Modern conveyor belts can trace their lineage to the mining equipment used in early 20th-century Britain. Mining operations had previously used donkeys, horses and even small children to pull carts of ore or coal out from the bowels of the earth. In 1905, Richard Sutcliffe patented a conveyor belt that was flexible enough to be used in mining.
Since then, conveyor belts have found many uses in all sorts of industries. Manufacturing, recycling, distribution and many more sectors rely upon conveyor systems. Here is a quick guide to some of today’s kinds of conveyor systems and some of the uses they are put to.
Table of Contents
While conveyor systems are colloquially referred to as ‘conveyor belts’ in popular culture, the term ‘belt’ technically only refers to one single part of one kind of conveyor system. Belt conveyors are the simplest kind of system. A continuous belt – usually made of tough rubber or plastic – is rotated by two or more motors. The best can be easily replaced, repaired and removed by operators.
Unfortunately, belt systems have some limitations. They cannot be used as a work surface: sharp tools may puncture the belt, which is also too flexible to work on. Due to this flexibility, they are also unable to feed precision robots that need objects to arrive in a very specific position.
Chain conveyors are very heavy duty and are typically used for moving heavy, uneven objects across factory floors. Instead of providing a continuous surface for objects to rest upon, the object that needs to be moved rests upon a series of parallel chains. This means that there is some room for uneven parts to hang below the conveyor. Chain conveyors are nearly useless for small objects and fragile items that cannot be moved on partial points of connection.
Gravity Roller Conveyor
Gravity rollers are extremely affordable and have almost no maintenance issues. They are not powered. Instead, a series of rollers on bearings conveys objects by means of an external force such as gravity or the gentle push of a human hand. Gravity rollers are often used to convey items down slopes or across small gaps. You will have encountered one of these conveyor systems at airport security – they are often used to move suitcases into X-ray machines.
Live Roller Conveyor
Live roller conveyors are – you guessed it – similar to gravity systems with the addition of power. Motors power each roller, which passes each object on to another roller. This is perfect for transferring boxes between stations at distribution centers. It is not, however, suitable for anything which has small components that could fall between rollers.
Slat conveyor systems are very useful in manufacturing environments where objects need to be worked upon by staff or robots on the conveyor itself. Slats are far more stable than belts, rollers, and chains. They provide a continuous flat surface on which conveyed objects can rest.