Conveyor systems are mechanical material handling equipment that move a wide range of products. While conveyors were first invented to transport goods onto ships at ports, they are now used in a wide range of industries, including mining, agriculture, automotive, and the food and beverages industry.
As a piece of equipment that moves materials from one location to another, conveyor systems have revolutionized the food industry by not only speeding up the transportation of materials between long distances but also cutting down on human labor and minimizing manual handling of materials.
To fully appreciate the benefit of food processing conveyor systems, we need to understand why they were invented and the role they play in food production. In this guide, we will talk briefly about the history of conveyor systems and how they have modernized food processing, making it safer and more efficient. We will also discuss the advantages of using a conveyor system in food handling and processing.
History of Conveyor Systems
The first records of conveyor belts date back to 1795. The first conveyor system was made of a wooden bed and leather belt, and it was powered with pulleys and hand cranks. The Industrial Revolution and steam power improved the primitive design of the first conveyor systems. By 1804, the British Navy started using steam-powered conveyor systems to load ships.
Machine-powered conveyors would begin appearing in a variety of industries over the next 100 years. And in 1901, Swedish engineering company Sandvik started producing the first steel conveyor belts. Once constructed using leather, rubber, or canvas belts, conveyor belt systems began using different fabrics or a combination of synthetic materials for the belts.
Conveyor systems have evolved over the decades and are no longer just powered manually or by gravity. Today, mechanical conveyor systems are widely used in the food industry to improve food quality, operational efficiencies, productivity, and safety. Mechanical conveyors may be horizontal, vertical, or inclined. They are composed of a power mechanism to control the device’s speed, a motor controller, the structure that supports the conveyor, and a means to handle the material, such as a belt, tube, tray, or screw.
The Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association (CEMA), the association that provides the conveyor industry with design, engineering, application, and safety standards, has defined over 80 types of conveyors. Today, there are flat bed conveyors, chain conveyors, pallet conveyors, overhead conveyors, stainless steel conveyors, table to chain conveyors, custom conveyor systems, and more. Conveyor systems can be specified by load capacity, rated speed, throughput, frame configuration, and drive location.
In the food industry, the most common types of conveyors used in food plants today include belt conveyors, vibrating conveyors, screw conveyors, flexible screw conveyors, aero-mechanical conveyors, and cable and tubular drag conveyor systems. Modern conveyor systems can also be custom designed and optimized based on the client’s needs. Design considerations involve the type of materials that need to be moved and the distance, height, and speed the materials need to move. Other factors that impact the design of the conveyor system are available space and configuration.
How Conveyor Systems Improve Product Handling and Food Processing Operations
When conveyors are designed, constructed, and installed to meet food production regulations, the result is a conveyance system that is safe, sanitary, and efficient. Here are the top benefits of using conveyor systems in the food industry:
Eliminate or Minimize Manual Labor
Before conveyor systems, transporting materials from one level to another involved human labor that was not only strenuous but slow, forcing companies to spend a lot of money in labor costs. With the right conveyor system, food manufacturers can reduce employment costs, such as recruitment, wages, training, benefits, and retention.
Conveyor systems allow the automated transportation of materials between long distances that may be on varying elevations. Conveyors may be used to transport raw materials out of storage and into the production line, move product into other storage devices, move the finished product into the packaging line, or transport packaged products to shipping.
Reduce the Risk of Accidents
Food plants become safer and more productive with the right conveyor system. Installing a conveyor system means needing fewer workers, and the employees you do have will no longer have to manually carry heavy loads, which can lead to injuries or breakage and damage to the materials. Because conveyors have speed controls, materials are moved at optimal speed, which reduces wastage or loss of material.
Increase Efficiency and Productivity
Conveyors help save time by allowing materials to be moved between multiple levels quickly. Materials can move in different directions, which is useful when materials have to be moved between opposite ends of a processing plant. Because modern conveyor systems eliminate manual unloading of materials, there’s also no need to waste time monitoring unloads and workers.
Ensure Food Safety and Maintain Quality Standards
There are certain conveyors that are better for the food industry than others. For example, tubular drag conveyor systems were designed specifically to be dust-free, contamination-free, and to move food materials safely and efficiently. When it comes to foods and beverages, it is crucial that product and material handling equipment is easy to clean and kept free of contaminants.
From small and powdered materials to sanitary or delicate materials, tube conveyor systems can move just about any food material that fits into a tube. What makes tubular drag cable and disc conveyor systems different is technology that holds materials between discs within an enclosed tube. This design keeps breakage to a minimum and maintains a sanitary environment. Ensuring the plant environment is safe and hygienic helps the company comply with the standards of regulatory agencies like the FDA and USDA.
Conveyor systems were first invented to speed up the time it took to move materials from point A to point B and relieve workers from strenuous manual labor. Over the centuries, conveyor systems have evolved and now provide more benefits. Conveyors are excellent investments that help food production companies save on labor costs, improve processes and productivity, and maintain food quality standards.