Supply Chain Management

Discover the latest material handling innovations

Sheila Kennedy says assembly and conveyance benefit from new innovations.

By Sheila Kennedy

Material handling system innovations are adding speed and efficiency to existing applications and extending the value of the systems to complex materials and logistical conditions. Automated storage and retrieval systems perform more functions and work faster. Large assembly operations can be conducted in smaller places. New conveyor technologies provide better control of hard-to-manage materials.

Automated storage, retrieval, and sorting

Multi-tasking automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) provide added efficiencies in material handling. The high-throughput, mini-load DuoSys AS/RS from Daifuku Webb can also sort and group items. It has two cranes that function simultaneously and independently in the same aisle. Uptime and maintainability is increased because one crane can remain in operation while service is performed on the other. Multiple cranes are managed by a single off-board controller, and multiple systems can be stacked on top of each other.

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“What’s unique about DuoSys is both cranes can access every load, passing each other without interference. This allows it to sustain a throughput that is unmatched by ordinary mini-load systems,” says Daifuku Webb application engineering manager Melissa Kann.

DuoSys also is designed to save energy as a result of its lightweight design and the ability to deactivate one or more cranes during periods of low utilization. Regenerated electricity created during deceleration is sent to other cranes through a regenerative converter.


Facilities with tight quarters or that have no cranes have new options for massive, heavy load, indoor assembly operations. The In-Plant, Self-Propelled Modular Transporter (IP-SPMT) from Doerfer’s Wheelift Systems Group supports applications weighing from 50 tons to more than 400 tons. The engine-driven transporter leverages the company’s Uniload fluid equalizing suspension wheel technology, allowing it to maneuver in tight quarters with precise control of all movement within a fraction of an inch in any plane. Small-diameter, solid urethane wheels allow for low deck heights.

“The omni-directional capabilities incorporated within each Wheelift Transporter offers near autonomous movement of high-capacity loads in any tightly populated industrial environment,” says Tom Phillips, business manager for Wheelift Systems at Doerfer. “The suspension technology provides each unit with self-loading capabilities, provides load equalization for operation on existing floors requiring little to no modifications, and permits very fine positioning of the load in six axes.”


Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics.Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics. She established Additive Communications in 2003 to serve software, technology, and service providers in industries such as manufacturing and utilities, and became a contributing editor and Technology Toolbox columnist for Plant Services in 2004. Prior to Additive Communications, she had 11 years of experience implementing industrial information systems. Kennedy earned her B.S. at Purdue University and her MBA at the University of Phoenix. She can be reached at

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In a continuous-motion machine, line jams can occur and gaps or voids can grow over time. Electronic sensors aid in the monitoring and control of product movement. The Zero Gap II Infeed conveyor technology from Standard-Knapp modulates the transition from an upstream product conveyor to the original infeed of a machine. It uses electronic population sensors to manage conveyor speed, line pressure, and balance as the product is distributed into multiple lanes for infeed. It is compatible with low-pressure conveying applications such as tray packers, shrink bundlers, intermittent motion case packers, and rotary packers.

“The Zero Gap II Infeed conveyor assembly is designed to minimize line pressure, prevent pressure transfer from one conveyor to another, and deliver the pack pattern you need,” says Patrick Nelson, tray/shrink engineering manager for Standard-Knapp. “It breaks the line pressure twice: just before the zero gap section during pattern forming and again at the end of zero gap during transfer to the machine’s infeed.”


Flexible screw conveyors, which move bulk material at virtually any angle, are being incorporated in a widening array of applications. Flexicon recently custom-engineered a flexible screw conveyor to meet a packager’s height restrictions and special characteristics of the blended material, which tends to become airborne and cling to solid surfaces because of static electricity. "The conveyor consists of a specially designed flexible helix rotating within a flexible 4.5 in. (11.4 cm) O.D. polymer tube, powered by an electric motor at the discharge end," says David Boger, vice president of sales and marketing for Flexicon.

Flexicon’s new Flexi-Disc line of tubular cable conveyors, also known as disc or drag conveyors, moves products that are fragile or easily crumbled gently, quietly, and without dust at any angle. It is designed with high-strength polymer discs, which are affixed to a stainless steel or galvanized cable and slide within smooth stainless steel tubing. The Flexi-Disc system can have single or multiple inlets and outlets and convey over short distances or hundreds of meters. It is offered as a stand-alone or fully integrated system.

Read Sheila Kennedy's monthly column, Technology Toolbox.