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SEW drives Melbourne airport upgrade

BCS Group has combined innovative design with the flexibility of SEW-Eurodrive’s motor and drive technology to develop a new streamlined baggage-handling facility at Melbourne Airport.

From take-off to landing, the complexity of air travel is unfathomed by most, but exploited by many. The ability to cross the globe in a matter of hours in relative comfort is truly amazing and still rates alongside some of humankind’s greatest achievements. Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that — most of the time — travellers are reunited with their luggage soon after they disembark from the aircraft at their destination. This is largely thanks to a unique mix of manual and automated materials-handling solutions — an essential element of modern airport infrastructure.

One international port boasting such sophisticated systems is Melbourne Airport. With nearly five million passengers — and their cargo — passing through its international terminal building every year, Melbourne Airport represents a central hub for the increasing number of visitors to Australia. Key to the fast-track movement of passengers and their belongings in and out of the airport — from check-in to baggage collection — is the baggage-handling system.

To accommodate an increase in traveller numbers, as well as the invention of the A380 Airbus, Melbourne Airport recently embarked on an upgrade and expansion of its baggage-handling system. Leading materials handling and automation group, BCS Group, was enlisted to carry out the upgrade. Headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand, BCS Group recently signed an exclusive five-year contract with Melbourne Airport, and has a global reputation as a leader in the design, installation and ongoing operation of airport baggage-handling systems. At Melbourne Airport, BCS Group implemented a new baggage-handling system, founded on technologies from drives solutions group, SEW-Eurodrive.

Conveyor to carousel

Redeveloping Melbourne Airport’s baggage-handling infrastructure involved replacing the existing inbound baggage-handling system and relocating its entry-point to a new ‘inbound bag room’ on the tarmac. The new inbound system comprises over 600 metres of belt-conveyors and features the latest in automated materials-handling technology, providing fast and efficient transfer of baggage from the tarmac to the airport’s five baggage-collection carousels.

Baggage-carrying carts and ‘tugs’ relay bags from the arriving aircraft to the new bag room where they are manually unloaded onto one of six pre-designated single-line belt-conveyor bag lines. Each bag line conveys its baggage up and across an airport-vehicle overpass, through the ceiling into the airport terminal located approximately 100 metres away. Here, each bag line merges with an existing baggage-collection carousel system in the arrivals hall. Interestingly, one of the carousels is serviced by two bag lines to accommodate the extra baggage-handling capacity required for incoming A380 flights.

Each bag line is approximately 120 metres long, and made up of up to 20 separate belt conveyors of various lengths and functionality — long conveyors for straight runs, short conveyors for slowing and metering baggage, and 90-degree belt-curve conveyors for turning corners.

Motor matching

All of the motor-driven belt-conveyors employed on the new inbound baggage-handling system feature decentralised drive technology. Each conveyor is equipped with an SEW-Eurodrive geared motor, paired with one of the company’s electronic variable-speed drive solutions — the MOVITRAC LTE IP55 frequency inverter. The new inbound system incorporates over 100 geared motor and drive pairs, each direct-mounted on individual conveyors.

“At Melbourne Airport, we can’t afford bag line stoppages, so when we developed the new inbound system, it was imperative we adopt a motor/drive system we can rely on,” says BCS Group Key Account Manager, Djordje Petrovic. “SEW-Eurodrive has always been our preferred option here.”

According to SEW-Eurodrive Technical Sales Representative, Craig Munro, each gear motor has been selected to match the performance requirements of each conveyor and deliver optimal operational efficiency.

Need for speed

In combination, SEW-Eurodrive’s MOVITRAC LTE and geared motors provide Melbourne Airport with high levels of materials handling efficiency. “The MOVITRAC LTE is ideally suited to such low-power variable-speed drive conveying applications,” says Munro. “The end-result is an efficient geared motor/frequency inverter combination capable of delivering high levels of speed control.”

According to Petrovic, the ability to vary conveyor speed is crucial to the efficient operation of most baggage-handling systems. “It’s important that the baggage conveyors operate with a smooth ramp-up/ramp-down to ensure that cargo doesn’t topple, and wear and tear on the conveyor system is minimised,” he says. “This is critical, both from an operational and maintenance perspective.”

However, while the baggage-handling system has been designed to accommodate bags and cargo of a wide variety of shapes and sizes, there are bound to be disruptions. “If a bag gets jammed or there is a disturbance along the conveyor line, we are able to quickly switch the conveyors into slow-mode, reverse them, index them, or stop them completely,” explains Petrovic. “This level of control provides us with real operational flexibility.”

