Mention dimples to an avid golfer, and he won't think of his daughter's winning smile. He'll think of golf balls.

Golfers love golf balls. Serious golfers can discuss differences in core compression and cover hardness, and they'll staunchly defend why their ball of choice improves their game.

That obsession with golf balls is one reason Wilson Sporting Goods produces 16 types of golf balls by the millions each year. That's a lot of balls-enough to make Doug Sellers, a senior manufacturing engineer at Wilson's plant in Humboldt, TN, want to lower costs by automating the golf-ball packaging line.

The existing line required five operators and could package a dozen balls every 18 seconds. Sellers wanted to increase productivity and reliability by moving to an automated system.

Sellers discussed his needs with DeWayne McKinney, vice president of sales at Handling Systems Inc., and Brian Travis, an engineer at systems integrator Industrial Design and Fabrication (IDF).

To move pallets from station to station, McKinney suggested a TSplus conveyor from Bosch Rexroth . Each pallet holds a fixture with four nests so that four sets of golf balls can be packaged simultaneously.

"TS conveyors are great for nonprogressive assembly-they're sturdy, reliable and easy to implement into a design [like that which] Wilson was looking for," says McKinney, a long-time Rexroth distributor.

The conveyor system forms a rectangular circuit approximately 11 feet long and 2 feet wide. The pallets are 160 millimeters wide and 400 millimeters long. Pallets circulate from station to station around the track and end up back at the beginning.

First, four plastic sleeves are automatically inserted into the four nests of the fixture by an EZ-100 applicator from Axon Styrotech Corp. The machine checks each fixture to ensure sleeves are correctly inserted, removing and replacing any that are not.

Balls are dropped into the sleeves, and a tamping device checks to make sure the correct number of balls has been inserted into each sleeve. The assembly then passes through a two-stage, 48-inch-long Axon heating tunnel, which shrinks the plastic around the balls. The finished packages are removed from the fixtures by a dual-arm pick-and-place machine and placed on a take-away conveyor. The sleeved balls are then manually loaded into trays and transferred to the next packaging station.

The machine can be programmed to insert two, three or four balls into each sleeve. Balls are fed from a hopper down four tubes that queue up the balls.

A pair of EQ2/T tandem-lift conveyors form the short sides of the rectangle. These conveyors lift a pallet from one side of the system, slide it over on a reversible belt, then lower it down to the opposite side. These conveyors do more than just transfer pallets, however. One conveyor positions each pallet to receive balls into the sleeve; the second positions the packaged balls for removal from the machine.

Up to 14 pallets can be moving through the system at the same time, achieving a production rate of 144 packages per minute. Cycle time for sleeving a dozen balls (four packs of three balls) was reduced from 18 seconds to 5 seconds.

One reason for choosing the Rexroth conveyor system was that it provided many choices in configuration, pallet size, speed and transport media. That flexibility allowed IDF to configure a conveyor system to the needs of the application, rather than adapt the application to the shortcomings of the conveyor.

"We were able to specify a conveyor system that was easy to configure and met our needs for performance, flexibility and easy care," Travis explains.

The modular system integrated easily with the packaging equipment. "The system goes together easily and eliminates the startup hassles of a less capable system," Travis says.

"The equipment has been running 24/7 without any glitches," adds Sellers. "It's solid and reliable."

But even reliable machines need care and feeding. "One of the nice features of the TSplus is how easy it is to maintain," says Sellers. "We're using a belt-driven unit. We can change a belt easily and quickly-meaning minimum downtime. I've experienced other conveyors that require major disassembly."

In short, productivity is up, downtime is down, and Wilson is packaging golf balls faster than ever. "This machine is helping to keep a lot of golfers happy," says Sellers.

For more information about pallet-transfer conveyors, call Bosch Rexroth at 800-322-6724, visit

For more information about packaging equipment, call Axon Styrotech at 800-598-8601, visit