The ATR FLEXsorter is a new sorter solution for small to medium-sized sorting applications with throughput capacities in the 1,800 - 2,700 packages per hour (30 - 45 packages/min) range.
The FLEXsorter is designed with commercially available components and a PC-based control system to create a sorter that is easy to install, easy to maintain, and easy to reconfigure as demands change.
User/operators can readily add sort points via plug-and-play sorter sections that are set into place and connected to power and control on the upstream section. The control computer is simply restarted, and the sort scheme updates to accommodate the new section and its sort points. The sorter length can be expanded to over 100 sorter sections, providing more than 400 sort points.
Roller Top Belt (RTB)
Central to the ATR FLEXsorter design is the use of the System Plast™ 2253 RT Roller Top Belt of Regal Beloit.
This plastic belting incorporates omnidirectional plastic balls captured in the belting surface at 1 inch centers.
The belt itself is an assembly modular links that incorporate the plastic balls. These links are interlocking and linked together with plastic rods. The belting is available in nearly any width (in 3 inch increments) or length to suit application requirements.
Package Handling Performance
The System Plast™ belting handles the widest range of products available. The belting can be produced in a variety of widths; ATR can design the sort module length to optimize overall sorter performance.
Sort modules only run when there is product in their section. This provides a new level of safety, since there are no high-power line-drive motors moving the entire conveyor line together.
Pillow Pack Handling Performance
The System Plast™ belting is very effective for transporting lightweight and irregular packages such as floppies and pillow packs. The multiple contact points of the belting reliably transport such packages.
Small And Flat Product Handling
Sensor are used between sections to track the movement of product along the sorter. For this application ATR is using array sensors instead of simple through beams to detect even the smallest packages. The array sensors can reliably track very flat packages, such as an individual CD case, a letter pouch, or even a single post card!
The building block of the ATR FLEX sorter is the individual sort module. The roller top conveyor belting is driven by a motorized drive roller (MDR) to convey the product. The freely rotating spheres touch the surface underneath the belt causing them to rotate and move the product that is on their top surface.
A second transverse mounted fabric belt mounted underneath is also driven by MDR. When the "Transfer" belt is activated, the product moves to the right or left and off the main direction of flow.
Two sort modules are combined on a structural frame to form a sorter section. This sorter section configuration provides a conveniently sized unit for installation. Sorter sections about 6 feet long can be easily moved around the facility with simple dollies and connected together when in position.
Each sorter section has leveling feet, connection points to the adjacent sorter section, and is pre-wired with control wiring and a 24VDC power supply. Each sort section provides four (4) sort points, while a sorter section located at the end of the sorter can have a fifth sort point off the end.
Different Discharge Configurations
The "bin discharge" configuration shown is the standard configuration for a variety of commercial applications. In this configuration a shelf-type structure is provided to hold individual bins at each discharge position.
However, the discharge container and the discharge chute design is customizable for the particular application. A variety of discharge options are available for sacks, hampers, gravity roller, etc.
The basic induction unit is a manual station with a scanner mounted overhead. ATR's standard offering is a VITRONICS scanner that provides several operator feedback features optimized for the manual presentation of product.
Operators face the product and set it on the induction conveyor in the projected target zone. Once an audible beep indicates that the label has been read, the conveyor starts and transports the package to the sorter.
Many infeed options are available, including interfacing with an upstream conveyor. Similarly, additional data collection systems can be integrated including OCR, scale, camera and dimensioning.
COTS Computer Controls
The ATR FLEXsorter system runs on a standard PC with Windows 7 equipped with an Ethernet/IP card for reliable communications to an I/O bus.
This PC has a sorter control program developed by ATR and written in C++ that controls overall sorter operations.
The standard PC simplifies the integration of COTS equipment such as scanners, scales, dimensioners, cameras, and other equipment that can be used in FLEXsorter operations. The additional on-board Ethernet port can be used for LAN networking activities that may be in operation at the install site.
COTS Computer Controls
Using the FLEXsort's Graphical User Interface, additional sort modules can be added or subtracted at any time, and the sorter will re-configure itself for renewed operations. This can be readily accomplished by the owner/operator; there is no need to call in outside assistance when the sorter utilization plan changes.
Touch Screen GUI
Multiple sort plans can be easily entered using the on-screen sort plan editor, or can be imported from a simple comma-delimited CSV file. The active sort plan can be easily selected by pressing the sort button on the main GUI screen.
Data Collection Options
A DataLogger application running on the PC collects processing data from the controller and stores the data in a Microsoft Access Database. SQL queries can be run on the database and accessed by the Reports Tool in the GUI application.
The ATR FLEXsorter includes options for an ID scanner, camera, scale, and dimensioner. The sort plan editor automatically adjusts the sortable items based on the enabled components.
Data collected and reported on the GUI includes run time, down time, total items processed, total items sorted to each bin, number of jams at each sort module, and number of errors encountered for each error code, including scanner errors, scale errors, Ethernet/IP communication errors, etc.
The ATR FLEXsorter is a Modular Sorter solution that is designed for low cost of ownership by "keeping it simple" and owner-supportable. Using standard Windows-type interfaces, the owner/operator can install the sorter, update sort schemes, and add additional sort sections in the future. All FLEXsorter applications are written in C++ and easily modifiable to meet specialized user needs.