A conveyor system is a critical component of any factory. This is especially true when conveying fragile materials such as coffee, tea, beans, breakfast cereal, nuts, frozen fruits and vegetables, and similar. Gentle conveying is crucial because it protects these products from damage. How can you choose the best conveyor system?

To make the right decision, one needs to consider material properties, conveyor footprint, layout and modularity, environmental factors, cleaning difficulty, scalability, and conveyor cost.

In this article, we discuss all these aspects in detail to assist you in choosing the best conveyor system for fragile materials.

Material Properties

First and foremost, you need to examine the characteristics of the material you wish to convey. How are these materials going to fare during transport? What are the best types of conveyors for them to be transported and packaged?

Consider properties such as:

  • Particle size and shape
  • Weight of a single material unit
  • The level of sensitivity of the material, especially sensitivity to temperature and humidity
  • Bulk material density
  • Moisture content
  • Angle of slide
  • Drop testing data
  • The quantity you need to convey on a daily basis

All of these properties are important in determining the best conveyor to use. If the moisture content is low, like in coffee beans, for example, a conveyor with an enclosed tube will work just fine to protect them from changes in humidity.

Drop testing data is vital because of the delicate nature of the material, so you want to know what potential issues there are with your conveyor. Are there any places where your material is in free fall? How many drops will it take for a piece to break?

What if those pieces get stuck in between two gaps and they’re inaccessible because it’s too narrow or tall? How do you clean them out properly without damaging anything else on the conveyor system? Even though at first glance these seem like trivial questions, you’ll want to have a plan in place so you are prepared for any issue that may arise.

Conveyor Footprint, Layout, Modularity

Fragile materials require special considerations in terms of material properties, but you must not neglect your business requirements as well.

What is the size of the available floor space for your new conveyor? Do you expect to have significant inclines, or will you be dealing with high-to-low elevation changes? How long do your products move on the conveyor before they are offloaded or sent to another location? How many different types of materials can a single system accommodate without requiring an upgrade in size and price?

The goal here is not to find the cheapest option, but rather one that meets all the requirements of the facility in terms of layout and capacity. Even though you shouldn’t go over your spending limit, you should also not pay for features that you don’t need.

Modular types of conveyor systems, such as tubular drag cable conveyors, are a great option for complex layouts that could require curves or changes in direction. Modularity means you have a system that can be pieced together as needed, without any single piece being necessary for all setups. That way, if one part of the production process becomes obsolete, it doesn’t require replacing the entire conveyor system.

Modular conveyors can be tailored to fit the exact layout of your facility, and they also offer the greatest degree of flexibility in terms of capacity.

Manufacturers will often offer a free site survey to help you decide which option is best for your needs, so taking advantage of that service can save time and money down the road.

Facility Environment

Conveyed material should be protected from outside contamination, but the operating environment should also be protected from your materials. If the material is flammable, it should be handled in a dry, cool space. If it causes dust particles to disperse, it should be handled in a space with good ventilation.

In the food processing industry, the environment needs to meet strict sanitary regulations. With this in mind, open conveyors (such as bucket elevators and open belt conveyors) are not recommended, as they can create an environment that is difficult to keep clean.

If any of these points are concerns for the facility or its operation, it’s best to choose a conveyor system with enclosed belts and containers. This way, there will be no dust particles dispersed into the air, and materials won’t come in contact with outside elements.

Closed belt conveyors, wrap conveyors, and tubular cable drag systems are reliable material handling systems for moving fragile items while keeping them safe and clean.

Cleaning and Maintenance

The amount of cleaning and regular maintenance that your new conveyor requires is a significant factor to consider. How much time will be spent every day or week to clean and maintain the conveyor? How easy is it for a typical technician to fix any problems that might occur on your new systems, such as broken belts or rollers?

If a system needs to be disassembled for cleaning or repairs, how difficult is it to reassemble? How many parts will need to be assembled and then cleaned for the next use? How much time does that process usually take?

Your main concern should be the downtime that these processes demand. Conveyors that don’t have to be completely dismantled for cleaning and maintenance are the best bet since they can be quickly cleaned and easily fixed. That way, your production won’t have to be halted, and your machines will stay in use.

Another important factor to keep in mind is the ease of availability of replacement parts. If a part needs to be replaced, will you have the necessary parts on hand? How long does it take for a broken conveyor belt to arrive at your facility from an online retailer or supplier? Can they overnight the new part so that machines aren’t idled while waiting for a shipment of material?

We do present quite a few questions here, but they are all important questions to ask before making a purchase.

Scalability

If your current production facilities are small, that doesn’t mean they will remain that way for long. You need a conveyor system that will grow with you. How many loading stations can the machine accommodate, and how does that break down in terms of weight capacity per station or modularity for other parts like belts?

When a company is successful, it is constantly expanding. In your decision-making process, think about what will happen when your company begins to grow. How big does the machine need to be to handle a large volume of materials? How modular is it so that you can add on additional components later as needed?

Cost

Finally, the cost of the new conveyor system is a vital consideration. How much do you have to spend? Do you have several different manufacturers to choose from, or is it limited to one company?

Again, these questions can be used in almost any scenario when purchasing a new system. It’s essential to ask yourself all of these different points to be fully informed about your purchase decision.

With conveyor systems, the general rule is that you “pay now or pay later.” If you go for a low-priced option just because it is cheaper, it will likely break down once the warranty expires. This is why so many people choose to pay a higher price upfront for a system that meets all their needs.

Conclusion

The ability of a conveyor to handle delicate materials is only one side of the coin. Everything else is stacked on the other side and demands your equal attention. When choosing the right piece of equipment for fragile materials, you need to consider the material properties, footprint, layout, and modularity of a conveyor system.

It would be best to consider the environment in which it will be used and how difficult cleaning or maintenance might be for that particular machine. How much you are willing to pay is yet another factor when making this purchase decision because paying more now usually yields a better outcome in the long run.

Scalability is another aspect to consider. As your company grows, you will want to automate more processes.

If you’d like some help making this important decision, don’t hesitate to reach out to Cablevey Conveyors. Let us know what type of fragile material you’d like to transport in your facility, and we will do our best to suggest a system that will work best for you.