How to Prevent Common Conveyor Problems with Preventive Maintenance

Production processes typically require a series of precise operations. To maximize efficiency through repetitive tasks, new technologies are continually keeping up with the demands of manufacturing. Conveyor belts and conveyor systems are some of the key types of equipment found in production lines.

What is a conveyor?

A conveyor is a system of mechanical components that physically move materials from one point to another. They appear in various applications including industrial processing plants, warehousing, freight handling, and other movement processes.

The most common types of conveyors contain a belt and a rotating component such as a roller, sprocket, or motorized rotor. The material or product that requires movement goes on top of the belt. The rotating motion of the rollers allows the belt to move along continuously. These rotating components can drive the belt in the case of motorized rotors, or allow free movement for gravity-driven conveyors. The whole system effectively transports goods throughout an area.

What are some examples of types of conveyors?

Different types of conveyors can suit a wide variety of industrial applications. Companies may find some types to be more effective than others. Load capacity, rate and range of movement, and distance between points are some factors to consider during design stages. Here are some examples of types of conveyor systems:

Belt

Belt conveyors consist of a belt that is commonly made from rubber, plastic, leather, fabric, or metal. The system works by configuring the belt to form a continuous loop. The loop stretches out with two pulleys coupled at both ends. These conveyors move materials horizontally, or at an inclined angle, by resting upon the belt surface.

Roller

Roller systems work by assembling parallel rollers into a frame. Rollers can rotate freely to allow materials on them to move across. Conveyors can be arranged to either a straight or curved path depending on the required motion. These are usually used for baggage handling or assembly lines, with materials either driven by gravity or manually pushed through the course.

Powered roller

Powered rollers are a variation of a roller conveyor system, where the rollers are driven by a belt or chain. Instead of pushing materials along the conveyor, a motorized system of belts or chains transports the materials.

Slat

Slat conveyors work similarly to belt conveyors, except the load is placed on top of plates mounted on rollers instead of a belt. This allows for the transport of materials that would have caused damage to the usual types of belts. Other factors such as environmental conditions are also practical considerations to favor slat conveyors over belt conveyors.

Bucket

Bucket conveyors are frequently used to move materials vertically. A series of buckets are attached to a cable, chain, or belt that drives the motion of the material being carried. Because of the shape of the carrying container, this conveyor design is common for carrying bulk materials such as liquids or loose solids.

What are some common applications of conveyors in different industries?

Given the wide variety of conveyor designs available, you can only imagine their limitless applications. While the main function of conveyors is to transport materials, there could be varying conditions to consider in designing a conveyor system. Here are a few ways that conveyors are used in industrial applications:

Food processing

Food processing plants typically require multiple stages of preparation. These stages include cleaning, cutting, cooking, and even packing of food products. Each of these stages potentially requires conveyors to move the food through each process.

Package handling

Package handling is an integral part of a familiar service. Think of courier and delivery services the next time you buy something online or send a gift. There’s a good chance that your package—whether it be a huge box or a simple envelope—has passed through conveyors. Conveyor systems are used not only to transport parcels but also sort them in a programmable fashion. Conveyors can be configured to branch out in multiple directions to effectively classify materials according to specific categories.

Raw materials transport

One of the most intuitive uses of a conveyor system is raw materials transport. This commonly applies to the high-volume movement of materials used in mining, agricultural, and chemical processing industries. Conveyor designs need to account for the harsh environments and conditions that are common in these types of industries.

Product assembly

The whole idea of a production line is that machines can move materials safely and efficiently. These manual movements would otherwise be physically demanding and unsafe if performed by humans. Production assembly is one of the most common applications of conveyor systems to reduce the tedious effort of transporting materials. With conveyor systems, tasks aren’t only done more easily but also more safely.

What are some common problems with conveyors?

Conveyors are made up of many smaller mechanical components. Any failure from these pieces can cause bigger issues for the whole system. Complications can range anywhere from unnecessary noises or decreased performance, to complete and total stoppage. The following list shows some common problems with conveyor belts that you need to look out for.

Belt mistracking

By design, belts align with a track to keep the system true to its designated path. Mistracking occurs when the belt favors one side over another, resulting in an imbalance in force distribution across the belt. This leads to a bunch of other problems such as uneven belt wear, rubbing on surroundings, and materials falling off the belt. Apart from productivity and maintenance issues, mistracking also poses safety risks. In fact, industry standards, like those upheld by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), recognizes mistracking as a safety violation.

Material spillage

The main purpose of conveyors is to transport materials. Any form of spillage is falling short of that purpose. This is usually an issue with industries that require the movement of materials in high volumes, such as mining conveyors. For such applications, material spillage can translate to product wastage.

