The material handling conveyor plays a broad and foundational role in many manufacturing environments, so constant assessment of operation is vital to avoid wide ranging challenges. Today’s belt conveyor market is extremely broad and varied in terms of models and use, longevity, process matching and maintenance. This makes it critical that the first assessment of environment and need come from the partnership between the original conveyor designer/installer and the production manufacturer.
There are broad variabilities in belt types ranging from heavy duty to light duty, along with the complexity of component and product designs that range from fabric and rubber to steel mesh and plastic polymers. That means any single blog on assessment will have to be reasonably specific. Rather than the entire conveyor system, this blog will concentrate on the importance of conveyor belt assessment.
Toothed sprockets drive plastic modular and metal belt conveyors, while fabric and flat belts use a pulley or drum system. But every belt has design limitations, which require matching the belt to the application. Even within the broader area of the material handling conveyor, transfer conveyors can bring their own assessment needs to the broad assessment of the conveyor belt.
All belt conveyor systems should receive a thorough review at least once per year, but that should happen more often depending on factors like:
- Belt age and type
- How you use the belt
- Material and product type, size, and weight
- Use cycles that depend on the industry
Industry cycles and product focus are two areas where, for example, material handling conveyors in food and beverage or ecommerce bring production peaks, valleys, and product variance that all affect an assessment schedule. For practicality’s sake, let’s start with the definition of a light duty material handling conveyor assessment focused on the conveyor belt.
What is a Material Handling Conveyor Assessment?
While all assessments should be a comprehensive look at all system components, general belt assessments are one part of that look. This will include everything from daily or weekly visual inspections to more comprehensive assessments that involve special tools and technologies. They all require a high degree of expertise in understanding the specific design and components as provided by the manufacturer.
The conveyor manufacturer’s design and installation set the tone for the ideal assessment because they focus their expertise in system design on understanding the unique environment and needs of the production environment. Conveyor manufacturers like SpanTech conveyors have chosen a modular design approach to meet customization needs while still providing parts standardization that lowers overall costs. The ability of conveyor companies like this to provide preventative maintenance tips and support will play heavily into assessment structure approaches and schedules.
Armed with this type of support and knowledge, a material handling conveyor assessment should generally focus on primary challenges with conveyor belts. These challenges include Carryback, Mistracking, Spillage, and Slippage.
What is Carryback?
Food conveyors require regimented cleaning and inspection protocols to avoid materials sticking to the belt, which is known as conveyor belt carryback. This can eventually damage the conveyor belt (and other components) in ways that result in increased maintenance costs, downtime, and even safety hazards. Assessments can reveal carryback signs that may go overlooked in the entire conveyor system and particularly in transfer conveyors.
Carryback usually leads to conveyor belt mistracking with buildup of food materials that build up in rollers. This can cause the belt to drift to one side. Mistracking can also come from uneven belt wear, poor splicing or off-center loading.
It’s essential to prevent mistracking because even small conveyor belt misalignment can lead to spillage, excessive wear of the belt, and major damage to equipment or even the structure. These are challenges most associated with fabric or rubber flat belt conveyors, but it can also happen with modular conveyors to a lesser degree.
Modular plastic belting like that used in many SpanTech Conveyors can help avoid these challenges inherent to fabric/rubber flat belt conveyors. The ability to easily clean these durable and modular belts makes them less susceptible to things like mistracking and carryback (with a comprehensive cleaning regiment). Their positive driven design (positive tracking) and lower tension that inhibits wear and tear on motors and drive slippage are also major bonuses that can affect belt longevity and assessment outcomes.
Conveyor belt spillage not only leads to potential product loss but also mistracking and carryback. This can affect conveyor belt and production efficiency through material loss, damage to equipment, and the extra time and expense needed to clean it. There are also worker safety concerns that can come into play. Spillage can happen with transfer conveyors or anywhere along a material handling conveyor. Which shows why comprehensive assessments along with periodic assessments are critical.
Preventing belt Slippage
The type of material being conveyed, and its weight and dimensions, can all lead to slippage where the pulley does not grip the belt tightly enough. This has a major impact on adding motor stress and life, that leads to higher maintenance costs and downtime.
These common challenges in a light duty material handling conveyor can happen in diverse production environments that are moving very different products and materials. Comprehensive assessments are vital to spotting challenges that can have their beginning in product and manufacturing changes, poor maintenance, or end-of-life legacy belt systems.
But the first line of defense is making the right choice in conveyor manufacturing partner. This ensures that the right system and design matches your needs and environment with the support you need to lower assessment surprises.