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Keeping the customer sweet

To produce confectionery in the variety of sizes and packaging demanded by today's market calls for far greater flexibility where machinery is concerned says Rod Abbott

A happy plant manager is one that controls lines of modular plant that have an optimum footprint, produce shorter runs of product cost- effectively, are quickly and easily adapted, can be operated electronically from one source, and require the minimum of maintenance.

Historically, the market was less volatile. Product size was more stable. Machinery could run continuously for long periods without being affected by changes of product size or, more significantly, marketing influences affecting the packaging which is driven so hard in today’s retail chain.

For high volume lines with significant UK and export tonnage low conversion cost is critical – and hence high speed, automated lines are required. Lower volume lines, frequently with shorter product life cycles, require much more flexible and modular equipment since adaptation is the driver here.

New may be more expensive, but it is simpler to use and maintain. Unfortunately, the payback time on new machinery is not as good as it used to be, although escalating EC electrical and mechanical regulations may force the pace at which new machinery is replaced for old.

Bosch packaging technology company Transver AG’s sales director Daniel Rauch says that over the past five years there has been an increasing emphasis on the need to design flexible equipment. “More focus is placed on user and product safety, and hygiene standards are getting more important by the day,” he explains.

“Combining safety with the constant desire to supervise product flow has led to the integration of transparent covers. Despite its sturdy design our equipment has an elegant but light look, being massive towrads the base and airy where it counts.

A choice of either wipedown or washdown variants, manufactured from a range of different materials, and in a variety of colours, is available. The current trend is towards stainless steel lines that unify the look of equipment. Cleaning advantages beat any fancy for colour hands down. Still hotly debated remains the issue of open or closed structures.”

Nowadays, more complex systems are equipped with frequency converters, allowing precise, continuous conveyor belt speeds. Such controls enable system start-up start in a controlled manner and allow automatic buffering or speeding up/down of systems or single components independently.

Today more then 90% of Transver’s units are delivered with a standardised set-up of drive systems. “Now engineers are trying to develop drives that are capable of moving alternative conveyors that may find application in the confectionery sector,” says Rauch.

While footprint reduction is key, there is obviously a physical limit, since feeding and conveying systems have to follow output requirements. Often the footprint is not reduced but production lines get wider – handling systems with 1.6m wide belts are common. In confectionery, the number of products per row is constantly increasing, enabling one line rather than two to be used.

Control systems save time

The key issue when using modern control systems is speed. Not only do the units become faster, the changeover times from product to product are reduced. Having data ready on demand reduces downtime massively. Production flexibility increases dramatically. With the ever-increasing demand from marketing personnel for new products or ways of presentation, entire production lines must be changed over in the shortest possible time.

Transver KB curve conveyor systems for bars, biscuits, chocolates and pralines enable belt speeds of over 100m/min. Wear and tear on the belt is minimal because of a non-slip link between drive chain and belt. The reduction in the overall curve module width, the maximised availability and simple maintenance are said to make the system cost-effective.

Consistent belt tension and 10mm end rollers ensure smooth transport of small products. An integrated greasing system and low friction between the drive chain and its guide reportedly add to the feeding module’s efficiency and low total cost of operation. The separation of the drive unit from the belt increases hygiene and helps preserve the quality of small, delicate pralines or other perishable products.

A range of modular angled head conveyors for bars, biscuits and chocolate products is said to provide gentle product handling, easy and quick cleaning, precise handling of small products due to minimal belt transitions, continuous product flow on infeed of packaging, space saving, and limited product contact.

The Bradman Lake Group’s (BLG) Autowrappers brand has also developed fully automated feeding systems to cater for the needs of this sector. The inline phase feeder unit incorporated in such systems enbles handling of up to 1,200 pieces of regular and irregular product/min. The feeder accepts product in a single stream. Afterwards it closes the gaps and spaces them to the correct pitch before loading them into the flowwrapper infeed.

