Smart machines with advanced sensors that perform condition monitoring and allow remote diagnostics and repair are at the center of the brave new digital manufacturing world, but can “smart” be combined with “conveyor” without being labeled an oxymoron?
Conveyors have carried raw materials, work in progress and finished goods from point A to point B for decades, often running continuously until someone flips a switch to off. Proximity sensors that cut off power when nothing is on the belt represent a small step forward, but that hardly qualifies as machine smarts.
Certainly, controls technology comes into play in packaging, where individual items are grouped, collated and transferred. While these systems exhibit a high level of sophistication, they usually fall short of the self-diagnostics and two-way communications capabilities of equipment that leverages the potential of the Industrial Internet of Things.
Nonetheless, smart conveying is becoming a reality in what some refer to as intelligent track technology. Using servo motors and sensors that identify the exact location, position, direction and speed of individual items on the belt, intelligent track technology allows synchronization with fillers, checkweighers, robots and other machines in a production or packaging line. Instead of setting up those machines to conform to a run of products, they adapt to individual products.