Conveyor and process lines face their moment of truth

Operators of automated production and materials handling machinery (such as this ice cream machine) may face issues as OEM actuators and isolators wear

A perfect storm of supply constraints is emerging for manufacturers and food and beverage processors as economies emerge from Covid restrictions seeking to step up production on existing lines or to automate with new equipment under Industry 4.0 initiatives

Actuation and isolation specialist company Air Springs Supply says the surge in demand for fast and reliable conveyor, production and packaging lines is happening as older equipment imported as complete lines over the last two decades is starting to reach obsolescence or wear out, affecting reliability.

“Design and production engineers who are facing increasing production demands on their existing equipment as global trade expands, are finding higher maintenance demands on their existing isolators and actuators on their conveyor lines, sorters, vibrating screens, and packaging lines, which are vital to output,” says Mr James Maslin, who is Sales and Marketing Manager for Air Springs Supply, which is the national distributor of Firestone Industrial actuation, isolation and suspension products including Airstroke™ pneumatic actuators and Airmount™  pneumatic isolators.

Mr Maslin says some manufacturers and processors may need to navigate a perfect storm of converging events in the year ahead, including worn or wearing old equipment, shortages of replacement components because of clogged ports, container logjams  and stretched supply lines; and shortfalls of technologies for new automation equipment, ranging from  microprocessor equipment through to high-speed actuators, isolators, and product and component pickers and grippers.

Air Springs Supply – Australia’s longest-established and leading supplier of air springs equipment – has expanded to fill the supply gap,  building up its extensive national supply network and expanding inventories of clean, hygienic and quick-acting products suited both to replacement existing OEM components and to be designed into fast-acting new machinery. The search for reliable actuator and isolator components is expected to ramp up over the years from now as operators focus on cost-efficient maintenance of the wave of OEM equipment that has been imported to Australia fully built, and on developing the next generation of production and processing machinery.  

These include extensive stocks of Firestone’s inflatable Airstroke™ actuators and Airmount™ isolators, which are also used worldwide in vibrating equipment and can easily cross over from Goodyear, Conti, Rexroth, Norgren and similar components incorporated globally by OEM manufacturers.

 Both types of rubber air spring offer the OHS advantage of silent operation, while also providing very high isolation efficiencies. Unlike typical high-speed pneumatic actuators and isolators, no-maintenance Airstroke® actuators do not contain rods to break or wear. The company’s equally strong and simple rubber-and-fabric Airmount® isolators cannot rust or break, like metal springs used in vibrating screens, conveyors, sorters and materials handling equipment. They are also easy to wash down and highly resistant to grime, enhancing hygiene.

“Companies using older OEM equipment are driven by the twin imperatives of having to work equipment hard to maintain production volumes, while simultaneously ensuring that nothing breaks down to interrupt cash flow,” says Mr Maslin. This means that many of the old metal coil springs that came with OEM machinery will need to be replaced, preferably with actuators and isolators that are easy to fit, don’t break or crack like metal springs, tolerate aggressive environments and washdown procedures and are simple to replace while production continues.