A bucket elevator or grain leg is used to move items in bulk. The usage of bucket elevators is widespread, notably in commercial agriculture and mining, and several specialized businesses manufacture bucket elevators and...
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This article contains everything you will need to know about vertical conveyors and their use.
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A vertical conveyor is an engineered mechanical method for moving goods, products, supplies, parts, and components from a lower level to a higher level or from a higher level to a lower level. They are a time saving and labor-saving method for rapidly and efficiently placing needed materials in an easily accessible location.
Often referred to as vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs), vertical conveyors are engineered, designed, and configured to meet the size, space, and lifting requirements for an application. Since their introduction in the middle of the 20th century, vertical conveyors have become a key staple part of material handling operations and supply chain processes.
Vertical Reciprocating Conveyors or VRCs are a classification of freight and material handling equipment as specified by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) code B20.1 safety standards and are to be used for moving materials from one level to another level. They are a safe, convenient, and efficient lifting method for transporting materials from basements, mezzanines, and between floors in multi-story buildings. The implementation of vertical conveyors is far more cost effective than elevators or manually carrying materials between levels.
The term vertical conveyor or VRC covers a wide range of unique and innovative methods for material handling. Capabilities of vertical conveyors can be found in their many variations, which are able to be custom designed to fit the needs of any application from moving bags of cement to picking packages for shipping.
Although they are simplistic, vertical conveyors that are used in construction to move building materials from ground level to various levels at a building site or ones for unloading trucks, the majority of vertical conveyors are custom designed and engineered to meet the needs any application. This can easily be seen in airline vertical conveyors for moving luggage or ones used in food processing.
Spiral vertical conveyors are continuous motion conveyors that smoothly move materials from one level to another. They are described in different ways in order to define their function including spiral elevator, spiral curve, helix, and spiral conveyor. Spiral vertical conveyor is a general term used to describe two forms of vertical conveyors, which are bulk and belt or slat.
A bulk vertical conveyor is a type of material handling tool used to move bulk loose materials such as grains or powdered chemicals. The most common type of bulk vertical conveyor is in the form of a screw that is enclosed in a tube or pipe. As the screw rotates, it moves loose material out of a large container upward. The flexibility of bulk vertical conveyors makes it possible to move granular or power materials vertically, horizontally, or at a slight incline.
Much like a bulk vertical screw conveyor, but with a more complex and intricate design, spiral vertical conveyors move a wide assortment of materials, products, containers, and parts. Their use is due to their small footprint and efficiency. Spiral vertical conveyors have a gentle slope such that products will not gain enough traction to move independently and stay on the conveying system.
Since a conveyor belt would have to be stretched at great length to achieve a gentle slope, a spiral vertical conveyor takes up less space by being wrapped around a column to provide the necessary length and slope in far less area. Goods are gently transported safely and effectively using a gradual slope for smooth transition from a lower to higher level or higher to lower level.
A unique form of vertical spiral conveyors is multiple entry spiral conveyors, which allow loads to enter or exit the conveyor at multiple points at different elevations. They are ideal for multilevel warehouses and order picking such that items can be easily moved from upper-level storage to the loading dock. Additionally, for production and manufacturing applications, multilevel spiral vertical conveyors can quickly and efficiently supply production lines.
Vertical reciprocating conveyors are vertical lifts that are similar to elevators but lift goods and materials instead of people. Since they do not lift people, they have a different legal classification due to the regulations and safety factors regarding elevators. VRCs do not have to meet the same safety stipulations that are related to elevators and should never ever be used to lift people. The lack of safety regulations means the material handling for an operation will not have to endure frequent inspections.
The two types of VRCs are defined in relation to the types of mechanisms used to power them, which are hydraulic and mechanical. With a hydraulic VRC, hydraulic cylinders are used to power the conveyor. A mechanical VRC is attached to a hoist that is powered by electricity that makes it possible for the VRC to lift heavier loads. The configuration of mechanical VRCs makes them more dynamic and gives them a longer lifespan with the downside being their higher cost.
Regardless of the type of power source, vertical reciprocating conveyors all have the same function, which is to lift goods from a lower level to a higher level. In normal manufacturing operations, VRCs are used in combination with work platforms for easy movement of parts for assembly processes. With a typical VRC, their gate door is opened to place a load on the VRC’s platform. After which, the gate is closed and secured, and the VRC is powered for its upward movement.
