Conveyors are commonly used material handling piece of equipment. Being really easy to operate, they are used a quick and efficient way of moving goods between various locations. Assembly can be performed as products move along the belt. One of their main benefits is elimination of movement of things by human labour. And they are also ideal for big or bulky items that would otherwise be too heavy to transport. They are versatile and can be tailor-made for specific businesses. Extra safety features are usually applied to minimise the risk of accidents. Various models can be found on the market and applied according to industry specification. Conveyors are used in various manufacturing industries, such as pharmaceutical and automobile. Food, packaging and electronic industries also use them as a standard. Systems range from hydraulic, mechanical to fully mechanical ones and can be placed on the floor or overhead. They have been in use since the 19th century with earlier attempts in 1800s. Various improvements have been applied over the years drastically revolutionising the way conveyors work.
Short history of conveyors
Early history of conveyor belts dates back to the 18th century with a breakthrough in 1892. That year Thomas Robins developed a system for moving coal and ore. 1901 brought a steel conveyor created by a Swedish engineering company, Sandvik. Four years later in Yorkshire, Richard Sutcliffe came up with an idea to use conveyors in coal mines. Industrial Revolution also brought further developments in technologies and application. Henry Ford started using conveyors as assembly lines in his factory in Michigan. Later in the the 70s first plastic belts were patented in Louisiana.
Very first conveyor belts were made of completely different materials than modern ones. They had components from leather, canvas and rubber with wooden support elements. Nowadays, synthetic materials are used to reduce maintenance requirements to a minimum. Until last year, the longest belt measured 13.8km and was constructed in 1972. Currently the longest belt is 96.6km long and situated in west Sahara. It is used for moving phosphate from mines to the coast. Only the incredible developments in technology and materials allowed for this achievement!
Use of conveyor belt energy to generate power
Based in Illinois, Martin Engineering is one of the bigger players on the material handling market. They proposed a solution to use kinetic energy produced by conveyors to power various other machines. Concept created by the company basically allows an electronic system to become a power station, which can serve a variety of uses. This is viewed as an important step in conveyor innovation. These power stations are hoped to be more sustainable in comparison to current generation of conveyors. Traditional conveyors often require high costs and human labour to provide them with power over distances. They are also associated with dangerous elements, such as flammable fuels. Constant supervision is also required, as a technician must always be present next to the belt. Another solution for this is to apply sensors to monitor belt’s behaviour. But this requires extra power. Whereas the newly designed system is based on the idea that power from moving belt can be harvested. This is achieved by the generator being connected to one of the rollers. The company is currently developing a battery that would store all the generated power.
Changes in line motion
Two years ago, Rockwell Automation presented their newest system, iTRAK®. The innovative technology offers an alternative to rotary driven equipment. It is a linear system that facilitates control of many movers at a time. It promises better process by higher flexibility and even higher automation. The main reason to choose the new system is improved production. It improves the rates by at least 50%, together with all other benefits, which include less periodic maintenance requirements. It is an alternative to chains and belts and offers good value and overcoming limitations of current technologies. Recently, cooperation with Optima Group was set to improve the system and reduce format changes and space required. It has been implemented with Intigena, hygiene products supplier based in Switzerland. The improved performance of their facilities now serves as proof of all the suggested benefits.
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