A conveyor is a machine — usually with a belt or track — that transports items from one area to another in a manufacturing plant or other facility. An assembly conveyor is such a machine that is specifically designed to help workers put together a product by carrying parts from station to station along a production line. Workers — or machinery — at a station will perform an action to assemble part of the product before the assembly conveyor carries the product-in-progress to the next station. Most of these conveyors keep the item at a station for a certain amount of time before moving on, but some also have early release tools to speed production. By the time the conveyor carries parts from the start of the belt to the end of the belt, those parts likely have evolved into a whole product.
In form and function, the assembly conveyor is very similar to most other conveyor belts; the belt moves items throughout a plant until the items are ready to ship. The difference is that this conveyor is made to help workers assemble products. For example, items will move to a station where workers place new parts on unfinished products, or they perform a service such as painting the unfinished products. Most manufacturers have many different stations, but some simple items may have just one or two.
In the early days of the assembly conveyor, items were brought exclusively to human workers to perform a task or service. The modern conveyor may bring items to human workers, or it may bring items to computerized equipment. Computer manufacturers, for example, typically use robotic arms to add chips or perform services on printed circuit boards (PCBs) and other hardware pieces.
A major difference between the assembly conveyor and other conveyors is that the belt is usually separated into many different pallets. Each pallet is responsible for holding a single product. This makes it easier for workers to move around and, if the belt does not have a time constraint, allows workers to move items along when they are finished, without having to wait for all the other workers to finish.
Most assembly conveyor belts have a time constraint that pushes an item along after a few seconds or minutes. While this may seem inconvenient, it ensures that workers move quickly enough to finish a product that they satisfy the business’s needs. Some assembly conveyors have an early release function, which allows workers to move an item earlier than planned and improves production time. Advanced assembly conveyors can set different times for different stations, because some tasks take longer than others.