Through the energy of intelligently directed wave formations, Festo has demonstrated a new concept in conveying and automatically sorting delicate items such as fruits and vegetables. The company says the technology behind its “WaveHandling” conveyor is “fast and easy to set up, self-organizing, and requires less programing than in systems in use today.”
conveyor consists of hundreds of relatively small and modular bellows actuators that by rising and falling deform the flexible surface of the conveyor, creating a wave motion that transports the objects in a targeted manner.
According to Festo, the WaveHandling system was inspired by waves in nature. “We developed the idea after the principle of the natural wave. The movement of the wind over the smooth surface of the water produces small ripples that grow as they are pushed by the wind,” Heinrich Frontzek, head of corporate communication and future concepts at Festo, told Design News. “However, what is being moved by the waves is energy, not water.”
Frontzek told us that the water molecules within a wave move up and down in a circular motion, but remain in roughly the same place. Yet the wave rolls over the surface of the sea. “The WaveHandling system with its pneumatic actuators behaves in a similar way: While each individual bellows only advances and retracts in place, a wave moves over the surface of the conveyor.”
The WaveHandling project came out of Festo’s Bionic Learning Network, which is a cooperation between Festo and universities, institutes, and development companies. “The Bionic Learning Network adapts principles from nature to provide inspiration for technical applications and industrial practice,” Frontzek told us. He said the WaveHandling system is able to move objects on the surface in a targeted manner, enabling it to take over the sorting and transport in one process. “The system is self-configuring. This means that the system can be made operational quickly and without programming, no matter what the layout is.”
The up-and-down motion of the water molecules is simulated by the WaveHandling system using the pneumatically actuated bellows actuators. As swarms of coordinated bellows advance upward and retract within a matrix configuration, a wave moves over the surface of the conveyor. These waves carry items much as the energy of a wave propels a surfboard. The system can also sort and direct items as they travel down the conveyor, and the modular system lends itself to a variety of branching configurations for sorting.
Frontzek says the WaveHandling system will work particularly well in conveying produce. “A potential application of the platform is in the food industry, for automatically transporting delicate items like fruit and vegetables and sorting them for the next process. The WaveHandling system could be positioned in the center of a conveying unit to distribute the goods to the next conveyors on the left or right.”