Conveyors are a type of material handling equipment which assists in moving products, packages, foods, or equipment from one place inside a facility to another or through various stages of automated manufacturing or finishing. Because conveyors move such a broad range of items, different conveyor configurations are available to meet the material handling needs of manufacturers and distributors everywhere. Belt conveyors are the most common, followed by chain conveyors, roller conveyors, spiral conveyors, overhead conveyors, vertical conveyors, and conveyor systems, which may use combinations of many different conveyor types.
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Applications of Industrial Conveyors
Conveyors are usually motorized, but some conveyor types, such as ball transfer and chute, are gravity conveyors. Pneumatic conveyors also assist in transporting materials, but these tubular air-powered conveyors specialize in bulk powder solid transportation, a different type of conveying. Manufacturers and package handlers in almost every industry make use of various types of conveyors or conveyor systems, especially food conveyors and industrial conveyors, to transport parts, products, and packages through various processing systems. In a setting, such as a manufacturing business, conveyors may be set up between workstations.
The most typical conveyor is the belt conveyor, which consists of a wide polymer or rubber belt wrapped around rollers which turn in the same direction, giving the belt and all objects on the belt linear movement. This same construction is used with chain conveyors, except that chains are wrapped around the wheels instead of a belt. Chain conveyors may move products along one chain or multiple parallel chains. These are the most common conveyor types, being used for general product movement in food processing, packaging, and parts manufacturing industries to transport items or to move unfinished products through various stages of processing. Chain conveyors utilize parallel horizontal chains to move materials through a conveyor system and from one place inside a facility to another, or through stages of automated manufacturing or finishing. Chain conveyors are also commonly used to move parts, such as powdered metal parts through ovens for sintering or drying, or to move unfinished metal parts through parts washing processes.
Roller conveyors are commonly used in these industries as well, using individual rollers placed parallel to one another to provide movement. Vertical conveyors are configured with platforms, buckets, grippers, or magnets around moving belts or chains, which lift items from one level to another. Although not as common, vertical conveyors can be crucial in facilities where it is necessary to safely transport food items or parts vertically. Parts manufacturers frequently use overhead conveyors to transport parts and products across a facility and/or through processing systems such as spray paint booths, dryers or ovens. Conveyor systems combine many or all of these conveyor types to transport products across a facility or to move unfinished products through automated assembly lines or finishing processes. While most conveyors are powered by electric or pneumatic motors and drive systems, some conveyors are propelled by gravity. For example, roller conveyors are often moved by the inertia of products or packages rolling over them, a design typically used in downward spiral conveyors.
Conveyor and conveyor system manufacturers are creating innovative solutions to new manufacturing challenges every day. All conveyors may twist, turn, and travel vertically up and down floors to transfer items. As a result, modern conveyor systems are equipped not only to move parts across horizontal and vertical distances, but also to curve, divert, lift, and sort products and packages as part of complete automated systems. These types of advanced conveying processes are done by brushes, magnets, automated levers, rails, and even simple gravity. Packaging industries have designed conveyor systems pre-programmed to sort specific boxes into separate chutes, and automated food processing conveyors can handle and sort the most delicate fruits and vegetables using sensors and robotic handlers. When integrated with robotic processing, conveyors and conveyor systems become powerful processing tools.
History of Conveyors
The modern conveyor belt dates back to 1892, when inventor Thomas Robins created a rotating system of belts to aid in the extraction of ores and coal in the mining industry. Since then, there have been many revisions and new takes on the idea of a heavy-duty conveyor system. New implementations include the chain conveyor, overhead conveyor, roller conveyor, and the updated conveyor belt, using modern, corrosion-resistant materials, such as stainless steel.
How Conveyor Belts Work
Depending on the type of conveyor system being used, there are different ways each system is intended to function. Some conveyors use gravity, while others allow the worker to give an object a solid push to get it moving down the conveyor. Many are operated mechanically for automatic transport, though.
Gravity roller conveyors are essentially a line of freely moving conveyor rollers, often placed at a slight downward angle, giving rigid items, such as boxes, a direct, energy-free route from one section to another.
Overhead conveyors can be either mechanically or manually operated. The idea behind an overhead conveyor is that it saves ground space by employing a series of tracks attached to the ceiling of the warehouse or factory. A free-hanging chain, pulley, hook, or any other transportation vessel is attached and performs the same action as any other conveyor, only from above rather than on the floor.