The product orientation feeder can be supplied in a number of different widths and lengths, while the number of base and side belts can be changed to suit a user’s particular needs. Product can be accepted in orderly rows as well as randomly distributed on a conveyor. It is then configured into a single stream, narrow edge leading. Typical product sizes range between 40mm and 175mm in length.

Speeds of up to 1,000 products/min are par for the course but it is possible to accommodate products and speeds outside these ranges. A shuttle phase feeder eliminates most pressure on the product queue, presenting a consistent product line to increase process flow stability.

BLG’s automatic distribution system features a height adjustable, one-belt feeding process, which reduces belt and product transfers by 50%, improving product handling and product protection efficiency.

The multiple belt width and length system will accommodate a multiplicity of product styles and sizes, which can be distributed to multiple packaging stations. ADS equipment features light curtain technology, which allows the machinery to be more cost-effective and less restrictive, leading to a safer, technology-focussed application.

These systems were developed for use with bar type confectionery but they are reportedly suitable for any product delivered in regimented rows. Any number of feed stations can be incorporated in the modular system. High and low speed versions are available. The high-speed version can accept up to 120 rows/min from the manufacturing plant and discharge up to 30 rows/min from each feed station.

Products are automatically discharged from the ADS to the wrapping machine or transferred to the next station if the wrapper cannot accept product. The system is generally used in conjunction with bar turning units and phase feeders for inline wrapping legs or right angle/obtuse angle feeders.

BLG storage systems are designed to bridge short-term machinery downtime and provide just-in-time product availability. The Autowrappers brand Verso-stor buffer storage system can be incorporated into any of BLG’s feeding systems. They are frequently used in conjunction with automatic distribution systems where a simple storage and re-feed belt would not provide sufficient capacity.

CKF Systems provided an intriguing solution for Cadbury Trebor Bassett, whose replacement case conveyor system was too steep to handle the descending cases in a controlled manner. The solution was to replace the existing system with two spiral conveyors linked with a series of belt and slat band conveyors, which can be viewed by all visitors to Cadbury World.

“We were confident in the solution proposed by CKF Systems,” says Cadbury’s Pasqui Silvestro. “The planning and the management of the project meant that the system was installed over our Christmas break, ensuring that there was no unplanned production downtime.”

Three conveyor lines have been incorporated into one system. Each line is individually monitored within the control system, enabling any product ‘build back’ in any lane to be run out and allowing the remaining product lines to continue to maximise production.

High level slat band conveyors were designed to bring all three lines to a common point, allowing the initial spiral conveyor to be installed on the first floor. It has an outside diameter of 2,520mm and declines through 720° before feeding onto a short declined belt that feeds through the existing floor aperture.

A second spiral conveyor on the ground floor declines the products from 3,435mm down to 1,536mm through two full rotations before feeding the final declined belt conveyor. The throughput dictated a line speed of 50m/min and so auto lubrication units have been installed on the underside of the spiral multiflex belt.

So what are the current challenges facing the confectionery market? Well, flexibility is key, if only because of the quickly changing trends of packaging formats – single items are flow wrapped and then forwarded to secondary packaging processes in vertical baggers or placed in boxes by top loaders. The development of machinery designed to maximise hygiene is also critical to prevent contamination. However, increasing automation is eliminating the need for human contact with food products.

A moving story

A £1m conveyor system, capable of handling up to 1,000 orders an hour and with provision for future expansion, has been completed by European Conveyor Systems for Tobar.

The specialist toy and gift retailer recently moved into a purpose-built head office and warehouse costing around £10m near Beccles, Suffolk. The footprint of the building is 10,000m2 and the bulk storage area has over 6,000 pallet spaces for the 2,500 product lines currently stocked by the company.

While all order picking operations were carried out manually at the previous premises – which involved operatives walking long distances – the new system links a number of picking zones on two mezzanine floors with consolidation and packing areas on the ground floor.

It also delivers products to the picking zones on the upper floors to replenish stocks there. The system includes nearly 1,000 metres of conveyor. Orders are placed in plastic tote bins identified with unique barcodes that are read by barcode scanners that direct each bin to its next destination.

