SmartPace: Next Generation Dynamic Spacing Conveyor


Protecting product while delivering precision, speed, and flexibility.

Spacing product for case packaging, robotics work, or other product spacing needs requires a conveyor system that is responsive, accurate, and agile. No system achieves this while delivering the performance capabilities of Dorner Mfg. Corp’s new SmartPace conveyor. This paper will explore the structure of the SmartPace and examine the design innovations that make SmartPace truly unique.

Collaboration Breeds Innovation

As a result of a collaboration between Dorner and Yaskawa America, Inc., SmartPace debuted at Pack Expo International 2014 and was promptly named one of Pack Expo’s Top 10 Trends. Yaskawa, a manufacturer of AC drives and motion control products, including adjustable frequency drives, servo amplifiers, servomotors, machine controllers, and motion controllers, approached Dorner in 2013 with the idea of combining their controls, servos, and variable-speed drives with Dorner’s industry-leading conveyors to develop a new system to improve product spacing accuracy. SmartPace developed over the following months with the intent of premiering as a demonstration at Pack Expo. While the conveyor is not yet available for purchase, two of the systems are in field test and additional prototypes are being developed.

New Design, New Capabilities

The SmartPace conveyor prepares evenly spaced or alternating batches of product, depending on the application, to meet end-users’ product spacing needs. The system is set up to track both the leading edge and trailing edge of the product, so the product does not necessarily need to be of the same size and shape in order to be gapped appropriately. As randomly spaced products enter the conveyor, a photo eye detects the product spacing. In response, the servo motor control automatically varies the conveyor speed and conveyor junction placement in order to generate an evenly spaced product. SmartPace is also a completely non-contact system and contains no guides, diverts, or plows, even when merging multiple lines together, helping to reduce possible damage to the product.

The secret to SmartPace’s functionality lies in its design. SmartPace features two conveyor belts in one aluminum or stainless steel frame. The two-belt system allows for SmartPace to operate at a faster rate than a typical one-belt conveyor. Multiple FDA-approved belting options are available that feature maintenance free v-guide belt tracking and endless splices, all of which can smoothly transfer parts as short as three inches long.

The SmartPace conveyor is four inches to twelve inches wide and six feet long with 1.25-inch end transfer rollers. Motors can be mounted on either side or both sides, of the conveyor.

A maintenance free composite drive chain moves the single conveyor junction and requires no lubrication. This drive chain with low-inertia Acetal links that support the product loads allows the junction to reposition at fast speeds, which is one of the key new design elements of the SmartPace. The three Yaskawa servo motors drive the conveyors and transfer location.

Two Yaskawa SGMGV-05 Servo Motors with 2:1 timing belt reduction serve as conveyor drive motors, and power the three-inch diameter urethane-lagged conveyor belt drive pulleys. A single Yaskawa SGMGV-13 servo motor with 4:1 right angle gear reducer drive the composite chain that positions the conveyor junction.

The system is controlled by a Yaskawa MP2300 IEC Motion Controller and 230 V, 1 Phase Input (3 Phase, 230 V and 460 V, 50/60 Hz available) drive and includes a stand-alone control with user-friendly HMI interface to program desired product spacing and patterns. A built in safety control circuit is included, and remote enable and run signals input signals are available.

SmartPace Future

As field testing continues, Dorner will refine the SmartPace prototype that debuted at Pack Expo with the goal of making the new technology available for customer purchase by the end of 2015. In addition, Yaskawa is in development of a software “tool box” used in their programming environment to make programming of the SmartPace system much more user-friendly and cost effective for unique applications not currently supported. To view videos of SmartPace in operation or to learn more, visit the SmartPace Page.