Belt conveyors and chain conveyors are almost always mechanically operating. These systems perform their function with the aid of a mechanical system called a V-Belt Drive. The V-Belt Drive is the turning part that pulls the conveyor. The type of conveyor surface, as with any machinery, is determined by the items being moved. Chain conveyors have a metal, mesh-like surface, reminiscent of a chain link fence. The belt conveyor, as it implies, is a soft, flexible belt, which is often made of rubber.
Conveyor Design and Customization
Deciding on which conveyor system is most appropriate is not always a straightforward process. It is often the best course of action to consider the details of an operation, such as where a system is to be located, how often it is going to be used, where items need to be moved to, any obstacles in the way, how often (depending on wear and tear) you might need conveyor maintenance, and, most importantly, what you are going to be moving with your conveyor system.
The main benefit of the iconic conveyor belt is its simplicity. It is a flat, smooth surface that pulls items from any point on the belt to its end or to the next belt lined up to it. This is an ideal system for most small to medium-sized products, especially boxes and bulk materials. If you take into account the weight and size of your products, the belt conveyor can be a versatile system for several types of operations.
Just make sure to take into account the effect the product could have on the belt. Is it sharp? Is it sticky or coated in an oil? If so, perhaps another system would be better suited for this product.
Benefits of Using Conveyors
Chain conveyors are often seen in food production. For example, a chain conveyor using non-stick stainless steel can be used in the production of donuts, gently moving the dough and finished products through the several stages of cooking and flavoring, with less risk of the food items sticking to the conveyors. These also allow for easier cleaning due to their open and flexible pattern.
A roller conveyor system is a primary candidate for warehouses or shipping. Boxes of all sizes are seamlessly moved with far less stress on workers than if they were to pick them up and walk them to their secondary location. With a gravity-based rolling system, a worker only has to place the box, or any object being produced for that matter, onto the roller system and give it a push. The low-friction roller system allows the box to fly across the factory as if it weighed next to nothing. Even more effortless is the motorized roller system. The motorized roller conveyor performs the same task, except it uses a mechanical system, such as a V-Belt Drive, to rotate the rollers at a consistent pace.
Overhead conveyors are among the most open-ended systems available. If your warehouse or workshop has a ceiling or series of beams with good structural integrity, the movement of anything from a small part to something as heavy, or even heavier, than an engine block, becomes much easier. Rather than having to lift a part up onto a ground conveyor, these overhead conveyor systems open up the use of pulleys, levers, and other practical methods to lifting and positioning products. Once the part has been secured onto the hook, chain, platform, or any other method being utilized, the part is then either pushed or mechanically pulled by the rail system on the ceiling.
The overhead conveyors also have the added benefit of opening up ground space and providing the product with a direct path from one end of a workshop or warehouse to the other without the obstacles of workspace being taken up on the ground. The advantages of overhead systems is the combination of efficiency and ease of use. Even a multi-story operation can optimize their productivity by eliminating the bulk and hassle of a conveyor belt going from a second floor to a first floor by just using the simple, low-maintenance overhead system. Simply keeping the tracks cleaned, well-lubricated, and regularly inspected is all it takes to keep your system safe and running smoothly for a long time.
Conveyor manufacturers often have expert technicians who are well-qualified to install a wide range of conveyor systems, but it doesn't hurt to know the basics of how such a system is implemented. They all follow a similar process, despite their functional differences. Ground conveyors (not including overhead conveyor systems) are installed after designating an area to them. An operation's layout may be altered or centered around the conveyors depending on floor or space restrictions, or simply for ease of access. The height of the system is optimized for the type of work stations it may be attached to. The direction, of course, is based on where you want the finished product to end up, and is meant to be designed in relation to the flow of the workshop or warehouse. The conveyors must be optimized to properly material handle the products assigned to it.
The system is set up with its base fixed and direction determined. The tracks are set up, holding the gears, pulleys, cogs, belts, chains, and any other parts serving the conveyor system's primary function. Then, assuming the model is mechanical, the motor, belt drive, power system, and weight distribution systems (again, depending on the type of conveyor) is set up and checked to ensure proper functionality.
If the system is gravity-based, like with a free-spinning roller conveyor, the rollers are placed within the grooves and predetermined slots on the conveyor tracks and locked into place, while still allowing the rollers to spin freely.
