered solution combined with an effective mobile system solution results in an effective use of floor space as well as improved just-in-time delivery, balancing/sequencing of material flow, lean, scalability, quality, ergonomics, and uptime. Typical mobile device solutions are considered to optimize inbound receiving, materials storage, work-in-process staging, kitting, and finished inventory storage. These processes are equally helpful in outbound logistics with the ability to handle a variety of load types such as cartons, totes, bins, tubs, and pallets. Unlike off-the-shelf conveyor solutions, an industrial engineering approach to the development of each system solution reveals the best-practice process improvement engineering expertise.
Incorporating Alfacon’s Adaptive Conveying principles into an AGV / AMR system solution expands the possibilities to take full advantage of dynamic configurable solutions.
Smart Systems in Adaptive Conveying with IIoT
Putting 24/7 lights-out conveying aside for a moment, nothing impacts adaptive conveying more than preventative maintenance. When sensors can automatically detect product jams and automatically detect belt slippage, immediate corrective action is possible without downtime. A stoppage, diagnosis, and repair can deeply impact OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) data. When a sensor detects a failing bearing, motors, and drives, maintenance notifications are sent with instructions for urgent or anticipated action required. This automation in the age of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) provides plug-and-play wireless vibration sensor and transmitter to instrument rotating machines and other assets for predictive maintenance. By providing continuous asset monitoring, the support of hundreds (even thousands) of sensors is accomplished without compromising enterprise-level security.
Asset Reliability & Optimization
Predictive maintenance and asset performance means that adaptive conveying is designed to securely ingest sensor data, create asset digital twins, track failure modes, and use analytics to provide real-time asset insights. This is not conceptual; it is pragmatic and usable data. Combined with sensors adaptive conveying solutions make automatic adjustments to belt and chain tension, adjust speeds automatically based on product size, weight, and sort requirements.
The Growing Role of IIoT Parallels Adaptive Conveying
The marketing research division of TR Cutler, Inc. recently completed an extensive study which revealed that 88 percent of industrial organizations are currently adopting IIoT solutions and 94 percent believe those solutions are very or extremely effective. Additionally, 95 percent believe that IIoT has a significant or tremendous impact on their industry. A much smaller number (38 percent) are automating the application of insights derived from analytics. The new utilization of adaptive conveying is expected to change dramatically over the next 18 months.
The IIoT study was conducted in the United States and Canada in June 2018 and reached more than 400 respondents at companies with annual revenues more than $25 million. Participants were evenly divided among Manufacturing and Material Handling. Titles covered a wide spectrum of senior-level personnel with operational responsibilities, most of whom had spent an average of ten years in their organizations.
Since the number one reason cited for IIoT adoption is cost reduction these data metrics can be measured against the status quo. The cost of inaction is quantifiable in downtime, maintenance costs, lost productivity, and poor throughput. More than 90 percent of IIoT adopters cite device-health as the primary reason for IIoT adoption followed by logistics (77 percent), reducing operating costs (34 percent) and increasing production volume (28 percent).
Alfacon Solutions (https://alfaconsolutions.com) is a leading custom material handling solutions company providing custom design, engineering, manufacturing and installation support for its customer base of small manufacturers to Fortune 500 companies. Its products include lifting equipment, package and pallet handling conveyors, sortation systems, truck loaders, extendable and vertical conveyors, belt and roller conveyor systems and AGV appliances.
View Alfacon Solutions’ seminar presentation, “Adaptive Conveying”, presented at the 2018 MODEX in Atlantic, GA.