When Recycle Inc. had the opportunity to design a new container processing plant from the ground up, an automated conveyor system was high on the list of priorities. Company managers wanted to replace a largely manual handling operation with a conveyor-based automated approach that would be both more efficient and safer.
Based on the new facility’s first few months of operation, they were right. Employee productivity climbed 20% just in the first week of start-up. Throughput projections predict that the new plant will process four times as much material as the old plant did in the same amount of time and with the same number of employees.
Jeffrey Bey, President of Recycle Inc., cites several reasons behind his company’s decision to switch to automated handling. “Essentially what we are is a manufacturing operation,” Bey explains. “We use one process to wash and prepare containers that will be reused, and another process to shred or granulate containers that are to be destroyed.
“Our incoming raw materials are the containers themselves. These containers — especially the larger ones — tend to be unwieldy, and some of them are fairly heavy. In the past, we handled the containers manually at several points during processing. Given our throughput requirements, we had the potential for accidents, and our approach wasn’t very efficient. As the demand for our services escalated, we knew that we needed to come up with a completely new way of handling containers — one that would take advantage of the benefits offered by automation.”
After the company located a suitable building for a new facility in South Plainfield, New Jersey, Bey assembled a project team to study new materials handling methods. The team contacted several nearby conveyor distributors for design ideas. According to Bey, some distributors balked at the idea of getting involved in up-front design work without first being assured that they would get the job.
“We were looking for ideas,” says Bey, “and we were also looking for a distributor and a conveyor manufacturer that would partner with us on this project.” Fortunately, the local Hytrol Conveyor distributor, South Plainfield-based Century Conveyor, didn’t hesitate to tackle the project.
- Location: South Plainfield, NJ
- Facility: Container management
- Solution: Hytrol chain-driven live roller conveyor and accumulation sections
- 86,500 sqf
- 70 employees
- 5 to 85 gallon IBC and polyethylene containers
- 80,000 containers per month
Working closely with the project team, representatives from Century Conveyor, from Hytrol, and a nearby automation firm designed a conveyor system that combines powered conveyors with smart sensors and custom software. At every decision point in the system, sensors supply feedback to the control program on the movement of individual containers, on the performance of the conveyors, and even on the maintenance requirements of the sensors themselves.
At the company’s old processing facility, employees manually handled much of the incoming containers. The plant did have a conveyor system in place, but it was a single straight-line design that simply transported the containers from one workstation to the next. The old conveyor system did not include any powered transfers or spurs.
The design of the new conveyor system at the South Plainfield warehouse greatly reduces the amount of manual handling by relying on automated conveyors to move the containers.
The new plant inspects and cleans 5- to 85-gallon polyethylene containers and intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) for reuse. Also, it provides certified destruction of 5- to 85-gallon polyethylene, steel, and fiber containers, and of IBCs.
Incoming containers are transferred from trucks to one of four takeaway conveyor lines. Based on their composition, disposition, and whether they will be prepared for reuse, the containers are carried by the conveyors to several possible destinations.
Containers that are to be reused are conveyed to an inspection loop where employees evaluate their condition. Powered roller conveyors then carry the containers that have passed inspection to one of three fully automated washing stations. After washing and another inspection, the containers are ready to be returned to their owners for reuse. All of these containers are captive within a closed-loop system between their owners, customers, and the South Plainfield plant.
Containers that are slated to be destroyed are conveyed to other workstations within the building for processing. In this part of its operation, the facility handles containers made of steel, polyethylene, or fiber.
Conveyors carry steel containers to a shredder; the scrap metal that is generated goes to electric mini-mills to be made into reinforcing rods for use in concrete construction projects. Polyethylene containers are ground into pellets which are then sold to be made into various corrugated plastic products including plastic drums. The fiber containers are conveyed to a workstation where they are broken down before being supplied to a paper mill for recycling.
Except for the belt conveyors that carry materials to waiting trailers, nearly all of the conveyors used in the new system are powered roller. Strategically-placed accumulation sections control the grouping of the containers before being transferred to workstation infeed conveyors. At two points, powered turntables rotate the containers 180 degrees (see drawing).
“This new system is enabling us to process 80,000 containers per month with almost no manual handling,” notes Bey, “and it can handle a lot more. So in addition to being far more efficient and having a much greater throughput capacity, we now also have a facility that’s substantially safer for our employees.”
Century Conveyor Systems enabled full-function industrial container management, and the new system exponetionally increased tthroughput. Faster order-picking and increased flexibility helped Recycle Inc improve order-filling accuracy and stability.