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Tubular Chain VS Cable Conveyors: 4 Major Differences

by | Mar 19, 2023 | Conveyors, Conveyor Thoughts

As a company with over 50 years of experience in manufacturing tubular cable conveyors, we understand the importance of selecting the right conveyor system for food processing facilities. 

Belt conveyor, screw conveyor, vibrating conveyor, overhead conveyor – there seem to be too many options to choose from.

But the right conveyor type ensures efficient transport of food products by maintaining food integrity and safety, minimizing contamination, and increasing productivity.

One of the most crucial decisions that food manufacturing companies face is choosing between tubular chain and tubular cable and disc conveyors

At first glance, these tubular drag conveyors aren’t that different – they both have a tube, circular disks spaced along a cable or a chain, and similar designs. You might even think it doesn’t matter which one you get.

But that cannot be further from the truth. 

In this article, we will explore the major differences between these two types of conveyors and how they impact food safety, sanitation, and overall performance. 

By understanding the pros and cons of each conveyor type, you will be better equipped to make an informed decision on which conveying system is best for your specific needs.

System downtime

One of the key differences between tubular chain and cable and disc conveyors is how much system downtime they might require. 

In our State of Conveying report, 33% of food processors named system downtime as one of their top three challenges when conveying materials. It’s not surprising – extensive system downtime can lead to: 

  • Loss of productivity and revenue due to the inability to transport food products
  • Increased labor costs associated with resolving mechanical failures and conducting maintenance
  • Potential for food products to be compromised by prolonged downtime
  • Risk of food safety and sanitation violations
  • Difficulty in meeting customer demand and maintaining a reputation
  • Increase in the cost of goods sold
  • Difficulty in forecasting and planning operations
  • Loss of efficiency and increased expenses, and more

Chain conveyors, with their moving components such as links, plates, pins, and bushings, are prone to friction and wear. This increases the likelihood of mechanical failure. 

If only one segment of the chain and disc system breaks, the entire system has to be shut down because the load cannot be redistributed over other parts of the chain.

Not only that, but chain sprockets require frequent changing even when nothing goes wrong, meaning even more potential for production downtime.

In contrast, cable conveyors are designed to withstand excessive stress. In case of failure, they maintain system uptime by redistributing loads.

Our experience in manufacturing cable conveyors has shown that this design results in less downtime, which ultimately leads to increased productivity for food processing facilities. 

By investing in a tubular cable conveyor, food processing facilities can expect to see a significant reduction in the likelihood of mechanical failure and system shutdown, which in turn leads to increased revenue.

Food safety

Another major advantage of tubular drag cable conveyors is their ability to maximize food safety. 

Food safety is of the utmost importance in food processing as it directly affects the health and well-being of consumers. Food processing facilities are responsible for ensuring that the food they produce is free from contaminants and meets the highest standards of quality and safety.

Organizations in charge of overseeing food safety adherence in the United States include:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – The FDA is responsible for protecting public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices. The FDA also oversees the safety of the food supply, including the safety of food additives and the regulation of food labeling.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – The USDA is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products. They also regulate the labeling and inspection of these products.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – OSHA is responsible for ensuring that workers in food processing facilities are protected from safety and health hazards.

These institutions have put in place several different regulations which food manufacturers need to follow.

For example, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was established by the FDA which focuses on preventing foodborne illness by shifting the focus from responding to contamination to preventing it.

A cable and disc conveyor maximizes food safety through the use of a nylon coating on the stainless steel cable. This prevents any contact between the transported food and the conveyor itself. 

Such a design eliminates the potential for food particles to get trapped in crevices or sharp-angled components, which can occur with chain conveyors and their previously mentioned links, plates, pins, and bushings.

Trapped food particles can cause a wide range of health and business hazards:

  • Risk of cross-contamination
  • Risk of bacterial growth and proliferation
  • Risk of food spoilage
  • Risk of food poisoning
  • Difficulty in maintaining food safety and sanitation standards
  • Difficulty in meeting regulatory requirements
  • Increased risk of product recalls
  • Loss of consumer trust and reputation damage
  • Potential for legal action and fines

Additionally, the nylon coating on the cable is easy to clean (easier to clean than a chain), which further enhances food safety.

Cleaning mechanisms

In addition to all these benefits, cable and disc systems provide a considerably more comprehensive set of dry cleaning mechanisms than chain and disc systems. 

Tubular chain conveyors can have only two dry cleaning mechanism options:

  • Brush box – a line insert component that brushes accumulated dust off of conveyor discs.
  • Chain knockers – an insert component that knocks (dislodges) food particles from the chain.

Tubular cable and disc conveyors have a total of five dry cleaning mechanisms you can choose from:

  • Brush Box – a line insert that uses a brush to mechanically clean the discs of any built-up particles.
  • Urethane Wiper Disc – a disc insert that removes particles and fines while the machine is running.
  • Air Knife – a line insert at product discharge points that employs compressed air to blow away fines that have accumulated on discs and cable.
  • Sponge Disc and Sanitizing Cleaner – a single-use sponge disc soaked in cleaning solution circulated through the system.
  • Bristle Brushes – a brush that gets dragged through the tube to remove any dust that has settled there.

These five dry cleaning mechanisms ensure sanitation and enable faster changeovers than the dry cleaning mechanisms of chain systems.

Furthermore, trapped water deposits within components after cleaning are not unheard of in tubular chain conveyors.

Trapped water in a conveyor is a serious health hazard that can have a myriad of consequences. They are not that different than the consequences of bacterial growth within the chain of a chain conveyor:

  • Bacterial growth and proliferation
  • Difficulty in maintaining food safety and sanitation standards
  • Difficulty in meeting regulatory requirements
  • Risk of cross-contamination
  • Risk of food spoilage
  • Risk of food poisoning
  • Increased cleaning and maintenance costs
  • Reduced efficiency and productivity, and more

Energy consumption

Finally, we cannot overlook the fact that, by default, a chain is heavier than a cable. Some are 2.5 times heavier, to be precise. 

More weight in the moving parts means more energy is needed to keep the conveyor operational. This is why tubular chain conveyors typically use larger motors and more power than tubular cable conveyors.

While this is a small difference, it may play a significant role in the long run. 

When you’re choosing a conveyor, don’t forget to calculate the monthly or yearly expenses needed to keep it operational, in good condition, and meeting all the health and safety regulations. This includes expenses like power bills, cleaning and maintenance costs, water bills, and more.


The benefits of cable conveyor systems in terms of system downtime, direct contact with food, and performance for food safety, sanitation, and changeovers far outweigh those of chain and disc systems. 

While tubular chain conveyors have their own advantages, cable conveyors offer a more comprehensive and efficient solution for food processing facilities.

It is important to note that the choice between tubular chain and cable conveyors ultimately depends on the specific needs and requirements of the food processing facility. 

Consider the type of material you are transporting, the floor space requirements of your facility, and how big your budget is. Read more on how to choose the right conveyor here.

At Cablevey, we provide product testing services for you to see how your specific material runs through our tubular cable and disc systems. You can attend this testing in person or via a video call. 

As always, our company is here to provide expert advice and support in selecting the right Cablevey conveyor system for your specific needs. Contact us today to get started!


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