Safety is always a key consideration wherever people have to work near a moving equipment. Operative safety is critical, as well as the compliance to local and international regulations. A flawless and secured handling of produts is also paramount in achieving the highest degree of quality and preserve customer satisfaction.
Ensuring the safety and regulation compliance of conveyor systems
EU product manufacturers, as well as designers, installers and system integrators, must follow CE standards governing everything from mechanical and electrical risk to the risk of electronic interference, and risks from equipment motion of equipment.
CE regulations still apply in the UK. until January 2024 when UKCA guidelines will take effect. These will be largely the same as the current CE regulations. However, careful attention must still be paid to all aspects of these guidelines to ensure compliance and protection.
The creation of safe conveying systems should be considered from the actual system design stage.
Many traditional conveyors use 400V motors driving extended lengths of conveyor, often using long shafts and round pulleys, or chains and sprockets for heavier loads.
A lot of power therefore passes through the system at a time, with the potential for serious injury if, for example, an operative’s hand comes into contact with the conveyor, chain or sprocket.
Chain covers help mitigate some of the risk to operatives, but modern system designers have discovered ways to get rid of chains and sprockets completely.
An increasing number of modern conveyor systems are based on motorised rollers and are divided into much smaller, modular sections, each with its own smaller motor. This divides the power needed to convey a product so the system is more forgiving, should a hand or finger come into contact with the conveyor.
The conveying mechanism itself is safer too, with rubber pulleys linking each roller to its neighbour. The safety advantages are considerable, while the need and cost of additional covers is removed.
This type of system is now commonplace for smaller loads, but larger versions can now handle loads of up to 1 tonne, meaning they can be used on pallet conveying lines. Maintenance is much safer too.
Safety challenges in diverting and sorting operations
Safety advances have also been significant in diverter and transfer systems on conveyor lines. Often, pneumatic powered or high current systems had been the preferred choice for many years. However, these systems would present significant safety challenges due to high powered and unprotected gaps between moving parts, they’d also typically generate high noise levels to the detriment of operators working around it all day.
A very common diverter solution used pneumatically powered arm to push the product into a unique lateral exit. The high pneumatic pressure and forces meant a risk of serious injury if this component comes into contact with an operative. Barriers and grills can mitigate the risk but this again comes at a cost and adds complexity into the design of the line.
However, Itoh Denki has recently introduced the MABS, a new generation of modular diverter module, employing small multi-directional wheels which can safely divert loads at any angle – eliminating the need for pneumatically powered pushers, no noisy compressor and maintenance and safety issues.
These systems are powered by 24V DC power, rather than 400V three-phase power which requires extensive cabling and earthing, alongside specialist, expensive and more regular maintenance typically entailing complete line closure.
These 24V DC powered diverters and motor driven rollers can simply be swapped in and out when needed, with routine maintenance undertaken by an in-house operative.
Avoiding shock and collision is critical to minimising damage to loads. The key here is to maintain distance between individual loads, is especially important when boxes travel up or down gradients. This is especially the case if power is lost or there is a need to stop the line.
Servo-driven magnetic brakes counter this as they still work even during a power outage. Mechanical braking systems can also stop the line where the product is on an incline or decline.
Preventing damage to the goods
The safety advantages to operatives from Itoh Denki’s 24Vdc solutions extend to products too –Solutions like arm pushers would imply a serious challenge when transferring fragile loads or cause regular jamming. However, 24VDC diverters like the MABS or the F-RAT are designed to convey products smoothly, always maintaining a gap between parcels, and diverting with no change in level between entry and exit, eliminating the risk of damage of the product.
All these factors should be considered from the very earliest stage of system design, ensuring both people and products come to no harm resulting from the handling process and that goods are reliably and safely conveyed to their eventual destinations.