By Julie Bos
Rolling, rolling, rolling. Keep them doggies rolling. Head ‘em up, move ‘em out. Move ‘em out, head ‘em up. Rawhide!

Although these lyrics may bring a chuckle and fond memories of Billy Crystal in City Slickers, the song is also the unspoken mantra for today’s optical labs, who strive to keep job trays continuously “rolling” throughout their integrated maze of generators, surfacers and finishers for maximum efficiency.

All humor aside, moving job trays from point A to point B to point C is a critical function in today’s automated optical labs—and can literally make or break the process chain.
Fortunately, today’s leading conveyor manufacturers and integrators are on the forefront of technology innovation, offering solutions that help keep your lab one step ahead of your workload. Here’s a glimpse of the newest advancements and offerings.

After nearly 10 years of conveying optical trays with a single belt conveyor and custom designed systems, optical labs wanted intelligent conveyor solutions with smart routing. In 2010, FlexLink created the VisionX platform to be modular, quiet, lower voltage and pre-designed, enabling faster ordering and installations. The platform includes hundreds of unique module designs that make up the complete conveyor system.

To date, FlexLink has installed more than 400 individual modules in seven different optical labs. One installation is shown at Classic Optical Laboratories in Youngstown, Ohio. [See photo] The application shown connected two Optotech Autoblockers and a manual blocking station from one Optotech Autotaper. All of this was achieved in a compact area of an existing lab.

To lower the cost of the solution, FlexLink used one tray turner device, which diverts optical trays from a main feed conveyor to one of three destinations. FlexLink uses smart routing technology to intelligently route trays to either auto or manual blocking. The information is communicated through Lab Management Software (LMS).

Features Include:
• Built with standard conveyor components by FlexLink
• 24v DC motors
• No pneumatics
• Modular sections that speed installation and minimize lab downtime
• Pre-defined cost model for faster quoting
• Flexibility for creative and space-saving layouts
• Conveyor is designed for high-volume applications
• Low maintenance required
• Clean and quiet

“VisionX offers many advantages over existing conveyor solutions,” explained Ken Lento, strategic business unit manager. “One of the most important items is reducing the tray-on-chain noise. Traditional lab conveyors create loud noise levels with trays that accumulate on the conveyor chain. VisionX eliminates noise. Another issue to avoid is optical trays getting stuck around conveyor curves. VisionX has a uniquely designed chain that guides optical trays around curves without any issues of sticking.”
Intrigued? VisionX systems can be viewed on YouTube under the FlexLink YouTube Channel.

According to company president Kevin Mauger, NCC Automated Systems is a systems integrator first and a manufacturer second.

“What’s unique about NCC is that we offer every type of conveyor imaginable, which means we can pick whichever is best for each lab,” he explained. “This gives us the largest group of tools to choose from, which can frequently result in the best overall solution. Because we’re not tied to a single manufacturer of conveyors, we can use what’s best on a job-by-job basis.”

From a host of suppliers, including some custom-built by NCC specifically for the optical industry, NCC delivers all of the offerings and options available in the market. It offers side-flexing chain, dual-strand timing belt, wide belt and roller conveyors. The company offers power options of three phase, single phase and even 24 VDC for lighter duty or zoned applications. Plus, it offers devices of every shape, size and function as well as smart routing, vertical and horizontal solutions. NCC goes to market exclusively through Satisloh, a trusted leader in the optical industry.

NCC also offers a brand new robotic vehicle material handling system called MobilEyes. It’s a “conveyor-less” solution with a mobile self-guided vehicle (SGV) that delivers trays to machines or areas of the lab, on demand. Because of MobilEyes’ flexibility, lab equipment can be located wherever and can move whenever necessary, making machines infinitely more accessible to operators and mechanics.

This technically advanced automation solution features:
• Self-navigation software
• Obstacle avoidance and re-routing capabilities
• Abilityv to transport more than job trays
• Programmable voice commands
• Battery operation (using less than 14 amps to charge)
• Quiet operation
• Flexibility with the ability to automate pieces of several operations versus only one
• Digital mapping software that creates CAD drawings of the lab
• No need for magnets, beacons or floor tape

Simplimatic has been a trusted name in material handling systems since 1965, serving a wide variety of industries including optical, semiconductor, electronics, packaging, assembly, pharmaceutical and automotive. For optical labs, Simplimatic’s Opti-Trak modular conveyor is a flexible, modular table-top conveyor system that allows rapid assembly of conveyor systems for tray handling production lines. Components are designed for quick assembly and re-configuration, with a wide range available for maximum conveyor flexibility at a very competitive price. A unique tray stabilization guide rail system keeps the trays level and assists in smooth transfers throughout the conveyor line.

Features Include:
• A modular design that allows for rapid re-configuration when the lab layout needs to change to accommodate process changes or volume increases
• Turnkey systems include special function modules, such as automated tray stackers, destackers and combos units for alloy curing time (wait time).
• Operating controls and software that facilitate “smart” routing (This includes an LMS interface to sort trays to machines in specific locations via barcode or RFID.)
• Superior, global customer support with a 24-hour hotline and a spare parts warehouse offering overnight and counter-to-counter shipments

“We bring value to our clients, both large and small, by helping their engineering and production staffs leverage their most precious resource—time,” said Tom Coker, national sales manager for optical lab automation. “We do this by maintaining a core competence in conveyor and integration technology; possessing industry-specific application knowledge; designing durable, low-maintenance equipment; and providing everything at a competitive price and lead times.”

Although many custom-designed conveyor systems can be complex and expensive, Tray Taxi offers an affordable alternative. The company does provide conveyor systems that can be custom-designed for specific applications, if desired. However, it also offers standard-width-and-length sections that can be easily installed today and reconfigured down the road, as a lab’s needs change.

Features Include:
• Strong yet lightweight designs
• Proprietary plastic belts that are easily lengthened/shortened to accommodate current needs (eliminating the need to retire sections that no longer fit)
• Modular designs that can be easily moved and recommissioned for different tasks during re-engineering
• Brushless, variable-speed drive motors that are rugged and long-lasting
• Sliding door sections that enable lab personnel to cross the conveyor line (without ducking under), thus eliminating risks and liabilities

“Change is inevitable,” said Tom Yancy, president of e.lens Inc. “We offer an affordable solution that can meet a lab’s current needs while also accommodating for needs in the future. Optical machinery is constantly being moved or replaced, and Tray Taxi offers a reliable, affordable solution to forced obsolescence.”


Labtalk June 2020