Behind the scenes
Blickle’s team of experts on the latest trends in conveyor technology
The wheels and castors used in conveyor systems need to meet a complex and varied set of requirements. Whenever we are unable to use one of our standard solutions, we tailor our wheels and castors to make sure that they meet the individual requirements of our customers and are suitable for their intended use. All of our departments, from Product Management through to Sales and Design, work together closely in order to provide the best possible outcome for our customers. We sat down with Blickle experts Michael Haug (Conveyor Technology Product Manager), David Vogelmann (Head of Sales), Thomas Zimmer (Head of Heavy Duty Wheel Design), Dr. Yannic Gross (Head of Polyurethane Development) and Marc Braschler (Head of Polyurethane Production) to find out more about their roles.
What are the current trends in the field of conveyor technology, and what are you doing in response?
Michael Haug:Conveyor systems are involved in every part of our lives, and that level of integration is on an upward trend along with automation. This is a segment which has seen significant growth in recent years. Demand is increasing for systems that can guarantee a high level of throughput and keep material flows moving quickly. That’s why it’s so important to have conveyor systems that are extremely reliable and don’t require much in the way of maintenance. We provide resilient and maintenance-free wheels and castors that keep systems moving smoothly for longer and are perfectly suited to meet modern requirements. Another trend is the growing importance of saving energy and using resources efficiently. Blickle wheels help customers be energy-efficient thanks to their hardness and their low level of starting and rolling resistance.
What makes Blickle a specialist in conveyor technology solutions?
Thomas Zimmer: I think the variety of materials we use is a key factor. For example, if a customer’s top priorities were smooth motion and noise reduction, then we would choose a softer material for the tread. We also have harder materials available for customers who value precision over everything else. The wide range of materials that we have at our fingertips covers virtually any requirement that our customers might have.
Dr. Yannic Gross: We can also develop custom combinations of materials for customers interested in our polyurethane wheels. This allows us to design treads that are perfectly suited for the customer’s use case. We only use suppliers that we know and trust. To guarantee that the polyurethane is perfectly suited to the job, you have to make sure that you are using the right materials and the right processes. That’s where our expertise comes into play.
Thomas Zimmer: We really focus on meeting the demands of our customers, which is something that sets us apart from the competition. We take a detailed look at their technical requirements and their needs from the very beginning, and if the brief is complex enough, we will get an expert from the Design department involved at an early stage. We can then select the optimal solution from our extensive standard range or tailor a design to meet the exact needs of the customer.
How important is conveyor technology for Blickle?
David Vogelmann: It is an extremely important sector for Blickle. Blickle guide rollers are the products that see the most use in conveyor systems. Our wheels and castors are used for a wide variety of applications, from sorting systems through to conveyor belts, overhead conveyors and rack feeders. In addition to our standard range, we also provide different versions and special solutions that are particularly valued by original equipment manufacturers. We work closely with our customers at every stage of the development process, which is something they really appreciate. Standards for the wheels and castors used in conveyor systems are extremely high. This actually works in our favour due to Blickle’s commitment to innovation and quality management.
How do you go about finding the perfect solution for each individual customer?
David Vogelmann: Our strategy is to develop solutions together with our customers. That’s why we always start with taking a close look at the customer’s specifications. Based on this initial assessment, we come up with a number of proposals and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each with the customer. Blickle engineers from the Design department will also be involved if a project is particularly complex.
Thomas Zimmer: It’s at this stage that we take a really close look at the customer’s requirements – we have detailed discussions about the customer’s facilities, the kind of wheels that they are currently using and how much load they need their new wheels and castors to take. This helps us to select a suitable range of materials and make sure that our proposals have the right dimensions. The earlier we can get involved in the development process, the more likely it is that we can use wheels and castors from our standard range. If we cannot find something suitable in our standard range, we can use it as a starting point and make changes to characteristics like the wheel geometry, the bearing, the thickness of the tread or the material in order to develop a tailored solution. Once the requirements are clear, the Design department gets to work and starts running simulations. We then calculate the load bearing capacity and the anticipated service life of the bearing to make sure that the design is feasible.
David Vogelmann: Once the design of the product is set, we can produce prototypes if needed and simulate how they perform in real world conditions at our test facilities. If the project calls for it, we can also provide samples for long-term testing. It is really important that everyone involved in the process – like the customer, the sales departments and the developers – are all pulling in the same direction and communicating on a regular basis.
Marc Braschler: From a manufacturing perspective, the Design department provides the specifications for a product that is the best possible solution for the customer in terms of both cost and efficiency. We then assess a few different scenarios and select the manufacturing method that we feel is the best choice from both an economic and technical standpoint – either a highly automated process or a manual process using specialised casting systems. The method we use will depend a lot on the quantity and the batch size that the customer requires. These factors also have an impact on the nature and the quantity of the moulds that we use in the casting process.
