What is a Slat Conveyor?

Slat conveyors use a slat and chain system to move components along an assembly line. They are often used where production operations are performed with the parts located on the conveyor. Steel panels are attached to the chain with special chain attachments, and the chain is driven by an electric motor and gearbox. Therefore they are one of the most commonly used types of conveyor for moving parts along and assembly line while the work is being performed. They are ideally suited to applications where components are being assembled onto a fixture located at an ergonomic working height.

Slat conveyor system also allow production assembly operators to work on one or both sides of the line. Fixtures can be added to the slats to enable parts to rotate 90, 180 or 360 degrees to facilitate better ergonomic access. During model change-overs, the tooling or fixtures can be modified or replaced, and the conveyor is re-used for another new application.

In automotive plants, a slat conveyor system may be used to convey parts like instrument panels, center consoles or door trims. They are used for engine and power-train assembly. They are also used for sub-assembly of frames and axles, and on a larger scale even for vehicles after they have been fitted with the chassis components and move to the final assembly line (sometimes known as a ‘flat top’ conveyor line). Customers sometimes call them slat conveyor belts as the slats look and operate like a belt conveyor.

Technical Specifications:

Depending upon the conveying application, different lengths, widths, heights, controls and accessories are available to meet the needs. Slats can be made from mild steel, stainless steel or plastic. In some cases the product sits loosely on top of the slats, and in other cases the product is mounted to one or more fixtures. Some typical specifications are shown below, with many more combinations available:

  • 12” – 108” between frame widths (i.e. the width of the conveyor)
  • Speeds ranging from 10 feet per minute (FPM) up to 60 FPM max speed
  • Fixed or variable speed control
  • Adjustable legs
  • Continuous or indexing movement from station to station

Benefits of slat conveyors:

  • Great for assembling products on either a moving assembly line or on the line at each work station while the line is stopped (before indexing to the next position). They provide a great stable working surface.
  • Slat conveyor systems work well if part access is mainly from above the part. If you need access from both sides, consider an overhead conveyor with a swiveling fixture
  • Use these conveyors for products that need to be held in place as they are moved along the line
  • Fixtures should not be too tall. Remember the fixture will be mounted to the panels and will return underneath the conveyor to the start point, so you will need clearance to the floor for the tooling and fixture return path. If the clearance dimension is tight, the conveyor can be raised 10″ – 24″ off the floor and a compensating work platform along the working side of the conveyor can be added to maintain a good ergonomic working position for the operators on the side of the conveyor
  • Industrial slat conveyors can move in either continuous or indexing modes (i.e. the slat conveyor stops and starts each time to move a product to the end of the belt using a sensor)
  • Very well suited for robotic loading and unloading functions as the fixture is always in a repeatable location. With appropriate guarding, human and robotic assembly work can be carried out on the same assembly line
  • Work well when changing the speed is necessary. When fitted with a VFD (variable frequency drive), they are a simple conveyor to adjust the speed on

Don’t use a slat conveyor if you need:

  • Accumulating products (i.e. for a buffer). A slat conveyor can’t allow the products to nest up against each other (“accumulate”) as the product is typically held in a fixed position relative to chain and drive unit. If you need accumulation, use a roller conveyor with pallet system or an overhead conveyor such as a power and free conveyor
  • Moving a product around curves. Slat conveyor systems runs in a straight line only,
  • Product flexibility or switching different tooling for different models. Unless the tooling can accommodate all variations, slat conveyors are not as flexible as overhead conveyors or roller conveyors with pallets
slat conveyor

Slat conveyor

Digital Conveyor Design for excellent ergonomics

  • All Ultimation conveyors are designed using 3D CAD software
  • Our conveyor designs will include the entire assembly line including tooling, slat conveyor chains, overhead lighting, power outlets for torque tools and all required tool rails and tool spring balancers
  • We have detailed ergonomic standards to ensure that assembly operations follow automotive and other industry standards for height, reach and operator comfort. As a leading slat conveyor manufacturer, we will ensure your new conveyor is the most ergonomic possible
  • All safety systems are included (guarding, emergency stops, pull cords)
  • We design and assemble the conveyor in our location. You attend for testing and run-off and it is then reinstalled in the final assembly plant location
  • Interested in learning more about slat conveyor design? This booklet from CEMA (Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association) is a useful reference for engineers

Control Systems

The control system can be a simple on-off switch that controls the electric motor. More typical however is the use of a programmable logic controller (PLC) which can accept inputs from sensors and control the movement of the machinery. The slats can be programmed in that fashion to either move continuously, or the motor can cycle on and off to move the slats and tooling from one station to the next. Emergency stop buttons and pull cords along the length of the system can be added to provide additional safety. Where cycle time is important, a variable frequency drive (VFD) can control the speed of the motor to provide smooth acceleration and deceleration when the conveyor is indexing from one station to the next. VFDs are also useful if the conveyor speed needs to be adjusted at any point, for example if the product being assembled were to change. Some VFDs also include some basic sensor inputs and logic processing, so these can be an option if a PLC is not required.

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