Linear Transfer Systems & Automation

Linear Transfer Systems & Automation

Henry Ford and the first use of linear transfer automation

Linear transfer systems have been the backbone of the automation industry landscape for a long time.  Or should we say, the back saver, as linear transfer automation has removed a lot of heavy lifting in the assembly industry as products are transferred from assembly station to the next assembly station for production.  Homage should be paid to the grandfather of the linear transfer system. Henry Ford turned on his assembly line over a century ago and we’ve never looked back.

What is linear transfer automation?

Materials, parts, and semi-finished products are physically moved to new locations for further processing.  New real estate affords us space to break down a process into smaller, simpler steps and decrease complexity. This means tooling can be dedicated to a single task, there is more room for delivering additional components, and while the transfer time is not always productive with some optimization we see great benefit to total takt time. To put it in context the Model T assembly time was reduced by half because of linear transfer automation.

How do linear transfer systems play a part in automation in manufacturing?

Linear Transfer AutomationLinear transfer systems remove the ownness of moving products through a process away from the operator so they are free to concentrate on other tasks. If we know the product will move autonomously through a process, operators can focus on things like uninterrupted supply of incoming material, operator executed tasks as products come to them, and unloading and packaging of finished products.

Transfer mechanization: What is it?

How we move products is almost as diverse as the products themselves.  Degrees of mechanization help us utilize the best suited
solution for each process.  While simplistic operator driven or gravitydriven transfers will always have a practical role in the automation industry, more sophisticated systems prove more employable in today’s automated world.

Belt under power rollers, conveyor belting, chain conveyor, pallet conveyors, puck handling, monorail conveyors, Synchronous and non-synchronous systems all provide different means of transferring products. Matched to the product and sequence of operations being performed, posturing of the product is the critical concern as it moves station to station. How we best deliver products to the next operation is the primary design concern.

Layout of these systems defines the work space but also sets limitations of flexibility as a process evolves. Continuous loop, over under, crowders, spurs, cross transfers, accumulators, lift and locates, and pallet stackers are all support mechanisms designed to maintain flexibility in a linear transfer system. They increase accuracy, provide product buffering and minimize bottle necking to maintain the desired takt time.

How do linear transfer automation systems get used to produce automotive parts?

Linear transfer automation is wide reaching in the automotive industry. Simple belt conveyors remove finished parts from safe guarded zones. Stamping parts can be conveyed through blanking presses or multi die presses. Pallet conveyors can deliver single parts or complex sub-assemblies. Linear transfer systems often deliver the final product as finished cars roll off the end of the assembly line. They are scalable to help process any product in the automotive industry.

How might future trends in industrial automation effect linear transfer automation in the manufacturing setting?

As the automation landscape changes, linear transfer systems will remain an integral piece of the production puzzle. Progress will come in the form of flexibility to processing multiple products on a single platform and adapt to process change. Layout confinement will be combated with smart conveying vehicles such as AGV’s no longer confine to the track or rail system of conventional linear transfer systems. Robots will become less reliant on part location and more adaptive open tolerance part presentation. But there will always remain a need to move product through linear transfer assembly.