Siemens AG: faster airport logistics using an intelligent drive and automation system

02.08.2012 - Siemens AG: faster airport logistics using an intelligent drive and automation system. The rapid growth in the airport industry is placing significant demands on all of the associa...

Siemens AG: faster airport logistics using an intelligent drive and automation system. The rapid growth in the airport industry is placing significant demands on all of the associated technologies – this also applies to the infrastructure and logistics. In Germany alone, between 1997 and 2007, the number of passengers increased by 3.7 %, and worldwide this figure was on the average 5 %. The number of passengers is forecast to increase further. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), by 2015, approximately us$ 200 billion will have been invested worldwide in new airport projects and expansions.

With this significant growth in passenger numbers, smoother logistics in airports is also becoming an increasingly important issue. This is clearly reflected in large hubs that are equipped with a high number of gates in order to cope with the huge numbers of passengers – that will increase further – as well as the high amount of air freight.

Fast and high performance baggage handling systems with a high capacity and sorting precision are in demand more than ever before. And if you think that the limits of technology have been reached today – then think again. The key to consequentially increase the capacity of baggage handling systems is called “intelligent drive technology”: After baggage has been checked-in and tagged it is x-rayed and its “trip” starts.

The pieces of baggage zip at high speeds of up to 10 m/s through the “catacombs of the airport”. Conveyor belts are used for the shorter distances and tray conveyor systems for the longer distances. The so-called tilting sorter quickly and precisely sorts the luggage – and can handle a maximum 4,000 baggage pieces per hour along slides. The luggage reaches the retrieval belt where passengers can pick it up or is sent on to the next transfer loading station for connecting flights.

In order that everything functions smoothly, drives used in baggage handling systems must form a closed and smoothly functioning chain of complex operations. Or put another way: Each and every drive must guarantee safe, fast, quiet baggage transport that also helps ensure that baggage is not damaged. Similar to the Olympian motto – “citius, altius, fortius“ – from the perspective of the conveyor system, increasingly higher expectations are being placed on the drive technology: “Faster, more precise, more favourably priced.”

And this is the very reason that also Siemens Automation and Drives (A&D) – as one of the most well-known companies that automate airports – is taking a new tack.

The new drive Philosophy – a System Approach

New concepts were demanded with optimised drive system costs, and at the same time with increased intelligence in the decentralised drives. Products such as distributed motor starters and frequency inverters that have more intelligence on board than earlier have been used for solutions such as these since the middle of 2005. The key to success is the consequential integration of application-related supplementary functions in the drive.

The advantages are quite clear: The drive responds faster as bus data transfer times and PLC cycle times don’t have any significant influence. The increased positioning capability of motor starters can certainly be cited as an example - as well as manual operation of frequency converters independent of the PLC.

Depending on the actual type of motor starter/frequency inverter, application-related supplementary functions are permanently embedded in the drive product in the factory or can be subsequently parameterised by the user. Intelligent standard drive products and systems have been created that are necessary to cope with the increased demands in baggage handling systems: High-performance geared motors can provide high torques even at low speeds. Motor starters reliably switch motors on and off with up to 3,000 switching operations every hour and frequency inverters optimise the speed of conveyor belts in order to move the pieces of baggage as quickly as possible.

Further, Siemens A&D also implements complete airport systems. These include all of the automation systems that, depending on the particular requirements, can either have a central or distributed control architecture. AS interface and Profibus – and now also Profinet – communication systems connect the drives with the central control of the baggage handling system. Power supply and energy management systems supply the drives with the necessary power.

This new drive philosophy has been successfully used in large airports around the world since the middle of 2005. However, the performance of baggage handling systems has continued to increase. Today, speeds of up to 14 m/s can be reached. Baggage sorters with capacities of 4,000 pieces of luggage/hour are going into operation. This has significantly increased the handling rate, the number of parallel conveyor sections has been reduced and fewer buffer sections are required.

“Eco-balance” using Intelligent Drives

When all is said and done, intelligent drives save a lot of energy. The conveyor sections only run when they have to, as the drives with their own onboard intelligence respond quickly and appropriately to the associated sensor signals for starting and stopping. This represents a significant advantage – not only from an ecological perspective – but also because it makes economic sense.

With a unified and seamless product range, such as the Siemens Automation Group A&D offers worldwide, the complete airport baggage handling system can be cost-effectively implemented in-line with ever increasing demands. The solutions represent the many years of experience that these drive specialists have under their “(conveyor) belt”.

They implement drive concepts that in the meantime have become standard (design and engineering) according to the particular specifications of the company equipping the airport and system integrators for large airports around the world.

The customer advantages:

  • Intelligent drives increase the baggage handling rate and optimize conveyor systems
  • over 20 years of experience in planning and implementing airport equipment, 
  • competence in standard products, application-specific system sections and total projects. 

Five of the 10 best airports worldwide - rated according to passenger surveys - are equipped with Siemens baggage handling systems. Hong Kong International Airport – the number 1 worldwide – operates with Siemens equipment just the same as the airports in Dubai, Munich, Seoul and Sydney.

With this as backdrop, Siemens as manufacturer sees itself as a competent partner delivering flexible, high performance and leading-edge airport technology.

Additional information on the subject of intelligent drives for conveyor systems: www.siemens. com/conveyor-technology.

Johanna Gebhardt,
Siemens AG Automation and Drives

Dipl.-Ing. Ralf Damm,
Siemens AG Automation and Drives


Karin Kaljumäe
Siemens AG,
Fürth, Germany
Fax: +49 911 978 3282