For safety purposes, the assembly for a VRC is enclosed in a cage to contain goods and prevent materials from falling. Unlike forklifts that require precision to place loads at a higher level, VRCs operate safely and protect workers. They can be designed to reach any height and can be found at construction sites for high rise buildings.
Vertical reciprocating conveyors are a permanent addition to a site and are not mobile, much like spiral vertical conveyors. When considering placing a VRC, it is important to carefully select its location with the understanding that it is a heavy piece of equipment much like a normal elevator.
Known as box lifters and vertical lift units, continuous vertical conveyors rapidly move containers, boxes, trays, packages, sacks, bags, luggage, and goods from a lower level to a higher level or from a higher level to a lower level. They are capable of moving any type of item that has a solid firm surface between levels efficiently, quickly, and safely. The types of continuous vertical conveyors are S or Z, C, E, F, and L types, which are distinguished by how materials enter and exit the conveying system.
Continuous vertical conveyors are a highly versatile form of conveying system capable of moving 2 tons (1.81 metric tons) to as high as 120 ft (36.57 m) with a small footprint. The platforms of continuous vertical conveyors come in a wide assortment of styles due to the different types of materials the conveyors can handle. Continuous vertical conveyors are made of aluminum, carbon steel, and stainless steel with plastic sheets or safety glass.
Vertical belt conveyors are used for moving bulk materials such as vegetables, fruit, corn, grains, nuts, minerals from mining, and pet food. They are designed for steep vertical inclines and include conventional belt surfaces that have been positioned vertically. In order to hold materials, they have perforations and keyholes with custom belts and nesting attachments for carrying products and goods.
The design of vertical belt conveyors requires careful planning of belt tracking and indexing as well as the relationship between the belt and its pulleys such that the belt does not slip. In most vertical belt conveyors, pockets are included to hold products and goods. In mining operations, rubber or metal pockets are used to move minerals from the mine to the surface.
With circulating vertical conveyors, there is constant loading and unloading of materials at different levels. Their design is similar to that of a continuous vertical conveyor but are differentiated by how materials are handled. The two types of circulating vertical conveyors are identical load conveyors and different load conveyors.
With identical load circulating vertical conveyors, all loads are the same and contained in boxes or cartons that are exactly the same and have the same dimensions. With different load circulating conveyors, loads can be placed in cartons, trays, boxes, bags, or parcels. The type of circulating vertical conveyor is determined by the size of the loading and unloading stations. In both cases, loads are loaded or unloaded using conveyor belts that take items from the circulating conveyor or place loads on it.
The platforms for circulating vertical conveyor containers are suspended from block chains that run the circuit of the conveyor. The chains ensure that the platforms remain parallel to the ground and run smoothly to avoid product falling from the containers.
Bucket vertical conveyors are a form of vertical belt conveyor that has buckets to carry goods, products, and bulk materials vertically. They consist of a series of buckets that are attached to a belt or chain with pulleys or sprockets at the top and bottom of the conveyor to provide power and movement for the buckets. At the bottom of a shaft or enclosure, the buckets are filled by the movement of the pulleys or sprockets. Once filled, they are pulled upward. When the buckets arrive at the top of the conveyor, they dump their load and move downward to get another load.
The function of bucket vertical conveyors is rather simple. They are a powerful compact labor-saving method for transporting bulk materials or minerals from mining operations. The forms of bucket conveyors are positive discharge, continuous, and centrifugal, which are differentiated by how they load and unload materials.
Z type vertical belt conveyors are used for inclined or vertical movement of goods for production, assembly, packaging, and logistics. The Z type vertical conveyor has a Z shaped construction that includes an upper horizontal section, inclined section, and lower horizontal section.
The classification of Z type conveyors is included as part of bucket conveyors where there isn’t an inclined section, which is replaced by a long vertical leg that surrounds the buckets. Bucket versions of Z type conveyors are widely used for moving ingredients for mixers and food applications since they make moving materials less labor intensive and easier.
The inclined version of Z type vertical belt conveyors is used for a wide range of applications such as unloading trucks, moving assemblies in a manufacturing operation, and storing goods in a warehouse.
Accumulation vertical conveyors hold, collect, and store products to ensure that upstream equipment remains operational. They are normally used for picking as a buffer zone for products in different stages of production. While normal vertical conveyors operate continuously, accumulating vertical conveyors have a stop zone where products or goods collect.
