Festo develops Conveyor System that Moves Products in Waves | Automation.com

Festo develops Conveyor System that Moves Products in Waves

Festo develops Conveyor System that Moves Products in Waves

November 19, 2013 - Through the energy of intelligently directed wave formations, Festo has demonstrated an entirely new concept in conveying and automatically sorting such delicate items such as fruits and vegetables. The technology behind the WaveHandling conveyor points the way to modular conveying systems of the future that are fast and easy to set up, self-organizing, and require less programing than systems in use today.

The WaveHandling conveyor consists of hundreds of relatively small and modular bellows actuators that by rising and falling deform the flexible surface of the conveyor, creating a wave motion that transports the objects in a targeted manner.

Inspiration for the WaveHandling system was provided by waves in nature. The movement of the wind over the smooth surface of water produces small ripples, which grow as the wind pushes against them. However, what is being moved by the waves is energy, not water. The water molecules within a wave move up and down in a circular motion, but remain in roughly the same place.

The up and down motion of the water molecules is simulated by the WaveHandling system using the pneumatically actuated bellows actuators. As swarms of coordinated bellows advance upward and retract within a matrix configuration, a wave moves over the surface of the conveyor. These waves carry items before them, much as the energy of a wave propels a surf board. Not only that, but the system can sort and direct items as they travel down the conveyor and the modular systems lends itself to a variety of branching configurations for sorting.

The actuators slide together, forming a Lego-like matrix underneath the covering that forms the surface of the conveyor. Each actuation module consists of bellows kinematics on top, an integrated standard valve MHA1 from Festo, and electronics for actuating the valve. The bellows structure is pneumatically driven and can expand and contract by .4 to .8 inches (1 to 2 cm).

Each module has a circuit board with an integrated microcontroller. By connecting the boards, the spring contacts on all four sides of the bellows establish an electrical connection between the boards that distributes both the bus system (CAN bus) and voltage across the entire system.

The system detects how the individual bellows modules are connected. The computer creates a virtual map of the layout.

Once the individual modules have been detected, the conveyor is ready for operation. The time and effort needed for installing the conveyor is reduced since neither an additional handling unit nor a deflector, pusher, or air blast device is required for the sorting process.

Mounted above the handling system, a camera senses objects on the conveyor. The camera transmits the images to a computer that processes them and actuates the conveyor via software developed specifically for this purpose. In the bellows modules, the microcontroller receives the commands via the CAN bus and forwards them to the valve. The respective bellows structure expands when the valve is switched, which causes the surface to arch. The end result is a control circuit that moves objects on the surface in a targeted manner, enabling it to take over the sorting action in the process.

“The many hardware, software, and networking innovations of the WaveHandling conveyor demonstration serve as an idea generator for the next generation of factory automation in terms of self-organizing, flexible systems,” said Richard Huss, president and CEO. “For that reason, I believe this is an important demonstration project. I hope that everyone interested in the future of automation will take a few minutes to watch the video and to download the technical brochure.”

Click here to watch a video demonstration.