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Streamlined For Success

Automated material-transport systems aid efficiency from raw material to end product.

Jim Phillips

The textile plants that dotted the American countryside during the mid part of the past century were often multi-storied brick structures that gave a very exact definition to the term vertical manufacturing.Raw material, shipped by truck and rail, would be unloaded at the shipping docks and transported by hand (or at least hand trucks) to opening rooms, where bales mostly cotton, wool and natural fibers, but some synthetics would be opened, cleaned, blended and sent on to other stages of the yarn preparation process.At every stage, from carding through drawing, roving and spinning, material would have to be physically and laboriously moved from one station to the next, often spanning multiple floors. All in all, it was an effective, although not terribly efficient, process that required a number of man hours not dedicated specifically to the mission of producing fabric.Back then, though, the Western textile industry was at its pinnacle, without peer anywhere in the world. Labor was relatively inexpensive, and U.S. mills had a buyer for virtually every yard of fabric that rolled off looms and knitting machines.But, as is always the case, times change, and the proliferation of relatively modern textile industries in developing countries particularly Asia has caused the U.S. industry, as well as the European textile industry, to examine every facet of production in order to increase efficiency and remain competitive in a global market. Faster machinery, more computerization, streamlined supply and delivery channels and more have aided the industries in America and Europe to become the worlds most efficient producers of textile products.And among those modernizations, an often-overlooked element is how material is transported from one place to another. The multi-storied mills are by and large a thing of the past. Todays modern textile plant is a single-storied structure designed to make the entire manufacturing process as simple and efficient as possible. Material is handled automatically at most stages of production, eliminating labor cost, enhancing control and, ultimately, contributing to the competitive position of the textile industries of both Europe and the United States.Several companies manufacture machinery and systems that enable the automated transport of materials from one production process to another. In this report, Textile Industries examines the offerings from U.T.I.T. Wagner Automation S.p.A. and Neuenhauser Automation Inc. U.T.I.T.U.T.I.T. Wagner was the first company in Italy to design and build integral material-handling systems to optimize the functional performance of entire production lines, according to Giovanni Vaccari of the companys Textile Division.Today, U.T.I.T.s Textile Division offers tailor-made solutions ranging from the automatic transfer of textile material through the different steps of spinning, to the checking of the final product; and from conditioning to palletizing, storing and delivery of yarn. The company has developed solutions that enhance and optimize the flow of material through the plant and has generated significant market share for U.T.I.T. in the spinning industries of the United States, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Turkey and Iran.Offerings from the company include systems for can handling, lap handling, bobbin handling and cone handling, as well as for handling of cops of filament. Can HandlingThe can-handling system consists of a transportation circuit made of a closed-loop chain embedded in the floor of the mill, covered by a plate of special design. The circuit stretches in the middle of each of the alleys formed by two adjoining open-end machines and in front of all the draw frames, feeding them.Each draw frame in the system is equipped with a station that loads full sliver cans on the transportation circuit. The chain revolves at constant speed and uses special hooks designed to draw the cans around the mill, making them slide on the circuit cover plate.The arrangement of the transport systems allows each alley to always have a certain number of full cans. The empty cans on the spinning frames can be loaded on the transportation circuit and brought back to the draw frames. This system, according to Vaccari, is suitable for any layout and can be integrated with an aerial can-transportation system for a multi-story layout. Lap HandlingU.T.I.T.s lap-transport system consists of an overhead carriage able to carry four laps at a time. The carriage moves above the combing machines crosswise to their length. It takes four laps from the sliver-drawing winder and deposits them on the comber in the vacant places in the row of spare laps.The workers operating the combing machine can change the laps as needed because the spare lap positions are always loaded. They place the empty bobbins on a support from which the conveyor picks them up and carries them back to the sliver drawing winder. When a group of comber cans needs to be fed by two drawing winders, an electronic control system routs the laps of the specified winders to specific combers. Bobbin HandlingAutomating the handling of the roving bobbins provides, according to Vaccari, an opportunity to enhance both quality and efficiency.The flyer bobbin is one of the most delicate intermediate products to handle due to two specific reasons, he said. The roving wound around the bobbin is completely unprotected and is, therefore, highly liable to damage through impact, bad handling, stripping or dust and fluff collection. Secondly, each and every defect inherent in the roving is transferred to the yarn.Automating flyer-bobbin conveying, he said, eliminates the need to handle the bobbin or touch the textile product, as well as the need for intermediate storage areas in which the bobbins can age, get dirty and deteriorate.U.T.I.T. provides four separate solutions for automated bobbin handling:Bobbin transportation with manual random creeling takes its name from the way the empty bobbin is changed for the full one on the creel of the ring frame, i.e., in random mode when the bobbin naturally terminates. Bobbin transportation with block manual creeling differs from random creeling in that the flyer bobbins on the ring-frame creel are changed in preset quantities or blocks, which generally coincide with a complete doffing of the fly-frame. The bobbins are handled by an overhead circuit that links the fly-frame zone with the various sides of the ring frames.In bobbin transportation with block automatic creeling, the empty bobbins on the ring-frame creel are changed by blocks equaling one-sixth or one-third of the total number of spindles on the ring frame. The spinning-frame creel consists of eight tracks in which bobbin trains are installed. Six of these tracks hold the bobbins that supply the spindles and two hold full spare bobbins.In bobbin transportation with automatic single-step creeling of the entire creel, the spinning process on the ring frame is organized so that all the bobbins in the creel become empty simultaneously. The creel of the ring frame consists of a set of parallel rails to hold trains that bring in the same number of bobbins as spindles. When all the bobbins are empty, the trains are stripped out from the creel and replaced by others loaded with full bobbins.  Cone HandlingIn cone handling, U.T.I.T. offers a cone-palletizing system that begins the collection of the cones from the linked cone-winding machine and/or the open-end spinning machine and terminating with automatic storage of the packed cones in the final product shipping area. 
