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Getting the best out of your belt

05 September 2016

Ben Thomason, senior technical sales engineer at Wire Belt, answers questions about changing belt requirements and how end users can ensure that belts operate to their maximum capabilities. 

Q. Are you seeing a move towards the use of greater automation in the food and beverage processing sector and, if so, how does this affect the choice of conveyor belt?

A. There has certainly been a move towards greater automation in recent years, largely due to the greater throughput and consistency in finished product offered by such systems. Wire Belt has seen an increase in sales of Ladder-Flex Spreader conveyors, which separate product ready for pick-and-place systems, as well as product quality inspection processes.

Equipment reliability is a concern, since automated lines mean less human operators and therefore less opportunity to identify and rectify machinery and equipment faults in advance. Processors are combating this by opting for more robust belts, such as the Flat-Flex XT, and are investing more time in training and adopting preventative maintenance programs. 

Q. What are the biggest causes of downtime due to belt failure and how can end-users avoid this?

A. Most belts, if they do fail during use in a production environment, fail because of factors not related to strength, belt life or robustness of the belt. The most common reason is actually poor or incomplete splicing.  Getting the splice right can be difficult and time consuming for those inexperienced in joining Flat-Flex belts. To counter this Wire Belt has developed ‘EZSplice’ as an alternative joining method to the traditional full strand splicing. It offers longer belt life, stronger belt joints and less downtime from failures at the splice.

Other causes of downtime include incorrect conveyor setup and accidental damage to belts. We offer on-site training for our customers’ engineering teams to help them identify potential problems in advance, and flexible on- and off-site stocking options to help get the line back up and running as quickly as possible.

Q. What advice can you offer food customers who may have worries about the hygiene standards offered by wire belts, when compared to plastic belts. 

A. Use of stainless steel Flat-Flex and CompactGrid conveyor belting can increase food conveyor hygiene by at least 10 times. Where accessibility and extended production runs present cleaning problems these belts are proven to be easier to clean, and the openness of Flat-Flex results in less build-up of contaminants than plastic belts.  

The advantages of stainless steel over plastic for belting include easier and more effective cleaning, as well as a greater surface hardness which reduces the opportunity for scratches and crevices to form ‘bug traps’.  We have carried out research in the UK and USA which shows that under production conditions Wire Belt’s Flat-Flex belting is more hygienic than plastic type for conveying vegetables, meat and fish. 

Q. What other benefits can metal belts offer in the food sector.

A. A metal belt with greater open area allows more air to flow through the belt.  CompactGrid can offer increased flow-through in a variety of heat transfer applications, e.g cooling, baking or freezing.  Controlled tests have confirmed that CompactGrid has five times less resistance to flow-through than most plastic belts.  More air flow reduces the time required to either cool or heat a product which in turn saves money through reduced energy costs and improves factory energy efficiency.

The Flat-Flex  and Flex-Turn belts are designed as clean in place systems – the customer does not need to remove the belt as part of their wash-down procedure. Not only does this make a considerable time-saving for the end user, it also prevents the opportunity for the belt to be damaged or the conveyor setup to be altered as part of the removal process.

Q. Can you give us some examples of your most interesting bespoke solutions which have solved particularly difficult conveying tasks for food customers?

A. We recently worked with a customer to supply a bespoke conveyor system that fed a single chiller/freezer from two separate forming and coating lines. The concept was that the customer could slide the conveyor assembly across on fixed guides to switch input to the chiller, allowing them to continue production whereas previously the chiller was standing idle between wash down procedures.

The project was delivered on time and within budget, and has now effectively given the customer an extra hour of production on that particular line every day!

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