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March 7, 2018

Improving Bulk Handling Systems Through Automation

automated material handling system examples

Many manufacturing environments, whether simple or complex, contain some inefficiencies in their processes. Perhaps the steps in the process are not well interconnected. Manual labor may be required at certain points to keep the process moving forward. If you are faced with these issues, you may want to consider introducing automation into your manufacturing process to help eliminate inefficiencies and to gain better control over your bulk material handling system.

Here is an example: A pharmaceutical company reached out to Gough Econ for help in resolving several issues in their current process. Gough Econ’s team worked with the client and was able to deliver a successful solution with an automated material handling system.

Our Client’s Need for An Automated Material Handling System

The pharmaceutical company was looking for a way to encourage kids to take their vitamins. One option was to randomly blend three separate colors of vitamins together, giving them a bright and candy-like appearance. After the blending process, the colorful supplements needed to be conveyed to the bottling area as efficiently as possible.

The client’s existing systems and processes were not very efficient. A series of trays were used to manually load all three colored supplements into a hopper. Manual labor was also required to move the supplements from the blending process to the bottling area.

The manufacturer approached Gough Econ looking for a more automated approach—a way to blend the colored vitamins together then convey them to the bottling area reducing the need for manual labor. We were able to provide them with a total turnkey solution.

Gough Econ’s Automated Bulk Material Handling Solution

The material handling system involved several key pieces of equipment—tote unloading stands, vibratory feeders, a complex three-way accumulating transfer chute, and a series of belt conveyors to link random blending to the screening and bottling area. What’s significant is that all these additional pieces worked together; they were seamlessly integrated and automated to provide a clean, streamlined process that minimized the need for manual labor. This automated system was custom designed for this client and was tailored to solve the problems at hand.

Totes were added to the system for storing the three different colored supplements. These totes were regulated as they were discharged. From there, the supplements were transferred into a three-compartment hopper, where a controlled feed took them through a blending and screening process prior to bottling.

The use of these totes solved a couple problems. One, it reduced the manual process of loading trays of vitamins into the hopper, and two, it opened up considerable storage space in the manufacturing facility.

Our automated system handled more than just the color blending. (In fact, blending of dried goods is seldom a primary focus for Gough Econ’s bulk material handling equipment and systems.) The solution also eliminated any irregularities from the product mix—meaning any pieces that were inappropriately sized or shaped were excluded from the final product.

Gentle handling of product is a top priority for many of our clients. Gough Econ provides bulk material conveyors for a number of food and drug companies, and we know how important it is for products such as vitamins and pharma tablets to be handled with care, ensuring they don’t break during the conveyance process.

Automation and Total System Integration

It is important to understand that the benefits and process improvements gained by the client did not come from any one product. Though Gough Econ provides a broad range of material handling equipment, what matters for automation is how these different pieces of equipment are used together. Our engineers custom-built a system in which different pieces of equipment blended together the contents of different totes and conveyed the contents into individual vitamin canisters—a multi-step process that was streamlined, with minimal manual labor required.

The project started when the client contacted Gough Econ with a simple request: We want to improve our current process. What they were looking for was better efficiency and reduced manual labor—a shorter path from start to finish. An automated approach allowed the client to achieve their desired production goals.

It is worth noting that automation does not necessarily mean adding new steps or processes; in this instance, it involved the elimination of a step. Remember that our pharmaceutical client already had a process in place wherein an operator sorted trays and filled a hopper. Gough Econ’s proposal was to simply remove that manual step from the process by incorporating a new and automated material handling system.

The Gough Econ Approach to Automation

Our integrated systems are custom designed to solve specific problems for our clients. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution because each situation is unique. In some instances, the client has already automated some parts of their manufacturing process, but they need help identifying opportunities for additional improvements. Other times a client may be less familiar with the various aspects and benefits of an automated system. In either case, Gough Econ is eager to work with the client, to understand their challenges, and determine the best possible solution for their environment.

Our engineers are able to design solutions based on little more than a client’s end goal. This automation project for the pharmaceutical company is a good example. The manufacturer knew they wanted improved efficiency but had no particular plan for how to achieve it—no specific equipment or design in mind. Our engineers took that general goal as a starting point and produced a custom solution.

Many of the manufacturing processes and systems in place today are performing well enough – they are getting the job done. The question is could there be a better way to achieve even better results and improve efficiencies? That is the question Gough Econ is answering for our clients. The solution presented to the pharmaceutical manufacturer provided material handling automation, a manufacturing process that involved fewer steps with reduced manual labor, and improved quality of the final product.

To learn more about our bulk material handling systems and how your company can benefit from an automated solution, contact Gough Econ today.

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