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The Complete Guide To Industrial Conveyors

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Conveyor systems are the backbone of industrial operations. If your business needs a new, more reliable, and faster way of transporting goods, raw materials, or products within the same area or even facility, industrial conveyors are the right solution. Cablevey Conveyors is here to provide a breakdown of these systems and help you choose the right fit for your production line.

What Industrial Conveyors Bring to the Table

In 2020, the global conveyor market was estimated at $7.73 billion. By 2026, this value is expected to increase up to $10.07 billion. Short production cycles, advancements in e-commerce (especially due to the global pandemic), and an improved international flow of goods all contribute to the growth of the conveyor market. The globalization of the economy is a direct result of the automation that conveyors bring.

Industrial Conveyors in a Nutshell

Intralogistics is the process of managing the flow of information and material goods inside a production or distribution facility. Conveyor systems are an important segment of intralogistics. They serve as bulk material handling equipment – they transfer products, goods, or any other type of materials from point A to point B that are usually located in the same area or even building. The industries that benefit the most from conveyors include:

The main reason why industries have almost completely switched to automated material handling and transport is that this enables them to move vast amounts of material and continuously operate. Compared to workers who need rest, conveyor systems don’t need much downtime due to maintenance and cleaning. They can run almost non-stop, which means the production numbers of your facility will skyrocket.

Clearvey Conveying System

Industrial Conveyor Belt Systems Breakdown

How does an industrial conveyor system work, anyway? Depending on the type of material it is handling and its purpose, different conveyors work differently. Nevertheless, all of them have a few basic components they cannot function without.

Power Sources for Conveyor Technology

There are three most common drivers (power sources) for conveyor technology, and they include motors, gravity, and manual drive. Industrial systems are typically powered by motors. The most prevalent motors for conveyors are three-phase AC motors, perfect for systems that continuously run in one direction. Single-phase comes with starting windings and capacitor delays, which are not suited for conveyor systems. Most facilities utilize 440V motors because, with high voltage, there are lower transmission losses over the grid.

However, not all conveyors need to be powered by electricity. Manual and gravity-based systems are usually centered around rollers. Rollers inside a frame allow workers to push an item from one point to another if the frame is horizontal or slide it down an angle if the frame is tilted. These do not require any energy to function and are a good fit for packaging processes, where large, non-fragile items are moved around.

Mode of Transfer

The main difference between conveyor types is the way they move materials. This can be done in any number of ways or combinations determined by the production facility’s goals. You will often run into the following methods of transporting goods:

  • Belts – made from various materials that rest on a steel frame that supports them and the items they’re moving.
  • Chains – endless chains move thanks to sprockets at each end of the trough.
  • Buckets – containers attached to belts, cables, or chains that move the material along.
  • Cables – moving materials with the help of a coated, flexible, stainless steel drag cable with discs attached to it.
  • Pneumatic – moving materials thanks to compressed air (positive conditions) or a vacuum (negative conditions).
  • Screw or auger – a helical blade called an auger, typically placed inside a tube, that rotates and moves the material.
  • Aero-mechanical – the material is driven at high speeds on evenly spaced discs.

These are just some of the examples of how conveyors transport materials. Which one is most suitable for your business depends on a series of factors we will cover in a bit.

Support and Controls

An industrial conveyor system would not be able to operate without many of its support mechanisms. It needs the proper frames to hold the belts, chains, sprockets, buckets, and similar components. It also requires cleaning or maintenance features. Lastly, industrial conveyors are controlled in various ways. Some operate only in one direction, while others can reverse direction if needed. All conveyors should be outfitted with emergency stop buttons and safeguards in case of an accident.

Two men handling a conveyor system

Conveyor Applications

What are industrial conveyor systems used for? We already mentioned that their primary purpose is to move products or materials. These systems can also store and buffer materials if the process requires it.

