What is a conveyor belt system? 

A conveyor belt system is a fast and efficient mechanical handling apparatus designed to transport loads and materials within an area. This simple system minimizes human error, lowers workplace risks and reduces labor costs — among other benefits included in the conveyor belt standard.

The conveyor belts are usually on the ground or overhead system with moving parts that help in transporting object from one point to another as long as the conveyors are lifted off the ground.

How conveyor belt systems work

Typically, conveyor systems consist of a belt stretched across two or more pulleys. The belt forms a continuous loop around the pulleys so it can rotate endlessly.

One pulley, known as the drive pulley, drives or tows the belt moving items from one location to another. It is sometimes attached to a spring-loaded motor in case its effort has weakened over time due to damaged parts.

The most common types of conveyor belt designs use a motor to power the belt. Although this motor may appear as a stationary unit to the untrained eye, it is in fact attached to a rotor by small metal arms which help move the rotor back and forth.

The belt remains connected to the rotor by virtue of its construction from bands of non-stretchable fabric which allows friction keep it together with the rotor.

For the belt to effectively transport material, both the drive pulley and idler must run in the same direction in either clockwise or counterclockwise form.

While standard conveyor systems such as moving walkways and grocery store conveyors are often straight, there are occasions where the items being conveyed need to turn before they can be delivered to the intended location.

Such turns might require the use of unique equipment if a fixed system is in place. For example, cones or rotor wheels might allow the belt to turn by swiftly guiding it around corners or bends without getting tangled up.

Conveyor belt system benefits

The conveyor belt was designed to move food from the kitchen to the dining area once upon a time. Nowadays, it can be used for almost anything you want – and so we see them all over, even in your local grocery store.

Inclined conveyor systems can save a lot of time when moving products between different levels.

They are inclined so as to move items up and down several floors, and this makes it easier for stock to be moved rapidly, something that would otherwise require someone on the opposite end of the building to come and collect them manually.

This helps reduce physical strain on workers which is often caused by having to carry things up or down congested flights of stairs.

Conveyor belt system types and examples

All over the world, there are lots of different types of conveyor systems. Some, like the belt conveyors you find across warehouses are just one type, which is built from chains and pulleys to transport heavy boxes from point A to point B.

Just like escalators in a building or on board a ship, conveyor belts are also used for moving large pieces of equipment around – for example in airports where they can be found transporting luggage or bags rather than boxes and bottles.

There’s even ski lift a form of transport that uses automated ‘lifts’ to carry skiers up a mountain at long distances with minimum effort.

The types of conveyor systems include:

  • Belt
  • Roller
  • Slat/apron
  • Ball transfer
  • Overhead
  • Pneumatic
  • Bucket
  • Chute
  • Magnetic
  • Vertical
  • Wheel
  • Walking beam
  • Vibrating
  • Screw/auger
  • Chain

Conveyor belts can be great for transporting materials from one place to another, but what if those materials are too heavy or too big for normal conveyor systems?

Luckily, there are specialized conveyors out there that are perfect for these scenarios like slat conveyors – also known as plate conveyors. These types of conveyors use plates instead of belts to facilitate the movement of heavy or oversized loads.

Not as common as riding an elevator, but almost as quick, stepping onto a conveyor belt can lead to a person’s destination.

These are used most commonly in airports and train stations. Made up of steps that ride on the bottom layer of the belt, escalators move in either an upward or downward direction, depending on whether the direction of travel is up or down.

Ski resort conveyor systems are an example of an avalanche suppression system. These units use electric powered inclined tracks to transport the skiers up or down hill.

The units also run along a chain driven transportation system similar to that of an escalator.

Conveyor belt system essential parts

There are three main parts of a conveyor system, as follows : The Belt Support , the Pulley and the Drive Unit .

Each component plays an essential role in the conveyor unit’s operation. While all conveyor systems contain these components , designs vary in how they are constructed and where each component is located.

Belts are designed to make it easier for transportation of heavy equipment necessitating lifting. The belt must keep taut at all times and under pressure from the load so that it can run smoothly without interruption.

This is why belt support components must be strong, robust and stable enough to give the user peace of mind because once there is breakage, a lot can go wrong depending on the kind of load being carried.

The pulley system is a much like the belt – it’s an external component used to transport products at high velocities. Pulleys come in many different varieties, but most of them consist of a belt and two wheels, one that travels and on that stays still.

More complex conveyor systems tend to have additional components throughout the frame that help to adjust placement of the product being transported.

The drive unit allows the belt to move. The motorized drive units have a motor that keeps the parts moving smoothly.

This unit also allows for the drive unit to move in reverse, while the non-motorized systems operate manually. Some conveyor systems are operated manually.

These systems still use a belt; however, they don’t have one that’s motorized.

Choose the right conveyor belt system

A conveyor system acts as a central nervous system for the operations within your warehouse.

Selecting the right conveyor type can be challenging for warehouse managers and other stakeholders because of the many types of conveyors out there and all the different things you can do with them in relation to how certain products are shipped or work with other systems in your facility.

