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Smart conveyor rollers to optimize parcel logistic

05th June 2018

Engineers have developed a system of self-monitoring conveyor rollers to solve crucial logistics problems for sorting offices and parcel services. Drive systems specialist Professor Matthias Nienhaus from Saarland University and his team of engineers have found a way of turning the motor inside every drive roller into a sensor. When the conveyor is running, the drive motors continuously generate data. Using only this data, Nienhaus' technology is able to control each of the conveyor rollers precisely so that it can respond to changing operating conditions. The new technology can be used to provide a cost-effective means of speeding up parcel sorting operations and can deliver greater flexibility wherever conveyor systems are in use. The research engineers from Saarland University are in Hannover to look for industrial partners interested in developing the new technology into marketable products.

Online commerce is booming. Ever greater numbers of packages and parcels need to be shipped quickly to their destinations. This poses huge challenges for parcel services. But speed is not the only thing that has to be optimized—the mountains of packages coming into a parcel sorting hub have to be transported, sorted and distributed in the smallest possible space without interruption and without error. In a parcel sorting centre, there is neither time nor room for parcel pile-ups. And today's parcel sorting hubs have to deal with items whose sizes and weights can differ enormously, from an exercise bike to a book. Conventional flat-bed conveyor belt lines contain huge numbers of tightly packed rollers that are powered by a central drive system. The rollers all rotate in the same direction and at the same speed. "If there's a large gap between two parcels, the gap stays constant as the parcels move down the line. There's no way to change or to define the distance between the parcels," says Professor Matthias Nienhaus of Saarland University. Closing these gaps has not been possible up until now. As a result, the time and space for conveying the parcels is not being used in an optimal way. And if one of the rollers fails, the whole belt can come to a standstill.