A New Way to Move Products

  • July 07, 2015
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Feature

By Oliver Haya and Erik Myers, Motion Control, Rockwell Automation


Manufacturers and packaging contractors are constantly striving to locate a cost-effective and flexible way to increase productivity in their packaging operations, while also economizing their floor space. Traditional linear moving systems can often fulfill one or more of these criteria, but it is rare that all are ever met by one coherent system. The introduction of intelligent modular track systems is changing that, offering greater flexibility and energy efficiency, and lower operating and maintenance costs, for many industrial applications.

Traditional Solution:

Chain and sprocket system

In a traditional packaging application, chains and sprockets are often used for basic linear motion processes. For complex motion, more sophisticated mechanical arrangements may be required. For example, a product that needs to move at varying speeds along the same line, or changes from continuous to intermittent motion, typically requires several different chain and sprocket configurations, each connected to its own rotary motor and drive. Not only is this system complicated, but if a change occurs in the production run, any alterations in the configuration would be costly and time consuming. The complexity illustrated here typically increases the costs of operation and maintenance required to keep the machine properly running. Also, any change parts required for its operation tend to take up a large amount of valuable factory floor space.  

Alternative Solution:

A modular, scalable and intelligent track system

In contrast to a traditional configuration, intelligent modular track systems allow for independent control of multiple movers for both linear and complex motion processes. Abandoning the use of rotary-driven chains, belts and gears, these systems simplify what otherwise is a much more complex, inflexible and unreliable process.

How It Works

Intelligent modular track systems use innovative design elements, such as a linear magnetic-drive configuration that uses energized coils along the outside of the machine frame. The coils produce a field that interacts with a magnet mounted to the inside of a rugged mover, while a position magnet mounted to the top of the mover allows for absolute positioning of each mover in closed-loop servo-control applications. This design approach provides tool independence, making it possible to adjust the spacing between movers or products in real time. The availability of motor coils in either straight or curved modules with varying coil-length sizes, each size corresponding to a different amount of output force, offers greater scalability than traditional systems to meet each unique application’s requirements.


Linear module                                           Curved module

An intelligent modular track system can achieve a wide range of forces and speeds for different packaging applications.

Benefits for manufacturers include a smaller factory-floor footprint, improved modularity and reduced downtime. End users that have adopted these systems typically have seen an increase in production rates of 50 percent or more due to high speeds and flexible programming that enable faster production and higher throughput. 

This next-generation design is a perfect fit for those considering a change to a more forward thinking production line.

In this video, R.A. Jones’ high-speed collating machine takes randomly fed product and pushes it to a continuous motion carton machine. Using iTRAK on this machine doubled the throughput of the previous generation machine.

About the Authors:

Oliver Haya is the product manager for the iTRAK Intelligent Track System. Erik Myers is an engineer in the Motion Solutions Group supporting tools and products. 

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