A conveyor system is a collection 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.
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.
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.
Examples of Conveyor Systems
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 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 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 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 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 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.
Common Problems With Conveyor Systems
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.
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), recognize mistracking as a safety violation.
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.
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.
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.
How Are Problems With Conveyor Systems 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.
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 preventive maintenance, 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.
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 conveyor systems.
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.
Tips for Implementing a Preventive Maintenance Strategy for a Conveyor System
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 preventive maintenance is the most common option, here are a few tips that can help in implementing a preventive maintenance strategy.
Perform Routine Ocular Inspections
Ocular inspections play a major part in preventive maintenance 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 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 preventive maintenance 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.
Conveyor systems are critical to the operations of some major industries, so 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 a conveyor system.