Machine Design

Conveyor System Gives Retail Store a Lift

If you’re interested in photography, computers, or home electronics, then B&H Photo in Manhattan is the store for you.

It carries over 150,000 different items in its cavernous basement, and customers need only ask a salesperson to see one of those items and a custombuilt network of lift and conveyors delivers that camera, strobe light, or whatever right to a nearby sales desk for the customer to examine. That level of customer service almost came to a halt when the firm expanded its retail operations to the second floor. Company management had to build a new network that could move merchandise from the basement to either first or second-floor counters in the same time, or even faster, as well as quieter, than the old system. They also wanted less maintenance than the previous system’s lubricated chain drive caused. And if that wasn’t enough, B&H wanted the lift to be smaller so they could devote more of their expensive Manhattan real estate to retail.

The firm turned to United Sortation Solutions, Owing Mills, Md., for a new design. Engineers there developed a low-voltage motorized roller conveyor that improved safety and reduced fire issues with its 24-V cabling. And using many smaller motors let them precisely control the conveyor in several zones throughout the store. Key to the 29-lift network are Uniline linear actuators from Rollon, Sparta, N.J. They use extruded-aluminum-alloy profiles compatible with most mounting hardware. And with the linear rail and slide inside the extrusion, they guides are safe for high-traffic consumer areas such as the B&H store.

Another critical Uniline’s characteristic is its ability to span up to 27 ft, the distance from B&H’s basement to the second floor. “While length was critical, the ability to assemble the guides on site was also significant because access to the Manhattan building is difficult, and many of the guides had to be broken down so they could fit through the narrow entrances,” says Ed Hrehocik, senior engineer at United Sortation Solutions.

In terms of maintenance and reliability, B&H calculated that at four deliveries per minute, seven days a week, 8 hr a day, the Uniline would go through almost 3.5 million cycles in five years. Plus it’s a relatively high-speed application, with actuators moving up to 145-lb loads at 2 m/sec and accelerating at up to 5 m/sec2, which can speed aging. But even with all these factors figured in, the 27-ft actuators should operate for six years before needing any maintenance. The shorter ones should last 10 years. The linear actuators also use parabolic profile belts and pulleys, which lets the pulley engage more teeth and reduce belt slipping compared to traditional belts and pulleys, a definite plus in B&H’s vertical system.

Rollon Corp

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