There are several uses for accumulating vertical conveyors including cooling and drying zones, the ability to observe different zones, and efficiency. One of the concerns for vertical accumulating conveyors is back pressure as products stop and accumulate. The two types of systems that deal with this concern are minimum back pressure systems and zero back pressure systems.
With minimum back pressure accumulating vertical conveyors, items being transported are allowed to make contact at very low pressure or 2% of the total load. This type of vertical conveyor is used for palletizing of items that have the same weight, shape, and size but is not used for fragile or breakable items.
In a zero back pressure accumulating vertical conveyor, items are not allowed to make contact and are kept in separate zones, which are monitored by sensors. Vertical conveyors are ideal for this type of accumulating conveyor since they already have separate platforms or separated zones.
Vertical accumulation conveyors have flights with accumulation times determined by the height of the product and a stop device that readies rows of products. The controls on an accumulating vertical conveyor stops motion when there is a malfunction in the downstream system. Accumulation continues until rows are filled and may reverse to move items back to the load conveyor.
The dual lane spiral conveyor is similar to the single lane version but has two lanes that share a single column. It has double the capacity of a single lane vertical conveyor and can move goods upward or downward for greater efficiency, time saving, space saving, and cost savings.
The separate lanes of a dual lane vertical spiral conveyor have two belts that run on bearings to keep noise and friction levels low. Bags, bundles, totes, trays, cans, cartons, and containers are quickly moved from one level to the next. The two lanes can run at the same speed, different speeds, and in opposite directions for further efficiency. The width of the two lanes can be the same or different and have different heights to accommodate the dimensions of unique products.
The majority of oval conveyors are installed horizontally for constant motion of products, assemblies, or materials. For certain applications, oval conveyors are installed vertically in spiral fashion. This unique design provides the same type of service as horizontal oval conveyors but at different levels. In material handling operations, oval spiral vertical conveyors are used when it is not possible to use the column type of vertical conveyor due to limited space.
Screw or helix vertical conveyors are similar to post hole diggers in their structure and operation. They are used to unload bulk materials such as seeds, grains, cement, gravel, and wood chips. Screw vertical conveyors are normally enclosed in a tube or shaft such that material is kept from escaping into the atmosphere and to control dust.
For a screw conveyor to be defined as a vertical screw conveyor, it must operate above a 45° incline. As the incline increases, the movement of materials requires more energy and careful construction to maintain efficiency. Screw conveyors are widely used due to their compact design and ability to fit into any location.
The majority of screw conveyors have a capacity of 6000 cubic feet per hour and can elevate materials up to 30 ft or 40 ft. They are mostly used for conveying semi-fluid materials. Special designs are capable of having inlets on either side of the conveyor or in line in Z or C style.
The list of vertical conveyors described above is a short list of the many vertical conveyors that are supplied by manufacturers. Special and unique conditions as well as different product sizes, shapes, packaging, and requirements has led to the customization of vertical conveyors to meet unusual conditions, warehousing, and production needs, which can easily be seen in the booming online product market.
The many uses of vertical conveyors cover a wide range of applications all of which involve the changing of the level of goods for easy access. Vertical conveyors are mainly a labor saving and safe method that ensures the transport of materials across levels without damaging the goods or harming employees. These requirements have led to the design of unusual and unique vertical conveyors that have been created by innovative engineers and designers.
The tilting deck vertical transfer unit moves products vertically, like a typical vertical conveyor, but tilts 30° for easy access to the transported product. The design of the tilting deck vertical transfer unit is for automated processes that involve robotic transfer of the contents of products or parts such that they can be accessed by a robot. The precision of the angle avoids repositioning of the robot and makes it easy for transfer.
The multiple position VTU makes it possible to vertically transfer products and materials from several in feed conveyors to multiple discharge conveyors. The apparatus for the multiple position VTU involves the use of several conveying systems located at multiple levels to move goods up and down along a frame in relation to the input conveyors. The number of possible conveying deck locations is endless, which makes it possible to load, sort, and control the rapid movement of goods.
Of the many items that need to be conveyed, appliances, car exteriors, windmill parts, furniture, large metal pieces, and construction materials are the most challenging and complicated to transport, especially vertically. In many cases, vertical conveying of wide products is a necessity since factory floors and production facilities are unable to accommodate such wide loads.
