Conveyor belts are an integral part of many industries and have been so for more than a century now. From food waste processing to uranium mining, these belts and their heavy duty chains have kept the wheels of industry and supply going. There’s always the odd breakdown, of course, but in general, a well-maintained conveyor belt will give years of faithful service to its users.
It’s not just about the maintenance, though. There are environmental factors in every workplace that will affect the lifespan and the performance of every machine, not just the conveyor belt. There are extreme conditions, like intense cold or sharp rubble, as well as seemingly more benign environments, like food preparation or recycling, that can take their toll on the belt and its underlying machinery.
Here are just a few of the different workplace conditions that can affect the life of a conveyor belt.
Conveyor belts that are used in very cold areas of the world, or in refrigerated workplaces are subject to stresses that you might not realise. Industries in areas like Northern Canada and the far North of Europe often have to keep going at temperatures of minus 35C or even lower. Under these conditions, it’s easy for conveyor belts to lose their flexibility and even crack, so it’s vital to use materials that can maintain flexibility. It’s also possible for lubricants to solidify, or become too viscous to work properly, so specialist compounds have to be applied. If the belt is outdoors, it can also be subject to sudden temperature changes, which can cause excessive expansion and contraction, potentially leading to fractures and jams.
At the other end of the scale are the belts which have to work in desert areas, or in heavy industries like iron smelting or ceramics. These belts have to operate in temperatures ranging anywhere from 50C right up to 1,000C in the case of kiln belts. Thankfully, there are materials, including tough steel and specialised rubber compounds, that can withstand these extreme conditions and maintain performance.
A food factory might seem like a far cry from an iron foundry or a sub-zero fishery in the frozen north, but even this environment has its hazards for the conveyor belt. One of the biggest culprits is the oil and fat used in food, which can, over time, damage the rubber or interfere with the lubricants. There’s also food acids, like citric acid or vinegar, that can seep out of the food and slowly degrade rubber or metal. It’s important to keep the belt as clean as possible at all times to slow down this process.
Dust, salt and sand
Coastal areas, as well as desert or dry areas, also present problems. A conveyor belt near the sea may have to contend with salt spray, which can speed up the rusting process. If salt dries on a belt it may become abrasive, whereas dust and sand already are abrasive, as well as very pervasive! A belt made of a highly resistant, layered material is what’s needed here, as well as tough, coated steel and regular lubrication.