Are there are any special requirements for the wheels used in conveyor systems?
David Vogelmann:Conveyor systems generally require wheels and castors with a high dynamic load capacity that are also capable of operating at high, sometimes breathtaking, speeds. We also see a lot of demand for maintenance-free wheels and castors which are capable of running on a 24/7 basis. When it comes to selecting the right wheel for any given application, we also have to factor in high levels of acceleration and braking force, rapid changes in direction and even the heat involved.
Michael Haug: Requirements can vary significantly depending on how the customer intends to use our wheels. Wheels used outdoors in offshore and gantry cranes, for example, need to be particularly resistant to heat, cold, hydrolysis and corrosion. In the automotive industry, on the other hand, wheels need to be ultra-reliable and capable of handling extreme loads. They also need to combine high traction with low wear. In a sector like warehouse logistics, the focus tends to be on speed combined with conductivity and energy efficiency.
Space is often at a premium when you are dealing with conveyor systems. How does that influence what you do in the Design department?
Thomas Zimmer: That’s really one of our biggest challenges. When you don’t have a lot of space available, you are limited in your choice of bearings and you don’t have that much material to handle loads. >>>> This poses a few restrictions in terms of the expected service life of our wheel designs. The solution is to use higher quality materials. If we are designing a polyurethane wheel for a customer, we can use high-performance materials like Blickle Besthane, which has a high load capacity and outstanding dynamic properties. We also have a range of high-end materials at our disposal if we are looking at solid plastic or injection-moulded options.
What are you looking to achieve in the future with Blickle’s product range?
Michael Haug: We want to be able to provide our customers with tailored solutions and continue to work with them on the process of developing the perfect product for their needs. We will be expanding our already extensive product range and the modular system that we provide to put us in the best possible position going forward. Our overall aim is to remain on the cutting edge in terms of our ability to meet the needs of our customers. That is one of the reasons why we appointed an expert for each segment of the market in our Product Management department last year. Each expert focuses on a particular area and has an in-depth understanding of the needs of our customers and the market.
Dr. Yannic Gross:We are currently in the process of developing another premium polyurethane, which will be capable of handling even higher dynamic loads than our current selection, while also being perfectly suited for high-speed applications. We are also looking for ways to cut the rolling resistance of our polyurethane treads even further. We work closely together with our Design and Production departments as well as our suppliers throughout the process of developing and optimising our polyurethanes. This is the only way to ensure that the materials we develop in the lab are also suitable for practical use.
How do you make sure that the manufacturing process meets the demanding quality standards of the customers?
Marc Braschler: Polyurethane production is an extremely complex process – you have to monitor many different parameters to make sure that your final product has a consistently high level of quality. We perform rigourous quality checks on all the materials we use to make our polyurethane. Our production systems keep a detailed record of the entire production process. Any faults or defects are detected immediately so that we can rectify them. We use high-quality injection moulding equipment to ensure that our wheels stay within specified tolerances and are correctly centred. We take samples from each batch and use specialised testing equipment to check that they meet the required specifications. Once the wheels are complete, we put them through another round of tests to check their tensile strength, resistance to tear propagation and durability. We have also developed our own specialised method for testing the adhesion of the tread. My team and I are proud of our track record when it comes to quality management, and we frequently receive positive feedback from our customers.
Dr. Yannic Gross: Our new polyurethane competence centre contains a laboratory and a technical centre, both of which use state-of-the-art equipment. This facility allows us to develop new polyurethanes independently of the production process and perform material tests without disrupting production. We always make sure to have enough lead time in the run-up to the extensive tests that we run so that our results are reliable and reproducible. We are constantly improving our analysis methods so that they can provide an even higher level of accuracy. The laboratory is also responsible for inspecting the raw materials that we use and performing chemical analyses of our finished polyurethane materials.
Are there any particularly challenging projects in the field of conveyor technology that come to mind?
David Vogelmann: We once had to find a solution for an automated storage and ordering system. This system used autonomous robots to pick up orders – each of them had eight wheels. The customer came to us looking for guide rollers, and their requirements were really demanding in terms of the traction, quality and conductivity of the rollers. Our Besthane guide rollers were capable of providing an exceptional level of precision on the rail system despite the extremely high speeds and rates of acceleration involved. Our commitment to innovation and our polyurethane expertise really paid off as we worked together with the customer to find the perfect solution.
„Our new polyurethane manufacturing facility covers an area of around 24,000 square metres and has more than doubled our polyurethane manufacturing capacity. The production building is directly connected to the logistics centre to ensure efficient production processes. Our new polyurethane competence centre contains a laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment. As a result, Blickle is perfectly positioned to meet the increased global demand for polyurethane wheels and castors. This significant investment underlines our ongoing commitment to manufacturing products in Germany, making Blickle ready for future production growth.“