It is also worth researching requirements and regulations that place limits on material conveyance in the work environment; contractors will find this to be especially effective when scaling projects to meet maximum efficiency and productivity standards.

First off, an ideal conveyor system must be:

  • Operationally safe
  • Energy efficient
  • Reliable (parts and components engineered to last)
  • Adaptable to changing needs
  • Cost-effective (in terms of TCO, or total cost of ownership)

Installing a conveyor system which is just not suitable for your warehouse will have a major impact on efficiency.

Ultimately higher costs and lower customer satisfaction will be the result, which means you might lose your competitive advantage as a retailer.

Without further ado, let’s explore factors to consider when evaluating and selecting the right conveyor system for your operation.

Product requirements

Essentially a conveyor system is used to transport items from one department of your distribution facility to the next.

The type of item(s) being transported will determine the exact nature of the conveyor system you should install.

When searching for the best conveyor system for your facility, answering the following questions will help you ascertain design and configuration requirements, thus letting you calculate things like horsepower and belt pull for individual conveyors:

  • What type of product is being conveyed?
  • What is the average weight per foot of product?
  • What is the maximum weight of the products?
  • What are the minimum, maximum and average dimensions of the product (i.e., length, width and height)?
  • What is the dimensional data for each product?
  • How are the products being conveyed and in what orientation?

Things to take into account when looking into filling new warehouse space include the width of the conveyor tracks and their overall security, as well as where this placement is on your premises.

Things like a shipper’s dimensions or weight obviously have an influence on things like rolling bearing type and center distance, while the weight of the item being shipped can also directly affect issues such as roller gauge, axle diameter or motor size.

Process requirements

Conveyors are required to have factors that mandate their speed in order to conform with existing laws, such as health and safety regulations. These considerations include:

  • The distance items need to move between functional areas
  • The pathway through which it moves — are there stops, elevation changes, curves or diversions?
  • Product orientation — must items be positioned in a particular way (for easy scanning of barcodes, transfer, etc.)?
  • Transfer speed — short, rapid movement or slow, steady movement?
  • Ambient environment
  • Available space

Flow rate

As an owner, operator or manager of a food production facility, you need to have a fast and efficient way to get your final product from one place to another.

A conveyor belt is a great option for increasing efficiency as well as keeping your staff safe.

Conveyors of different sizes can handle the hourly average volume of items needed moving from stage to stage and additionally can provide high-speed handling during busy periods to keep up with seasonal fluctuations in demand.

Also, certain kinds of conveyors are well-suited to certain tasks. A large plastic chain conveyor is ideal for transferring plastic-footed pallets, for instance.

Meanwhile a chain-driven roller conveyor is best suited for wooden pallets. Likewise, the former is better suited for moving smaller boxes or totes than the latter.

Transfer requirements

The transfer point is the mechanism which moves items from one conveyor belt to another. The most common mechanisms used for this purpose are powered transfer points, side to side transfers, dead plates and gravity rollers.

In some cases, it’s a better option to have dead plates because of their small size but sometimes longer products require gravity rollers as they are wider and can grab product easier.

How much do conveyor belt systems cost?

For modern warehouses, manual transfer operations are unable to keep up with the levels of throughput required by order fulfillment on a daily basis.

In the best case, this leads to diminished work productivity, ergonomic complications and even product damage.

This can lead to increased costs for manufactures and ultimately unsatisfied customers; it’s vital that manufacturers find ways in order to stay up-to-date with advancements such as conveyor systems that increase both worker efficiency and overall fulfillment capabilities.

As orders are fulfilled more quickly, consumer expectations rise as well which makes speedy order fulfillment an essential element for online shipping sites like Amazon or eBay.

As a small or medium-sized operation, it’s important to note that the lifetime cost of purchasing, installing and maintaining such systems may be too high for you to justify despite the many advantages.

A major deciding factor is whether the benefits would make up for such costs – and this will depend on how your business runs and your geographical location as well as other factors such as:

  • Type of conveyor system
  • Overall length
  • Required speed
  • Dimensions
  • Curve and transfer method

Current estimates show that a Belt Curve AC and a Roller Curve AC conveyor cost approximately $5,243 and $2,686 per linear foot — under the following assumptions:

  • Curves — 90 degrees
  • Speeds — 65 to 90 feet per minute
  • 9-inch rollers on 3-inch centers
  • Overall width — 24 inches

Note: This is just the upfront cost of the conveyor equipment. Aside from installation costs, you’ll also need to factor in the cost of restructuring your warehouse space to accommodate the conveyor system.

The installation process itself could take a while and would affect order fulfillment and other warehousing activities.

Lastly, operating and maintenance costs per year would likely exceed the initial purchase and installation costs.

If you’re considering a conveyor system, consider your budget, the speed at which you need to complete your work, space and other constraints, and of course, your loading and unloading plans.

For instance, conveyor systems aren’t portable and they require substantial changes to your infrastructure. However, other practical and more affordable solutions exist to automate your warehouse operations.

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