Material carryback

Losing materials and products during their course is bad enough. What’s even worse is if these materials start a chain reaction by hindering the movement of the conveyor. When left to accumulate over time, particles can build up on the conveyor’s frame and eventually hinder its rotating components. These can potentially cause blockages, especially when dealing with high moisture, viscous products, and other bulk materials.

Belt slipping

Instances of slippage are normal, especially for the first few months of usage. In these earlier stages of operation, expect belts to stretch and give way to the load. However, over time, recurring belt slipping needs to be addressed. What could start as slipping can lead to more serious problems such as mistracking and belt damage.

What is preventive maintenance?

Preventive maintenance (PM) is a type of proactive maintenance strategy that aims to prolong the useful life of assets and equipment. PM works by servicing equipment components before any serious damage occurs. By investing time and resources to perform maintenance tasks, catastrophic failures can be prevented. In the long run, this translates to savings for the company.

There are a few ways to implement PM. The key to effective PM implementation is identifying a suitable schedule to perform maintenance activity. While more sophisticated technologies have been available to intelligently assign tasks, periodic scheduling is still a fairly common option. Two of the most common methods to trigger tasks are calendar-based or usage-based schedules.

Conveyor systems typically operate continuously over long periods. This highlights its vital role in the production process, where reliability is essential. A proactive maintenance strategy, such as PM, is a natural fit with the way conveyors work. By performing proactive inspections and servicing, the main problems with conveyors can be corrected early, if not avoided altogether.

How are problems with conveyors prevented?

Preventing the main problems with conveyors starts with knowing what you’re dealing with. Being aware of the common causes and precursors to failure gives you a better sense of what to look for. Here are a few high-level steps you could do to avoid setbacks.

Avoid misuse of conveyors

Conveyors are designed to perform under specific conditions and limitations. Misusing conveyor systems not only reduces the life of equipment but also poses a safety hazard. For example, carrying loads heavier than the design parameters can add stress and strain to various areas of the system. Key components such as motors and chains can be overworked, which then leads to additional wear and eventually breakdowns.

Regularly clean your system

Debris can cause your belt to misalign and lead to mistracking. By performing regular cleaning activities, you can prevent the buildup of blockages that can cause more serious problems. This activity can be more challenging for outdoor applications such as mining and raw material transport. In such cases, visual inspections can help to identify major buildups that require urgent attention.

Keep critical spare parts on hand

While the ultimate goal is to prevent breakdowns, it’s best to prepare for all possible contingencies. Conveyor systems can be highly specialized pieces of equipment. Because they can serve very specific purposes, it follows that spare parts and components are also specially made. Ideally, these critical spares need to be available on-hand to significantly reduce the time it takes to repair conveyors.

Listen to your staff

Workers who get to interact with the conveyors hold valuable information about the equipment. If any issues are starting to crop up, your staff will be the first ones to notice.

Implement a comprehensive maintenance plan

With such a crucial role in production, conveyors need to be the most reliable pieces of equipment in a plant. The only conceivable way to achieve high uptime levels is to implement a comprehensive maintenance plan. Maintenance strategies should include both scheduled activity as well as backup plans for any immediate requirements.

What are some tips for implementing a preventive maintenance strategy?

At this point, it goes without saying that having an extensive maintenance plan is your best bet to prolong the service of your conveyors. Given that PM is the most common option, here are a few tips that can help in implementing a PM strategy:

Perform routine ocular inspections

Ocular inspections play a major part in PM activities. Ensure that you ask the right questions that would focus your attention where needed. Is the conveyor belt centered? Is the conveyor system clean? Does the conveyor transport products effectively?

Set an appropriate inspection frequency

The frequency of inspections depends on many variables. The hours of operation, environmental conditions, and surrounding materials are some factors that need to be considered.

Give attention to special components

Conveyor systems would have specialized components that require special attention. To name a few are lubrication of bearings, servicing photosensitive electrical components, and working with complex pneumatic systems.

Stay on schedule

A PM strategy is only effective if performed consistently and according to schedule. Missing any planned work doesn’t only put your equipment at risk but also sacrifices the continuity of your operations.

Track your progress

Keeping track of a task’s progress is almost as important as completing the task itself. By documenting tasks regularly, the team can more efficiently allot their time and effort. By having enough detail on progress trackers, you can gather insights on improving current processes. In these instances, utilizing your CMMS can make a huge difference.

Conclusion

Conveyor systems are critical to the operations of some major industries. It makes sense to allot a fair share of attention to the upkeep of these machines. Investing in a proactive maintenance strategy goes a long way in addressing the most troublesome issues with conveyors.