With the overhead conveyors, the process is not much different. First, the path of the rails is determined based on the structure itself. The one downside of an overhead conveyor, compared to ground conveyors, is that they can only be placed where the structure will allow it to safely hang. The restrictions become even more intensive as the object gets heavier. With a ground system, weight is not as much an issue if the conveyor can tolerate it. With the overhead rails in place, the next step is attaching the chains, belts, pulleys, free-hanging vessels, or chains, and the motor in the case of a mechanically operated overhead conveyor.
Then, the only thing left to do is test out the new system. Place products as you would normally, giving the system a trial run. Most conveyors can be lined up, connected, change direction, and bring things to higher or lower ground. These aspects are sometimes not available with less flexible systems, but inquiring about your specific needs with the conveyor manufacturer or installer is always recommended. The main purpose of conveyor belts is to improve your efficiency, so specific aspects should be a priority when ordering one.
Conveyor Safety Considerations
Safety is a given in any professional operation. Every aspect must be taken into consideration when using conveyor equipment. Will this setup pose any sort of risk to you or your workers? Can the system, if not properly used, damage products? Are there any indirect risks created as a result of implementing a conveyor system? These questions must be addressed and investigated if the answer is “yes" to any of them. Overhead conveyors can be a hazard if improperly placed, possibly hitting objects or workers. Or, if an item is not properly secured, it could fall, opening a new variety of potential risks. Even traditional ground conveyors can block paths, catch loose objects (such as shirts, neck ties, and hair), or cause someone's finger to get caught.
Safety training is necessary for the health and well-being of your workers, yourself, and the company as a whole. As an employer, you could be liable for dangerous conditions. The installation of these conveyor systems must be supervised and inspected by a professional to avoid risks or hazards that you may not even have considered. These experts are trained to mitigate safety issues and understand dangers or potential problems that, to the untrained eye, may not seem problematic at all.
Maintaining Your Conveyor System
The importance of conveyors cannot be overlooked in industrial processes. For safe, reliable, and timely conveyance of materials, conveyor systems need to be kept well-maintained. On time maintenance ensures unbarred and enduring performance.
Here are some ways to help you maintain your conveyor system:
- Regular Inspection
- You should have machine experts in your team to take a closer look at the irregularities in your plant’s conveyor system. You should ask them to create an inspection routine. There should be a checklist that should include all the standard and essential points regarding the performance of the machine. These factors should be checked on a regular basis in order to avoid the intensification of any insignificant problem.
- The idea is to make sure that your machine is working properly and is not experiencing any hindrance in its operation. The routine checkup will lower the chances of unexpected downtimes, which can cost you thousands of dollars.
- Training of Personnel
- The second most important step to increase the efficiency of your conveyor system is to train your staff about handling and maintenance for the machine. If your staff is updated with these pieces of information and sets of procedures, you will be able to address any problems the moment they occur in the conveyor system.
- Customized Conveyor Systems
- At times, because of incompatibility, conveyor systems fail to meet your application requirements. Sometimes, low-capacity conveyors are used for moving heavy materials. Such practices may result in machine damage. You should consider having a customized conveyor system at your facility to lower the chance of potential machine incompatibility and failure.
- Have Backups Ready
- Ask your expert mechanics to have essential conveyor parts ready as backup in their store. If there is a need for quick repair or replacement, such backups will stand as a great help. You should also make provisions for sufficient power backup systems in place, since modern-day conveyors work on electricity.
- Proper Cleaning
- Last but not the least, your facility should have arrangements for adequate cleaning. There should be an active dust management system to control the spread of dust and other particulates inside your plant. It will help you keep dust and other possible contaminants away from your conveyor system. Just like the maintenance of the conveyor system, you should have a daily checklist of cleaning routines for your site.
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Conveyor System
Conveyors come in a diversity of sizes and capacities. You can get your machine’s capacity and conveyor belt size designed to your specification. When selecting a conveyor, your focus should be on your requirements. You can ask your supplier to design and provide you with a machine that fulfills your needs.
- Easy Operation
- You should pick a system that does not have a complex control panel. It is imperative because your workers will be operating the machine, not the engineers who have designed it. Therefore, you should select a conveyor that has a simple operating system.
- Advanced Design
- When scanning through the quotations from various conveyor suppliers, you should give preference to a supplier, who has the latest machines in their inventory. This way, you will get hold of the most advanced technology for your process.