Typically, according to Vaccari, there are two ways to automate these processes: cone collection and pallet formation at the end of the line; and cone collection and transfer to a remote area where the palletizing and successive treatments take place.In cone collection and pallet formation at the end of the line, palletizing is achieved by machines installed at the tail end of the cone-winding/spinning machines. These machines run on trucks placed crosswise to the machines. The palletizing unit can interface with each of the machines as required.A pallet-forming station and a stand-by interleave station are arranged behind each machine. The machine being doffed calls up the palletizing unit, which then connects to the machine and transfers the cones to the pallet. If the cones available are not enough to complete the pallet, the palletizing unit remembers the missing number of bobbins and moves on to another machine. The missing bobbins are loaded during the next doffing phase.The line also has a shuttle that takes the full pallets from the line and conveys them to a final treatment station, usually situated outside the spinning room. Once formed, the pallet can be automatically humidified, wrapped, weighed, labeled and loaded in the finish product store.This solution is preferred when the spinning mill palletizes the production of each machine separately. However, installation of this system can be unwieldy and requires a great deal of space in the spinning room.When cone collection and palletizing take place in a remote area, the system can be installed with enough flexibility to handle all palletizing combinations. Vaccari said this is the best solution for retrofitting an existing mill in which there is not enough space in the spinning room to locate a palletizing system. As well, he said, this is the best system to use for cones that originate from several sources and when final treatment needs to be centralized.Homogeneous groups of cones arriving at the palletizing machine are encoded with their spinning/winding machine of origin, allowing the pallets to be formed according to a preset program. Once formed, the pallets are automatically transferred to autoclaves for conditioning (when required), wrapped in protective plastic film, labeled, weighed and loaded into the finished products store. Handling Cops Of FilamentFinally, U.T.I.T. offers a transportation system for cops of filament. The system consists of an aerial circuit that connects each side of the twisting frames to a remote accumulation area.Trains run on the circuit and are used to load and unload bobbins of filament on the twisting frames. Each train brings a number of fork-shaped holders equal to the number of twisting positions of each frame. A full train is called from the accumulation area and brings a full cop of untwisted filament and an empty tube for cones on each holder.After the operator doffs the frame, the train loaded with the doffed material is sent back to the accumulation area, where it is manually transformed in a full train ready to service the next twisting machine in need of doffing. Neuenhauser
While U.T.I.T. has been around since the 1950s, Neuenhauser Automation Inc., Charlotte, N.C., is a relatively new venture. The company was formed in 1999, when Neuenhauser Maschinenbau GmbH, Germany, purchased the assets of Schlafhorst Automation.Neuenhauser approaches the automatic unloading of spinning frames from two distinct positions:The first method of unloading a spinning frame uses specially designed package conveyors to transport the packages continuously from the spinning frame to the packing area. The spinning frame is signaled to begin unloading, and packages are routed from one side of the spinning frame through an extension belt conveyor, which connects to the transport belt conveyor system for delivery to the packing area. Once the first side finishes unloading, the other side performs the same operation. This process removes packages, regardless of the number of packages on the machine, in approximately seven to nine minutes, based on spinning frame settings and speeds.The other method of unloading involves lifting packages from the end of a spinning frame to an overhead chain conveyor. The spinning frame advances packages to the end of the machine, where one or two packages can be lifted and placed into the overhead package carriers. The carriers transport the packages safely to an automatic unloader, which removes the packages from the carriers and places them on a belt conveyor for transport to a packing area. This methods cycle time is more dependent upon the number of packages to be unloaded. 
Both methods can accommodate transporting packages either to a manual packing area or to a more efficient, automated packing area. This packing area can include many components such as case forming and filling, pallet filling and prep line functions, such as wrapping, strapping, labeling and weighing.Individual systems by Neuenhauser, much like those of U.T.I.T., include a can-transportation system, a bobbin-transport system, a package-transport system, a central palletizer and a single palletizer.As well, the company offers a package test station, the Checkn Flow, which offers fully automatic quality control of packages and can be integrated in the companys Autoflow transport system. The Autoflow belt transport system is capable of controlling and conveying up to 1,000 packages per hour and can contain more than 20 articles at the same time.The package test station is equipped with a weighing and monitoring system and makes a standard test in about eight seconds per package. The test measures material mixture, tangled yarn layers on the package cover, missing thread reserve, package diameter and package weight.A computer system analyzes these characteristics by means of different standard scanning instructions, and sub-standard packages are automatically rejected.As well, the company offers a storage system, a package identification system and a boxing machine.

October 2001