All-purpose solution for material flow applications of all kinds
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All-purpose solution for material flow applications of all kinds


Thanks to its customizable load carriers, Skyfall has established itself as a conveying, buffering and sorting system in numerous branches. These range from the automotive, construction chemicals and printing industries all the way through to e-commerce and textile distribution. The second generation of the gravity overhead conveyor system – which has been tuned for high energy efficiency and increased throughput – now offers numerous detailed enhancements. Ferag has not only modified the switch technology and the circulation conveyor chain, but also updated the control system to ensure improved integration of the overall processes.

The speed at which the 310 ml cartridges are ejected from the filling machine at Belgian construction chemicals specialist Soudal is breathtaking. Every minute, the machine spits out 200 of the small thermoplastic cartridges freshly filled with silicone sealant. This corresponds to up to 12,000 units per hour or an impressive 192,000 cartridges per eight-hour shift when using both production lines. Anyone trying to keep an eye on a single cartridge to see where it goes is on a hiding to nothing. Production on the system at the main plant in Turnhout close to the Dutch border is simply too fast to follow with the naked eye.

Dynamic buffer for sealant filling applications

The high-speed filling line is based on a unique material flow concept that has now been adopted as a model solution by other renowned manufacturers, including the Chinese adhesive and sealant producer Hangzhou Zhijiang Silicone Chemicals. Essentially, this is based on a Skyfall line that is inserted between the filling station and case packer, and is used as a dynamic buffer between both production areas. In this way, the Ferag system rectifies the previous operational dependencies between the individual production steps. As soon as there is a fault on a machine further down the line, the buffer line upstream of the case packer fills with cartridges. This can compensate for up to three minutes of production time without the upstream filling machine having to be stopped immediately.

Process chains and buffers in the automotive industry

In a similar way to Soudal – where production capacities have almost doubled – Skyfall technology is also contributing to improved efficiency in other branches as well. This includes the automotive industry, where the system from the Swiss experts is used for the sequencing of plastic parts or interior modules, among others. At the Chinese plant of Bavarian supplier Dräxlmaier in Shenyang, a Skyfall system has been installed in several phases starting back in 2017. This system is used for linking together the most important processes for manufacturing instrument panels, door panels and centre consoles made from fibre-reinforced injection-moulded plastic – namely injection moulding, buffering and subsequent processing, including assembly. The Skyfall system connects these working areas together elegantly while also establishing huge storage capacities in the third dimension, meaning the movement of goods and buffer space at floor level for these bulky parts can be completely dispensed with.

High flexibility thanks to adjustable load-carrying adapters

In terms of applications and the goods being conveyed, these two examples could hardly be more different – this is testimony to the outstanding flexibility of the gravity overhead conveyor system from Switzerland’s Zürcher Oberland. Ferag designed Skyfall as a scalable and open system for all conceivable applications. The load-carrying adapters play a decisive role here, as they can be tailored to virtually any customer-specific requirement. Depending on the logistical complexity, system layout and the maximum weight to be transported, either an M shuttle (up to 3 kg) or L shuttle (up to 10 kg) is used. For applications exceeding 10 kilograms, trolleys are used. Whereas Soudal uses grippers to insert the cartridges weighing just a few hundred grams into the channel via a single shuttle, complex load carriers that have been perfectly adapted to the conveyed goods were developed at Dräxlmaier. Using two-axle trolleys embedded in the channel, these carriers take up to six interior modules and transport them reliably from one station to the next. Depending on the application and goods conveyed, load carriers with forks, containers, different hooks or active grippers are all conceivable if the customer should require the appropriate load carriers for their assignment. The Swiss company also has robust pouches made from high-quality polyester with PVC coating on both sides available in its load carrier portfolio as standard. These are used primarily in the e-commerce sector. Ferag designed a Skyfall version with garments on hangers (GOH) specially for the fashion segment. At Spanish children’s fashion provider Mayoral in Malaga, a wide variety of both pouches and GOH are combined within a single system for omnichannel order processing. Despite the added complexity, this Skyfall system achieves an output of up to 12,000 units per hour.

Second generation of Skyfall system with numerous detailed improvements

The outstanding performance of the Skyfall system depends on many technical details. For example, the Swiss experts use roller adapters designed as outrunners throughout on the gravity overhead conveyor system, which move smoothly through the guide profiles on up to six rollers with ball bearings. As a result, both uphill and downhill stretches can be implemented with minimal energy consumption. This design principle also offers decisive benefits in terms of maintenance and cleaning. Other aspects such as the construction of the switches or design of the circulation conveyor chain also play an important role. The new generation of the Skyfall system features significant enhancements in all these areas. Ferag has also improved the control system: by expanding the interfaces, the system can now be connected even better to higher-level systems (WCS/WMS). Furthermore, each switch and trolley can be monitored to ensure an optimal load. These measures were also implemented with one eye on predictive maintenance, an area that is becoming increasingly important. The gravity overhead conveyor system from the Swiss specialists is thus perfectly suited to “Industry 4.0”.