In many cases, aside from lifting wide products, vertical conveying systems have to be able to rotate and reposition products such that they are ready for an operation or process. Wide product vertical conveyors are built to handle items that are 12 feet long, weigh 150 lbs., and require precision handling to avoid damage. As would be expected with wide heavy product handling, materials must be controlled such that they do not come in contact and cause damage. Much like accumulating vertical conveyors, wide format vertical conveyors have zero contact zones that are closely monitored to prevent unnecessary harm to products. This is very essential when handling large aerospace parts and components.
The main reason for multiple vertical conveying systems is to provide flexibility for input and discharge of materials in a variety of locations. The various types of vertical conveyors make it possible to design and configure multiple vertical conveyors to meet a wide assortment of applications and requirements.
Although the term conveyor may bring to mind a horizontal solid belt conveyor, the designs of conveyors stretch far beyond that simple design to a range of conveyors that are capable of moving delicate computer components to vertical conveyors that can supply multiple production lines at several different levels. As has been proven by conveyor manufacturers, there are few limitations to the facilitation and use of vertical conveyors.
Multiple function conveyors have several benefits that help improve efficiency and are time saving. Some of the benefits include:
Vertical lift conveyors operate in a similar fashion to a fork lift or AGV. They lift flat bottomed loads from one level to another. Vertical lifts are different from forklifts and AGVs in how far they can lift flat items, which can range as high as 48 meters (157 ft) with the potential of connecting multiple lifts to lift items even higher.
Although a vertical lift conveyor may be assumed to be a VRC, it has a different construction, such as the absence of an enclosure and a resemblance to an elevator. As with most conveyors, vertical lift conveyors come in several forms to accommodate the requirements of an application. In most cases, they have the appearance of a forklift without the forks, which is replaced by a flat platform.
Vertical lifts can operate like continuous lifts and be constantly loaded and uploaded according to the needs of an application. Smaller vertical lifts can be mobile such that they can be moved to any location for rapid lifting of products.
The use of vertical conveyors is related to their ability to easily lift materials between levels and floors of buildings and industrial complexes. Heavy equipment and materials are quickly moved from one level to another with ease and efficiently. Vertical conveyors and lifts are a safe alternative to fork lifts and AGVs.
In auto dealerships, there are instances when showroom vehicles have to be moved between floors in the absence of a ramp. Vertical lifts make it possible to move cars to mezzanines, showrooms, and storage areas that have multiple levels. Auto dealerships normally do not have the area or space for large elevators or other forms of lifting devices. Vertical conveyors are a reliable and sturdy method for positioning and storing products.
The food industry is one of the main users of vertical conveyors due to the nature of the items that producers manufacture. The key to any equipment used in the food industry is the ability to be cleaned and being sanitary. Additionally, food products come in several forms and require several different types of environments including extreme heat, subzero temperatures, and the ability to be washed down. Vertical conveyors are capable of providing exceptional performance regardless of the conditions.
Although retail does not have the types of restrictions associated with food processing, it still makes extensive use of vertical conveyors. In multiple story retail operations, it is important to have an easy and convenient method for moving delivered goods from the loading dock to the floors where they are sold. This is accomplished with multiple vertical conveyors that have chain drives and belts.
The height of aircraft during assembly makes it difficult to load sensitive components that can be damaged by mishandling. Vertical conveyors make it possible to transport complex and intricate components onto an aircraft assembly safely and efficiently without concern for possible harm to the component. Due to the nature of the items that are loaded onto an aircraft, vertical conveyors have an enclosed carriage structure to avoid vibrations, jarring, and impact. The design minimizes extra movement of components through a factory and between assemblies.
Hospitals have a wide assortment of methods for delivering meals, medication, linens, and equipment, which include totes, carts, and trays. The key to hospital operations is providing service to patients quickly, efficiently, and safely. It is for these reasons that hospitals rely on vertical conveyors to move materials between floors. A major factor in the use of vertical conveyors is their quiet operation to avoid disturbing patients.
For centuries, farmers have had to load their barns with feed, hay, grains, seed, and fertilizers. At one time, loads were attached to a basket, rope, or net and pulled between levels by a horse and later a tractor. Eventually, different forms of vertical conveyors became a common part of agricultural operations, which made loading baled hay and straw far easier than using a pulley. Today, there are very few farmers who remember the good old days of using pulleys.