Moving Materials

Conveyor systems provide an effective solution for a variety of material moving needs:

  • Standard transport – If there is a need to move the same type of material from the same starting point to the same endpoint over and over again, there is no point in forcing workers into these repetitive motions that might endanger their health. The movements of forklifts can also be reduced by installing a conveyor that will cover this distance and take over the transport.
  • Heavy load transport – Some items cannot be moved due to their size and/or weight. Special conveyor systems are built for materials that are too large or too heavy for a worker or forklift.
  • Assembly conveyor – Working on an assembly line requires a conveyor to move an item as workers perform their tasks. These conveyors are frequently used in a wide range of industries, especially in the automotive sector.
  • Protection from damage or injury – Some items are not too heavy or too difficult to move. However, performing repetitive movements, such as transporting a product from one location to another, represents a danger to workers’ health. Conveyors can achieve the same in less time and with much less muscle strain involved.
  • Reducing the risk of error – Human error is a significant factor in why businesses suffer losses in the manufacturing process. To reduce this risk, it is good to introduce conveyors as a safe way to transport easily damaged products.
  • Bulk material transport – Gravel, sand, iron ore, coal, and similar materials are not easy to transport, no matter what your options are. The right type of conveyor can prevent many headaches when it comes to moving materials in bulk.
  • Complete automation – In the end, perhaps you are aiming to automate your business from head to toe. If there are no workers involved in some segments of your production, conveyors and robots go hand in hand. If robots deliver products to the conveyor or receive them from the conveyor, it is easy to control the production and adjust it for just the right output you need.

Storing and Buffering

Conveyors serve many crucial functions in industrial production beyond the simple movement of goods. They are integral parts of the storage, buffering, and sequencing processes. Below is a table detailing these important functions and their descriptions.

Product storageSpecific conveyors accommodate product storage before the next production step when demand exists
Accumulation bank (buffer)A flexible type of storage managing the flow of production. Can be increased or decreased based on the demands of the process
Sequencing and resequencingConveyors allow workers to organize products into batches and prioritize them between processes, thereby increasing productivity

Types of Conveyor Systems

Based on this outline of conveyor basics, it is right to assume that there are various systems. So, what are the different types of industrial conveyors? Let’s explore the seven most common conveyor types.

Aero-mechanical systems are made from a steel tube with a circulating rope running through it. Evenly spaced discs along the rope carry material, creating an airstream by moving at high speeds inside the tube. These speeds generate a centrifugal force that ejects the material once it reaches its destination. 

These conveyors can operate vertically or horizontally and are quite flexible. They convey materials at high velocities, depending on their application, and are easy to clean. At the same time, these velocities lead to compromised material integrity. If the goal is to reduce material breakage in such a system, the speed should be slow and steady. Aero-mechanical conveyors also require rope-tensioning, making maintenance difficult.

Auger is a helical blade (a screw) that moves granular or liquid materials by rotating, usually inside a tube. The rate at which the material is transferred is directly related to the rotation speed of the auger. It is one of the first conveyors to be invented since ancient Greeks used it to transport irrigation water. Screw conveyors are good at transporting semi-solid materials, like food waste, municipal solid waste, animal feed, meat, boiler ash, aggregates, and similar. They are also easy to clean and maintain because they don’t have many moving components. Unfortunately, auger conveyors can compromise blends and lead to material breakage. Their efficiency isn’t as high on steep inclines, and they cannot be used in spaces that require multiple planes.

p>The belt conveyor system is arguably the most common type of conveyor found in practically every sector. They have two or more pulleys and a closed loop of material (the belt) that rotates around them. A motor can power these pulleys to move the belt and its materials in the right direction. There are two main types of belt conveyors:

  • A custom conveyor belt for food or bulk materials, such as coal, salt, grain, ore, and sand.
  • A conveyor belt for a warehouse for general materials, such as boxes, solid items, and packages.

Belt conveyors are not used only in industrial settings. They also transport luggage at airports, food at restaurants (such as sushi conveyor belts), and even skiers at mountain resorts. Belt conveyors can also be enclosed to prevent loss of material and contamination.

Bucket conveyors move flowable bulk materials (grain, fertilizer) upwards in multi-sided containers. The most significant downside of bucket elevators is that they have a lot of moving parts that are difficult to maintain. Besides the buckets themselves, this system also includes a belt needed to carry them, as well as a power source that drives it. 