Staff can add extra bins to accommodate an order if the first one becomes full. In order to check that an order has been picked correctly, before each bin leaves the picking area it is weighed and the weight checked against the figure calculated by the warehouse management system.

Bins with completed correct orders are delivered by the conveyor to one of two ground floor packing areas, depending on whether there is only one bin for the order or more than one. A re-circulation loop included in the conveyor system provides buffer storage when the packing areas are busy.

The warehouse computer system linked to the ECS conveyor program provides information about order progress and system functionality and allows fault diagnosis, with any faults rectified via a modem link.


Automation Supplies – Dorner’s AquaPruf stainless steel sanitary conveyor series consists of standard flat PVC belted straights, inclines and curves. Also available are FDA-approved modular plastic belt straights, inclines and curves. The series accommodates a wide range of belt and standard options for the needs of the bakery, confectionery, snack, prepared food and protein markets.

BCH – Single and multi-tier cooling tunnels and process conveyors can be incorporated into a full process line. Conveyor widths are available from 300-2,000mm in modular stainless steel sections. The cooling tunnels use high velocity air cooling with water-cooled tables or parallel airflow cooling above and below the belt. Advantages of multi-tier cooling include footprint reduction, cooling and drying efficiency, and ease of access to product and for cleaning.

Belt Technologies – Steel belts can be provided with different coatings that alter the natural surface properties of the conveyor and give different performance characteristics. Teflon is available in a variety of grades. For food processing applications Silverstone is normally recommended.

Emelius – MARTENS PU-coated belts are FDA and USDA-approved and suitable for conveying unwrapped foodstuffs. The majority of PU belts contained in the firm’s single-ply range are used in chocolate cooling tunnels and the packaging industries. The two-ply belt has many uses throughout all fields of industry. Various finishes are available as standard, including embossing of belt surface with various neutral patterns, house brands or company logos. The company also supplies 90° or 180° conveying discs for turntable conveyors.

Flexlink – Systems are based on an aluminium conveyor beam with low friction slide rails guiding a plastic multi-flexing chain. Products to be conveyed, which can have a weight of only a few grams, travel directly on the belt using roller and belt conveyors. The chain design permits horizontal as well as vertical change of direction.

Habasit offers KVP and HabasitLINK modular belts, which feature a smooth surface that provides a stable transfer, especially for incline and decline applications. These grip top modules are available for flat top and flush grid belt types. Systems are said to feature high belt strength and easy cleaning. The sprockets have a double row of teeth that allows higher torque transmission, less sprocket disengagement and quieter running. The wider teeth provide a longer sprocket life.

Intralox – The Series 1650 SF MH FT is the latest addition to the Intralox EZ Clean family and is designed to meet increasing hygiene and sanitation requirements in the food industries. Greater hinge and rod exposure around the sprocket enhances cleaning access.

Contact details

Automation Supplies Ltd
T. +44 (0)1772 681106

T. +44 (0)1706 852122

Belt Technologies Europe
T: +44 (0) 191 4153010

Bosch Packaging Technology
T. +41 52 674 6228

Bradman Lake Group
T: +44 (0) 1603 441000

CKF Systems Ltd
T: + 44 (0) 1452 424 565

European Conveyor Systems
T: +44 (0) 115 987 4363

J.A Emilius & Sons
T. +1 215 379-6162

FlexLink AB
T. +46 31 337 3110

T. +41 (0) 61 715 15 15

T. +44 0800-894392 (toll free)

The Habasit Astra conveyor features side guards and flights Bradman Lake’s ADS system with patented guide rail technology has been used for confectionery in New Zealand A modular Habasit confectionery belt with a nub top Part of the ECS conveyor system at Tobar A stainless steel belt conveyor system supplied by Belt Technologies Europe A Bosch Transver B40 curved conveyor system for bars, biscuits, chocolates and pralines