Much like farming, mining relied on muscle power and animals to remove minerals from mines. The different processes were labor intensive and unsafe resulting in serious injuries. With the advent of vertical conveyors, the safety of mining operations rapidly rose to the point that much of mining is completed using different forms of electric powered equipment. Mining vertical conveyors pull minerals from the mining pits and bring them to the surface to load trucks. The complete process is quick, efficient, and safe with limited handling of raw minerals.
The main benefit of a conveying system is its ability to improve efficiency and maximize production while lowering the overall costs of time and labor. The many types of vertical conveyors make it difficult to find the correct one to perfectly fit the needs of an operation or application.
The obvious first step in deciding to purchase a vertical conveyor is the need to move goods from one level to a higher or lower level. Although forklifts and AGVs can do the work, they may not be sufficiently safe due to how high the goods have to travel and their instability. The strong and durable foundation of vertical conveyors makes them the logical choice, which leads to the decision as to which vertical conveyor to use.
The initial decision relates to the type of product to be moved. In the case of large pieces and parts, a heavy duty vertical conveyor is necessary due the size and weight of the materials. With delicate components and parts, a more gentle form of transport is necessary to avoid damaging the products. Additionally, how the products will be loaded onto the conveyor influences the type of vertical conveyor since goods can be loaded from another conveying system, hand loaded, or taken from a container.
The weight of items radically influences the type of vertical conveyor that can be purchased since the structure of the conveyor has to be able to withstand its loads. Vertical conveyors that are chain driven may not be able to handle heavy automobile parts or loaded tubs while certain forms of platform vertical conveyors may have sufficient power and durability to transport heavy loads.
This aspect of vertical conveyors automatically removes certain forms of vertical conveyors since large parts like car exteriors, equipment frames, and other huge parts cannot be transported on small Z type vertical conveyors. Aside from the obvious weight of the materials, their size prohibits anything but the most durable and sturdy type of vertical conveyors. The majority of vertical conveyors are used for totes, tubs, and containers and are not designed for large parts and goods.
The use of vertical conveyors is directly related to how quickly they can deliver goods for loading or assembly. This is especially true of accumulating vertical conveyors that make parts immediately available and control the process of delivery. The reason that most businesses decide to opt for a vertical conveying system is due to the speed and efficiency at which they operate. Their use increases productivity, lowers labor costs, and provides a safe working environment at a higher rate of speed than that which is possible using conventional methods.
Essentially, this aspect of the selection process can be divided into container or containerless. Vertical conveyors can be categorized by whether they use containers or whether goods are transported on their own without assistance. Various warehousing methods use totes or tubs to pick products and move them from one level to another using vertical conveyors. An examination of how products are presently handled can determine whether the vertical conveyor will need to transport totes or not. In general, products that are bagged, boxed, or wrapped and have a flat surface do not require the use of tubs, totes, or containers.
A vertical conveyor is designed by taking a horizontal conveyor and turning it on its side such that it moves vertically to deliver goods and products to different levels. The unique design of vertical conveyors makes them highly efficient and a productive method for product and goods movement.
Depending on the design of a vertical conveyor, it is possible to use both sides of the conveyor for increased movement of materials in both directions. Although they provide extra output, they still make economical use of floor space without interfering with other applications.
Whether a conveyor is vertical or horizontal, the operating cost remains the same. In many instances, vertical conveyors are more economical since they are able to move goods on both sides of the conveyor.
One of the major reasons for the use of vertical conveyors is their flexibility. Since they take up less room and are not spread across the floor, they can be repositioned to serve multiple applications. Additionally, vertical conveyors are capable of moving more than one type of product without having to change their structure. They can be positioned in any type of environment, which is one of the reasons for their use in pharmaceutical and food industries.
In most cases, vertical conveyors are easier to clean than horizontal conveyors. In the case of metal vertical conveyors, bacteria and other forms of contaminants are unable to adhere to the metal and grow. The absence of lubricants in vertical conveyors further removes any concerns about contaminants.
Customization is a key aspect of vertical conveyors and is an essential part of their use. Although there are vertical conveyors that can be easily installed into a facility, in most cases, they have to be configured, designed, and engineered to fit a location due to the many factors that necessitate their use and the variety of environments where they are used. Nearly all high efficiency vertical conveyors are shaped and formed to fit the conditions where they will be used.
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