Connect, control, convey

A central control room oversees the operation of the new baggage-handling system. From here, operators monitor and control the new inbound system via an airport-wide SCADA system and CCTV network. The MOVITRAC LTE, along with a multitude of photo-electric sensors and scanners, are linked to programmable logic controllers (PLCs) via an airport-wide ASIbus communications network, which in turn is connected to the SCADA system.

By interfacing the MOVITRAC LTEs with the airport’s PLCs, system operators are provided with central, single-point configurable control of all motion applications. “The ability to communicate with the drive from the central control room is extremely helpful,” says Petrovic. “We can pre-program any drive to respond to an alarm or sensor trigger. Alternatively we can monitor the conveyors via the CCTV system and manually execute an action.”

According to Munro, the MOVITRAC LTE provides the BCS Group airport team with four access options for drive configuration, monitoring and control. “It is equipped with an in-built keypad, an onboard RS485 port for PC access, an infrared optical link for wireless connectivity to PDA or smart phone, and an optional portable programming stick for multi-drive parameter transfer,” he says. “The PDA and programming stick make the programming of large quantities of drives easy. BCS Group is able to configure a single drive, and then simply transfer the parameters onto any number of other drives. This is a real time saver.”

Easy install

With the airport continuing to operate throughout the installation process, the BCS Group airport team’s installation schedule was restricted, presenting a number of challenges. Furthermore, the new conveyor system traverses one of the airport’s main vehicle thoroughfares which remained open throughout the installation. “Installing a system like this in a fully operational international airport can be challenging, but it is something we’re used to,” says Petrovic. “With planes arriving day and night, we had to be flexible with our installation schedule and mindful of cart and tug traffic below the conveyor gantry.”

With a limited ‘window of opportunity’, the BCS Group installation team worked to meticulous schedules to ensure the timely delivery of the turnkey baggage-handling system. Importantly, the motor and drive’s easy mechanical and electrical installation ensures that basic drive applications can be ‘up and running’ in minutes.

According to Petrovic, installation, set-up and programming of the SEW-Eurodrive motor/drive combos was straightforward. “The SEW gear is extremely compact and easy to install. This simplified installation in the space-limited portions of the new baggage-handling facility,” he says. “Drive configuration is also easy, as we aren’t locked into using proprietary code. We were able to write our own code for the conveyor applications, allowing us to bring the new inbound system online on time.”

The MOVITRAC LTE’s IP55 rating was of real benefit during the installation process. “The drive’s IP55 rating meant we didn’t need to install each frequency inverter in a central MCC cabinet,” explains Petrovic. “The ability to field-mount the drive only inches from the motor means connection between the two can be achieved simply. This significantly minimises the amount of on-site wiring, and saves on installation and ongoing maintenance costs. The support from SEW-Eurodrive, coupled with the cooperation of Melbourne Airport, made for a trouble-free installation.”

First-class service

Like most airport-based applications, the new baggage-handling system is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation, employing 30 full-time onsite technicians and operators. “Our system needs to be online ‘around-the-clock’,” says Petrovic. “As a result, we need the same kind of comprehensive service from our motors and drives provider. Here SEW excels.

“We implement baggage-handling systems all over the world, so we need a reliable drive technology partner with the global reputation for excellence,” he says. “Being able to source the complete end-to-end drive package and receive ongoing after-sales support from a single supplier like SEW-Eurodrive is extremely valuable.”

Support is something SEW-Eurodrive prides itself on. “SEW’s ability to supply total project lifecycle support in Australia and across the globe, sets us apart,” says Munro. “By assembling locally, stocking a comprehensive range of spare-parts and providing 24-hour around-the-clock technical support and service, the company has gained a reputation as one of the world’s most dependable drive solutions providers.”

With the inbound baggage-handling system online on schedule, BCS Group and Melbourne Airport are looking to future projects. “Additional security measures on the inbound system and an upgraded outbound system are high on the agenda,” says Petrovic. “We anticipate incorporating additional SEW motor and drive technologies into future applications that require high levels of operational flexibility and control system integration.”

With the support of SEW-Eurodrive, BCS Group will continue to integrate reliability and innovation into its customised systems, providing Melbourne Airport — and its travellers — with fast and efficient baggage-handling solutions.

[Frank Cerra is the SEW-Eurodrive engineering manager.]

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