Modular conveyors help meter manufacturer with high-mix assembly.

Itron Inc. (Liberty Lake, WA) manufactures a wide range of solid-state meters and data collection and communications systems used by utilities to monitor electricity, water, gas and heat usage. Specific products include a line of automated meter reading modules that allow utilities to monitor usage without ever having to leave the comfort of their own facility.

“Itron’s AMR automated meter reading modules attach to utility meters and provide consumption data remotely,” says Brian Fitzloff, manufacturing engineer at the company’s assembly facility in Waseca, MN. “The module sends consumption data wirelessly to the utility companies for automatic billing to their customers. Utility employees don’t need to walk through snow to gather meter readings on-site anymore.”

Recently, the company upgraded its Waseca production facility with the installation of a number of MR Series Quickdraw modular conveyors from material handling equipment manufacturer MagStar Technologies (Hopkins, MN).

The MR series-which includes a variety of different elevators, lift-and-locate stations, buffers and diverters-is specifically configured for use in an automated or robotic work environment and features an innovative slip-roller design for accumulation and precise product movement. The conveyors, which provide clean, quiet, static-safe operation, are available in fixed or adjustable widths, and can be supplied with a number of different roller types, rail options and drives to suit a wide range of system requirements.

According Fitzloff, one of the reasons his company decided to go with the Quickdraw system was its modularity, which allows the system to quickly adapt to Itron’s changing production needs-no small concern given that production volumes at the plant have nearly doubled to approximately 70,000 units per week in recent years.

In addition, the conveyor’s open-center design has proven to be advantageous in that it allows processing of an assembly from below without having to take the pallet to an offline station.

“We purchased…a conveyor with a clutched-edge roller design and an open center. The conveyor has a drive motor and small programmable logic controller every 60 inches, making it the ultimate in flexibility and modularity,” Fitzloff says. “With a modular conveyor system, we can easily add more stations to our line if needed. We can rapidly change the way the line runs to accommodate new processes and products.”

Fitzloff adds that Itron had little trouble integrating the conveyors into its existing production line thanks to the assistance MagStar provided throughout the installation process.

“MagStar’s engineers have been extremely helpful, offering us the flexibility to develop the conveyor solution we required,” Fitzloff says.

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