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Bulk handling – prepare to be flexible

Supplier: Industrial Conveying Australia
07 November, 2008

Often, any processor, manufacturer or other industrial company undergoing a revamp of its bulk materials handling system sets up with a view of how this system of tomorrow should look today.

This is a little like setting up for ‘yesterday's future’. With global markets influencing Australian industry more each day, bulk materials handling systems need to be set up so as to be reinvented as required, much like the business itself.

Hardware is one part of the solution, but in the rush to invest in conveyors, hoppers, chutes, bins, rollers, ramps etc, many forget that it is the finer, intensely more powerful technologies such as software, controllers and sensors that give a business that ‘modular edge’ to transform the instant market demands.

The entire solution could affordably be a turnkey solution with a level of adaptability and versatility to include and remove components as required.

Turnkey solutions are nowadays emerging as the most cost-effective way of achieving this technical solution. Materials handling specialist, Industrial Conveying (Aust) Pty Ltd, has seen a rise in these types of installations -- from simple add-ons and modifications right through to complete revamps.

And, according to the company's Manager Director, Mr Don Erskine, the turnkey solution is often not just the most cost-effective but also delivers the most dynamic result in terms of performance and adaptability to market changes and pressures.

"The term ‘turnkey’ is thrown around quite a lot these days and often quite loosely, but in these circumstances where bulk handling systems are critical to output it is often better to start from scratch to obtain a customised, adaptable, fit-out to maximise production," said Mr Erskine.

"This is mainly because old technologies and new technologies often don't integrate at an optimum, which can lead to system breakdowns that are costly in terms of time and capital.

"But perhaps the biggest advantage for the turnkey revamp is that the latest software, control and sensor technologies can be brought into play - and this is the key to providing that market adaptability which Australian businesses should have today."

Software and controllers, for instance, are a virtual must have for any company serious about its ability to handle bulk product.

In any given installation of serious note, it is very cost-effective and sensible to implement a powerful software technology to run a warehouse management system, combined with a plc system to provide constant communications between all parts of a facility in real time.

SCADA technology can be employed to link the entire operation in an ERP system. There could be a string of PCs on the production floor for operator input.

RFID technology is also very affordable and convenient to implement. This can enable instant reading of many different product or items in all types of packaging during processing and for instant stocktaking.

“This level of technology allows management to know immediately what processing is required and what sizes, weights, arrangements, packaging etc, according to the nature of the work,” said Mr Erskine.

“On the production floor, computerised automation can load bulk product from input points and send it through the system for processing, synchronising movement through each stage of handling.

“Technology ensures that at any point, product can be packed, weighed, labeled, checked – any process that is required.

“It is smart technology and it allows us to adapt as required to client and market expectations and more dynamically use all the hardware which is installed.”

To heighten the OH&S factor as well as allow more floor space, a factory layout can have almost all conveyors suspended by ceiling fixings so as to reduce ground-level obstacles.

In this type of arrangement, all conveyors are supported from the roof to obviate reliance on legs. Washdown is thus very simple and far less obstructed as only the low level conveyors are on the floor.