- Safe and Reliable
- Using a machine that does not fit your specifications and space could raise safety concerns. You should invest in a conveyor system that supports the safety of users and the products it has to move.
- Low Maintenance
- Make sure that the machine is dependable and has a tried and tested design, which will keep it low-maintenance. These factors help you save on frequent, unwanted repair and maintenance requirements.
- Energy Efficiency
- Conveyor systems run on electricity. You should double check with your supplier about the energy efficiency rating of the machine you are interested in.
- Modularity is a significant factor to look for. Ensure that your conveyor system has thoroughly engineered sections and modules that give you the freedom to make future additions.
- System Requirements
- Before you finalize the deal, it would be ideal to check through the brochure of your product. The idea is to know every single detail about the machine that you are going to purchase. You should learn about its features, specifications, and operations. Apart from this, you should also know your system’s requirements.
Choosing the Right Conveyor Manufacturer
When picking a manufacturer or conveyor company from which to buy your new system, take into consideration cost, the reputation of the company, their willingness to serve your needs, and the services they offer. By checking reviews, you can get an idea of other individuals' experiences with a particular company. Call the manufacturer, explain to them what you are looking to purchase, and ask them what would best suit your needs. By figuring out how these companies operate, you save yourself the risk of being unhappy with your conveyors, while also obtaining some insight on how to best implement them into your daily operations.
Conveyor System Types
- Accumulating Conveyors
- Allow for the collection of materials at a given point on the conveyor line and are common in grouping and sorting operations.
- Automated Conveyor Systems
- Perform conveying functions automatically, instead of through manual operation, saving time and reducing labor costs.
- Ball Transfer Conveyors
- A type of material handling system that facilitates omni-directional manual transportation.
- Belt Conveyors
- Use a belt to transport materials through the conveying system. Belt conveyors are common in moving light to medium material loads.
- Chain Conveyors
- Use parallel horizontal chains to move materials through a conveyor system. Chain conveyors are useful when moving bulky materials, but they sometimes produce an inconsistent flow, need to be lubricated, and can be loud.
- Chain Roller Conveyors
- Conveyors that have tread rollers attached to the sprockets and are driven by a chain.
- Conveyor Systems
- A type of material handling equipment which assists in moving products from one place inside a facility to another and may involve one type of conveyor or a combination of many different conveyor types.
- Decline Conveyors
- Conveyors that move at a downward angle.
- Drag Chain Pallet Conveyors
- These systems have a robust chain to drag, move, or handle heavyweight products, parts, and materials. Apart from heavy loads, these conveyors are considered ideal for extreme high and low temperature and high-pressure environments. These machines can also be used for moving special pallet configurations.
- Food Conveyors
- Material transferring systems that are specifically designed for use in the food processing and beverage industries to handle both raw and cooked food items that are mass produced.
- Gravity Conveyors
- Conveyors in which objects are manually advanced by gravity, used in applications that require ease of rotation, transportation, and accumulation of cartons, boxes, and bags.
- Incline Conveyors
- Conveyors that move at an upward angle.
- Industrial Conveyors
- Material handling systems that are fixed and permanent and transport packages, boxes, food, raw materials, products, parts, and equipment from one facility location to another or through various stages of automated manufacturing or finishing.
- Magnetic Conveyors
- Technically known as magnetic slide conveyors, these machines are utilized for moving small packages. They can also be used for removing small metal parts and chips from machinery or an amassing of materials.
- Material Handling Conveyors
- Industrial equipment that are fixed and permanent systems that move and transfer packages, boxes, food, raw materials, products, parts and equipment from one facility location to another or through various stages of an assembly line.
- Overhead Conveyors
- Provide continuous movement of materials overhead, as opposed to standard floor conveying systems. Overhead conveyors save space and are common for moving materials around an industrial facility.
- Pallet Conveyors
- Consist of portable platforms called pallets that move parts to different locations between industrial operations.
- Reversible Conveyors
- Conveyors capable of moving in both directions.
- Roller Conveyors
- Use round rotating parts called rollers to transport material through the conveying system. Roller conveyors are common in accumulating materials and in converging conveyor systems, in which separate conveyor lines join to form a single conveying line.
- Slat Conveyors
- Conveyors that use steel or wooden slats mounted on roller chains to transport products.
- Spiral Conveyors
- Can use belts or slats to vertically move packages, boxes, food products, and other individual items or parcels, or they can be an enclosed screw which transports loose bulk particles vertically.
