Selecting the right conveyor system for your food processing plant is going to require an understanding of the different conveyor types and which material handling system designs are most compatible with your operations.

There are dozens of conveyor types to choose from. In the food industry, the most commonly used conveyors are the belt conveyor, roller conveyor, bucket elevator, chain disc conveyor, vacuum conveyor, pneumatic conveyor, screw auger, aero-mechanical conveyor, and cable and tubular drag conveyor. Each of these conveyors come with their own set of benefits, and choosing which is best for your company will depend on certain factors.

In this guide to choosing the correct conveyor for your operations, we will talk about the different types of conveyor systems and things to take into consideration.

Key Factors to Consider When Selecting a Conveyor Type

With so many different types of conveyors to choose from, you need to recognize the unique demands of your product and operations and how they will ultimately impact your choice of conveyor system. The following are the key considerations when it comes to the proper selection of a conveyor for your facility:

Product Specifications

The unique qualities of your product and the materials that need to be conveyed play the most significant role in determining the right type of conveyor system for your company. Before deciding on a conveyor, consider your product’s length, height, and width. Product weight also plays a significant role because it determines the size of the motor required.

How bulky is the material? Does it have characteristics that require it to be handled differently, such as high moisture content or explosiveness? Is it flammable? Does the material need to be conveyed gently because it is extremely fragile? Does the material have traits like corrosiveness and abrasiveness, or does it need to maintain a specific temperature?

Some conveyor systems weren’t built to handle certain materials gently. If you need to convey fragile materials, such as nuts, breakfast cereals, or coffee, you need to stay away from conveyors that may lead to material breakage and product loss. For example, equipment like aeromechanical, belt, pneumatic, vacuum, and bucket elevator conveyors may force the fragile materials through stressful phases during transport that could impact its integrity.

Bucket elevators are also not ideal for high moisture materials that may end up sticking and drying on the bottom and sides of the bucket. Cleaning dried material from bucket elevators becomes a nightmare and costs you time and money; it also makes maintaining a sanitary environment that complies with food safety regulations more challenging. Screw conveyors, also known as auger conveyors, tend to be rough on materials like nuts and end up grounding up fragile nuts into pieces, resulting in costly wastage.

Layout and Available Space

You may not have enough floor space or ceiling height to accommodate certain conveyor types. So sometimes conveyor selection comes down to how much room you have available to install material handling systems.

However, some conveyors, like cable and tubular drag conveyors, are highly customizable and can be designed to maximize available space. The conveyor system design can be laid out depending on production flows, incline or decline, and product transfer requirements. It can also include corner sections and make use of overhead space.

Remember that the layout of the production line should take into account easy access for cleaning and maintenance, worker safety, and operational performance. The best system designs optimize production flows to improve efficiency and productivity. 

Facility Environment

Your goal should be to move materials in a manner that does not negatively impact the plant operating environment. Is the material flammable, and does it pose a risk of fire or explosion? Will the material cause dust particles to land on processing equipment and facility floor?

When selecting the right conveyor system, consider if your product is the type that is sensitive to high temperature or vibrations. Does the material have to be kept safe, clean, and contamination-free? The open nature of slider bed conveyor belts and bucket elevators may allow contaminants to enter the food stream. Therefore, in cases when the material being conveyed needs to be kept as clean as possible, it is best to use an enclosed conveyor that doesn’t expose the materials to impurities that may affect its quality.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Remember that your food processing facility and the conveyor you install should be designed to minimize contamination so that it achieves food and safety compliance. When comparing different conveyors, think about how much time will be spent disassembling and cleaning the system. Some inexpensive conveyor systems sound like a good deal at the time. But how much is it costing you in manpower and resources to clean regularly so that it complies with food health and safety standards?

Cost

Cost will always play one of the biggest roles when it comes to choosing conveyor systems. However, short-term savings on an inexpensive conveyor, like an auger or vacuum, are quickly offset by wastage or breakage of valuable materials. It becomes a choice of ‘pay now or pay later.’ A conveyor that is cheap today will cost you a lot more further down the line.

Ultimately, it’s best to invest in the right piece of equipment now rather than suffer the consequences later. A low-priced conveyor may even cost you your business, particularly if it becomes the reason why you can’t comply with health and safety rules and regulations.

Conclusion

To ensure you get a high return on investment, conveyor selection must be made with key considerations in mind, like product type, weight of your products, available facility space, environmental conditions, and cleaning and maintenance resources. 

And while cost should also be taken into account, it’s still better to invest in the right material handling equipment now rather than suffer the consequences later. The wrong conveyor system can lead to injury and accidents, product loss, and failure to observe protocols enforced by regulating agencies that allow you to stay in business.