FLL Gets an In-Line Makeover

G&T Conveyor Company, based in Tavares, FL, is the only privately held American-owned and operated baggage handling solutions company in the U.S. Specializing in sortation and in-line EDS (explosives detection system) integration, G&T engineers, manufactures, and installs baggage handling systems (BHS), primarily for airports in the U.S.

Explains G&T’s Martin Ineichen, who has been in the baggage handling business for some 20 years, “We have our own state-of-the-art manufacturing facility; we do the majority of work in-house, from engineering to raw material to finished goods. We also test everything in-house.

“By performing the majority of the work, we have the ability to control costs and better manage schedule constraints, ultimately saving customers time and money. Also, we have a great supply chain of partners, vendors, and contractors that we can always count on for support.”

The baggage industry has been changing rapidly since 9/11; airports want to get more bags through the system, meaning a higher throughput and faster, more accurate machines — that creates some challenges, he adds.

FLL Project Scope

G&T was selected to engineer, manufacture, and install the BHS for the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL). Project demands included installing 7,100-linear feet of conveyor, 685 drives, five new make up units, ten G&T Vertical Sorters, and 22 G&T Power Face Diverters. Additionally, G&T integrated the BHS with eight L3 6600 EDS machines.

Comments Ineichen, project manager for the FLL install, “The process for winning a bid is very similar on each project … systems get designed by a consultant and are put on the street for competitive bid.

“Along with more than three decades of baggage handling system experience and dedicated management and installation teams, another advantage we brought to the project was our very close proximity to the airport … less than three and a half hours away. That makes delivery of our equipment ‘just-in-time’.”

G&T put in a system at FLL in the same terminal some ten years ago, so the airport is familiar with the company’s equipment, relates Ineichen. For this project (Terminal 1), the previous system installation process was very simple — there was a baggage input at the ticket counter that went down to a baggage make-up unit, he remarks.

“Today, there are mezzanines; there are platforms; there are four layers of conveyor belts,” says Ineichen. “The ceiling height is 35 foot, and all of that is being taken up by the new system. It is really a system unlike anything I have seen.”

Challenges; solutions

“What is so different about this system is there is a total of 7,100-linear feet of conveyor and 685 motors,” relates Ineichen.

“At this particular airport, the architecture of the bag room created some big challenges because a typical system is connected to the bag room ceiling. At FLL, the framing was not able to hold the weight of the system, so an entire sub-grid had to be installed throughout.

“On top of that, the spans were so big that we had to come up with something very unique. That’s why there are huge hanging platforms in the bag room [9,330-square feet of platform space]. They are supported with massive columns that are connected to the grid pattern.”

Despite more than 7,000 feet of conveyor, there is nearly unlimited physical access to any part of the system, says Ineichen, which from a maintenance standpoint is a tremendous advantage.

From a control standpoint, Ineichen explains that the entire system is DeviceNet/ControlNet(a network system used in the automation industry to interconnect control devices for data exchange), which is something the industry is moving more toward.

“Even from an installation point of view, nearly everything in the system is quick-disconnect; from a maintenance point of view, it is very easy to service the system,” comments Ineichen.

Another challenge was installing the system in a live operating airport environment.

Says Ineichen, “Terminal 1 is an operating terminal, so there was only a short period of time each day when there was no activity going on; that’s when we had full access. In that tight time frame, we had to be precise and efficient while performing the work.”

The system was installed, certified, and activated in a 20-month period.

Throughput, lifecycle

The system was divided into the east and west side of the terminal; each side has four L-3 6600 explosives detection machines, and each machine can process 450 bags per hour. With improved system capacity, the result will be smoother baggage flows and an enhanced passenger experience, relates Ineichen.

Currently during peak hours, the airport is processing 1,300 to 1,800 bags per hour on each side of the terminal.

“Everything in a tracked zone is VFD (variable frequency drive) controlled, which allows for an increase in speeds; this allows for flexibility,” says Ineichen.

With regard to system lifecycle, “We have seen some of our systems last as long as 25 years,” he relates. “That all depends on how the maintenance is being performed; if recommendations are followed and the system is maintained well, it can last 20 years easily.”