NED: What motivated Dorner to develop this conveyor?
SP: The development of the SmartPace conveyor was the result of collaboration between Dorner and Yaskawa America, Inc. In 2013 Yaskawa, a manufacturer of ac drives and motion control products, including adjustable frequency drives, servo amplifiers, and motion controllers, approached us with the idea of combining their controls, servos, and variable-speed drives with our conveyors to develop a new system to improve product spacing accuracy. SmartPace developed over the following months and debute at Pack Expo2014. The conveyor was named one of Pack Expo’s top trends for 2014.
NED: How is this conveyor different from similar ones on the market today?
SP: SmartPace is unique in that it’s designed for spacing product. The SmartPace conveyor takes unevenly spaced product and creates even spaces or alternating batches of products, depending on the application, to meet end-users’ product spacing needs. The system is set up to track both the leading edge and trailing edge of the product, so product does not necessarily need to be of the same size and shape in order to be gapped appropriately. As randomly spaced products enter the conveyor, a photo eye detects the product spacing. In response, the servo motor control automatically varies the conveyor speed and conveyor junction placement in order to generate evenly spaced product. SmartPace is also a completely non-contact system and contains no guides, diverts, or plows, even when merging multiple lines together, helping to reduce possible damage to the product.
NED: What problems needed to be addressed during the development process?
SP: There weren’t any real problems that needed to be addressed, but rather just the complexity of the conveyor itself posed an engineering challenge. The secret to SmartPace’s functionality lies in its design. SmartPace features two conveyor belts in one conveyor frame. The two-belt system allows for SmartPace to operate at a faster rate than a typical one-belt conveyor. Multiple FDA-approved belting options are available, all of which can smoothly transfer parts as short as 3 in. long.
NED: How long did it take from conception to ultimate production?
SP: The collaboration between Dorner and Yaskawa America began in late 2013. We spent the next several months concepting and testing different designs. The prototype we developed debuted in early November at Pack Expo 2014.
NED: What effect did cost factors have in changing the final design of this product?
SP: While we certainly don’t want to build a conveyor that’s priced out of the market, we think the price point for the technology and the capabilities SmartPace offers will be attractive to the market. Two Yaskawa SGMGV-05 servo motors with 2:1 timing belt reduction serve as conveyor drive motors and power the 3-in. diameter urethane-lagged conveyor belt drive pulleys. A single Yaskawa SGMGV-13 servo motor with 4:1 right angle gear reducer drives the composite chain that positions the conveyor junction. The system is controlled by a Yaskawa MP2300 IEC motion controller and a 230-v, 1-phase input (3-phase, 230 v and 460 v, 50/60 Hz available) drive and includes a stand-alone control with user-friendly HMI interface to program desired product spacing and patterns. A built-in safety control circuit is included, and remote enable and run input signals are available.
NED: Who is your target audience and what benefits will they achieve from using this product?
SP: There are many industrial, packaging, automation, robotic, and food markets with applications that can benefit from the SmartPace conveyor. The advantage SmartPace gives users is the ability to take randomly spaced product and pace into even groups and spaces. It also allows you to merge multiple lanes together without product stops or gates—the entire process is smooth and seamless.