It can also come with accessories that load the buckets, receive the discharged material, and so on. Overall, these systems are quite efficient due to their low driving power. However, the downside is that the equipment itself is challenging to clean, and the bucket elevator components’ maintenance expenses are known to be high.

Cable material handling systems include a cable, usually one made of stainless steel. If they are enclosed, tubular cable conveyors minimize contact with food materials and preserve material integrity. To transport the material, solid discs are attached to the cable. They push the material through the tube.

Cablevey tubular cable systems have low energy consumption because their motors are typically 5 HP (up to 7.5 HP). They can move material at angles, vertically, horizontally, or in tight sweeps. They have removable parts, making them easy to maintain. The main advantage of tubular cable systems is that they eliminate the factor of material degradation. They provide a dust-free environment and allow for consistent blending. They are ideal for the following materials:

  • Nuts,
  • Snack foods,
  • Pet food,
  • Breakfast cereal,
  • Coffee,
  • Frozen food,
  • Specialty seeds,
  • Beans,
  • Powders,
  • Biomass,
  • Fluff plastic,
  • Industrial hemp, and more.

These conveyors are made from an endless chain supported by sprockets. Chains can have special attachments to them for carrying specialty loads. Transporting heavy loads is the main use of chain conveyors (very wide or very long items such as pallets, industrial containers, and grid boxes). Besides the pharmaceutical industry, they can also be found In the automotive industry, where they transport vehicle parts through paint plants.

The difficulty with chain conveyors is that the sprockets need frequent replacement, which leads to prolonged downtime. Chains themselves are easy to maintain since individual links can easily be replaced. However, they are not easy to clean. They are not suitable for fine, powdered materials because they can accumulate in the links and lead to the breeding of bacteria. These systems also require a lot of power consumption.

In a pneumatic system, four basic components come together to create an efficient mechanism. The first is an air source, followed by a material feeding device. The third component is the conveyor line, while the fourth is an air-material separator. Pneumatic conveyors, primarily used for moving dry bulk materials, operate either via a vacuum, also known as negative conditions, or by employing air pressure, known as positive conditions. The materials are transferred through a tube, a fully enclosed line, which effectively minimizes the chance of material loss.

Specifically, pneumatic conveyors perform optimally when handling fine, dry powders that are fluidizable. However, they are also capable of accommodating granular or pelletized materials. For example, substances such as sugar, coal fines, starch, wheat flour, sands, food products, and metal powders are commonly transported via these systems. 

Despite the inherent advantages of these systems, such as low maintenance requirements and flexibility, they do come with certain downsides. Unfortunately, they are not the most energy-efficient, and they can cause significant damage to delicate materials, with up to 10% of the conveyed product potentially getting damaged in the process.

Importance of Conveyor Systems

An industrial facility would not be able to function efficiently without material handling equipment. Conveyor systems can be found everywhere: in the chemical, pharmaceutical, automotive, aerospace, mining, bottling and canning, printing, packaging, and many other industries. A reliable system for transporting products and materials inside a distribution center or production facility is crucial for industrial processes.

An industrial conveyor needs a power source to drive it. This can be electricity, gravity, or it can be manually driven. It can have a range of different modes of material handling, such as belts, rollers, buckets, cables, chains, and more. It also needs a support framework and controls for turning it on and off, adjusting its options, and potentially stopping it entirely in an emergency.

Additional Benefits – Storage, Buffering, and Sorting

Beyond their primary function of material movement, conveyors also play significant roles in storage, buffering, and even sorting items. Special types of conveyors have been developed to carry out these tasks effectively.

A man in a work outfit beside a conveyor system

Seeking Expert Help for Automation Conveyor Systems

Designing the optimal conveyor layout can be a complex task. If your business could use expert guidance, especially regarding tubular cable conveyors, reach out to Cablevey Conveyors, a leading conveyor system manufacturer. Our team of experts is ready to understand your business needs and help you transition into the future of conveying technology!

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