- Vertical Conveyors
- Move materials up or down instead of traditional horizontal movement, and are common in applications with limited available space. Reciprocal vertical conveyors move materials up or down and return to the initial starting point; continuous vertical conveyors move materials to different levels without returning to the initial point.
Conveyor System Terms
- A non-rotating shaft that wheels and rollers are mounted on in a conveyor system.
- Bag Flattener
- An assembly that holds one conveyor upside-down over another to squeeze or flatten the product.
- A mechanism on which a conveyor shaft rotates that prevents the rubbing together of the bed and the shaft.
- Conveyor component on which the materials to be conveyed are placed.
- Elastic band wrapped around the conveyor pulley that transmits the motion necessary for the movement of materials between two points.
- Belt Scraper
- Brush that removes excess material stuck to the conveyor belt.
- Belt Speed
- Measurement indicating the amount of conveyor belt moving in a specified period of time.
- Brake Motor
- A device on the motor shaft that is engaged when the electric current fails.
- Brake Rollers
- Roller conveyor brakes that control the movement of conveyed materials through pneumatic or mechanical power.
- Wheels that make the conveyor portable.
- Ceiling Hangers
- Rods that hang from the ceiling and support the conveyors to free up floor space.
- Center Drive
- A drive assembly mounted on the conveyor, usually underneath and in the center, used for reverses and incline applications.
- Mechanism fastened to a conveyor to help control the movement of materials.
- Cleated Belt
- A belt with raised sections that helps stabilize the flow of material on belts operating on inclines. These can be part of the belt or fastened on.
- Clutch-Brake Drive
- A drive that is used to stop the conveyor belt immediately without cutting off the supply of power.
- Clutch Drive
- A drive used to disengage the motor from the reducer without stopping it or cutting off the power.
- A section where two conveyors meet and merge into one.
- Cross Bracing
- Rods that are placed diagonally over the conveyor in order to help in squaring frames, useful for tracking.
- A motor and other parts that collectively produce the power necessary for conveyor movement.
- Drive Pulley
- Pulley responsible for conveyor belt movement. This is attached to the conveyor drive shaft.
- A conveyor that is designed to control the rate of delivery of objects.
- A term for the direction of travel on a conveyor.
- A structural conveyor system component that provides the main support for the network of machinery that makes up the conveyor system.
- A measure of the time rate of doing work.
- Infeed End
- The part of the conveyor that is nearest the loading zone.
- Intermediate Bed
- The part of the conveyor that is in the middle and does not contain the tail or drive assemblies.
- What is used to attach segments of belts together.
- Magnetic Starter
- An electrical device that controls the motor and provides overload protection.
- A machine that is used to transfer electrical energy into mechanical energy.
- Nose Roller
- Small roller on a power belt curve conveyor that reduces the gap at the transfer points.
- Overhead Drive
- A drive assembly that is mounted over the conveyor belt and allows clearance for a product.
- A device that is placed across the path of a conveyor at a certain angle and is used to discharge or deflect objects.
- Pop-Out Roller
- A roller used to aid in transfer, set in a wide groove to allow it to eject if an object comes between it and the belt.
- Powered Feeder
- A part of a belt conveyor that is used to move products horizontally onto an incline conveyor.
- Pressure Roller
- In a belt driven live roller conveyor, a roller used for holding the driving belt in contact with the load carrying rollers.
- Wheel mechanism that controls the movement, speed and direction of materials. These contain a bore or a groove to which the conveyor is attached.
- A device that is used for diverting a product from one conveyor line to another line or chute.
- A round part that revolves around the outer surface of a conveyor. These can be straight, tapered, or crowned, and serve as the rolling support for the load being conveyed.
- Roller Bed
- An assembly of rollers over which products move on a roller conveyor.
- Bar responsible for the transmission of force to the support of materials on the conveyor.
- Slider Bed
- The surface on which the belt conveyor slides.
- Slug Mode
- A mode that allows all packages to be released simultaneously.
- Amount of material conveyed in a specific amount of time.
- The act of steering the belt to maintain the desired path.
- A device that is used to move products at right angles to adjacent or parallel conveyor lines.
- Link that has a screw thread at both ends and is used for tightening the rod, normally in cross-bracing.
- Turning Wheel
- A wheel that helps ensure proper package orientation.