Robotic saws, controlled atmosphere stunning pits and tunnels, automated cut-up lines and other high-tech machinery often hog the spotlight when it comes to the equipment plant operators rely on each shift, but without conveyor systems nothing moves through the process.
Processors rely on solid conveyance to literally keep the line moving.
“Good conveyance is reliable operation and continual movement of product,” said Jonathan Lasecki, director of engineering for Ashworth, Winchester, Va. “One failure of a conveyor affects the equipment both upstream and downstream. A failure will often shut down an entire line costing the plant thousands of dollars (product waste, labor waste and not to mention lost production).”
Systems must not only operate efficiently and continually move product, but also be designed to provide quick and easy maintenance while not in use.
“Downtime for cleaning and maintenance can be a processor’s largest expense,” said Jeff Falash, research and development for Neenah, Wis.-based Nercon Eng. & Mfg. Inc. “With a properly designed conveyor these can be reduced.”
Reliability can suffer for a variety of reasons beyond negligent maintenance and cleaning. In these instances, engineering and manufacturing bear great importance.
“Downtime is the worst thing a plant can experience whether it is mechanical failure or a breakage that leads to foreign material contamination, and processors cannot afford unscheduled downtime,” said Kevin Guernsey, food team engineering supervisor at Intralox, New Orleans.
Safe and sanitary
Ashworth’s designers and engineers focus their efforts on the needs of processors. While reliability is at the top of the list for the company, so too is ease of repair and maintenance and safety.
“Ease of cleaning is also a design focus at Ashworth,” Lasecki said. “Ashworth understands if cleaning and sanitation time can be reduced the belting can remain in production making product and profits.”
Nercon and its team work to constantly innovate on the established technologies and agree that design improvements should concentrate on making conveyors and belt systems cleaner and easier to use, and they should always improve food and worker safety.
“Simplicity of equipment can be very helpful,” Falash said. “The less moving parts, the less that can wear out. An open design that allows for easy and thorough cleaning and maintenance, while providing good operator safety is ideal.”
Nercon offers processors hygienic belting that sanitation teams can easily clean after allowable direct food contact. Conveyors do not use any fasteners on components, minimizing harborage points in the food zone.
Ashworth has released two new products, the Omni-Grid 360 Weld line and the Smart Spiral Monitoring system. The Omni-Grid focuses on sanitation and easy cleaning. The Smart Spiral Monitoring System monitors the conveyor system in real time. It relays recorded data to a PC, phone or tablet and notifies operators when the system is operating outside its parameters. The system will also track and graph trends so the plant can see and assess key parameters over time.
“This allows for planned (predictive) maintenance instead of the preventative maintenance,” Lasecki said. “Predictive maintenance can keep the conveyor running longer and repairs can be scheduled as needed. Preventative maintenance which schedules maintenance based on runtime, often requires replacing parts which have many hours of useful life and profits still in them.”
Richard Spiak, vice president of sales and marketing for Londonderry, NH-based Wire Belt Co. of America added, “Most processors are looking for durability, and ease of cleaning. Cleanability is very important, most want the conveyance systems to be full ‘washdown’ with at least IP67 rating for the electrical components.”
Intralox has been working on a few new technologies that deal with today’s labor shortages, reliability and ease of operation.
“We have a few different technologies we’ve been working on for conveyance systems,” said Elizabeth Cobb, meat, poultry and seafood business development analyst for Intralox. “Material advances (Intralox FoodSafe Modular Belting platform) to handle today’s demands of throughput and chemical exposure; conveyors that do more than move products from A-B, that can sort, lane and merge, which led to the development of Activated Roller Belt (ARB) and Active Integrated Motion (AIM); and systems that are fault tolerant and simple to operate.”
Today, processors face labor issues that directly affect every aspect of the business, so conveyance equipment needs reliable, hands-off operation to ensure movement of product for as long as possible without fail.
“Many plants have reduced staff available for maintenance and an unscheduled failure can cost thousands of dollars (if not more) to the plant,” Lasecki said.
While the need for operational dependability hasn’t changed throughout the years, food safety has continuously become more and more important. With slight changes over time, conveyor systems have become a point of focus when considering the health of consumers.
“With better manufacturing and design we can make the conveyor safer for food handling by making less harborage points for bacteria,” Falash said.
Along with design changes to address ease of cleaning and sanitation, manufacturers have also addressed the ability to maintain and repair conveyors when something does happen and dealing with problems quickly becomes necessary. Facilities that run more than one shift especially benefit from streamlined repair processes.
“Downtime in a processing facility with a continuous process is very expensive,” Spiak said. “The conveyance systems must be reliable and easy to maintain. The systems should be designed with good access to critical components so that maintenance personnel can make repairs and replacements in a short period of time.”
Buy the best
Conveyance systems represent the backbone of a processing line. Without a strong, quality conveyance and belt system, everything thing else just sits still. Moving meat down the line is essential to efficient and profitable processing systems and conveyors do just that, move meat down the line.
“Without the best conveyance systems, processors are creating a point of vulnerability for their brand,” Guernsey said. “Downtime costs money, contaminated product costs a brand’s reputation and consumer trust; reliable conveyance is your best way to prevent both of those.”
To optimize longevity and capacity, two things keeping the line moving and allowing growth, processors should consider both construction and durability of their conveyor systems.
“Often a processor will specify a conveyance that is designed and rated at let’s say 3,000 lbs of processing capability per hour, then find out after the system is installed that the requirement to process 5,000 lbs per hour is now the norm,” Spiak said.
Food processors should seek out reputable equipment suppliers with products that have proved their quality in the market and made reliable service a part of their customer commitment. Strong knowledge that the conveyor belt will operate as it should and that when service is needed the belting supplier will get the plant up and running in a minimum amount of time gives companies peace of mind.
“Working with a reliable belt partner not only keeps you running, but can lead to solutions to conveyor challenges before they occur,” Lasecki said. “It’s what we refer to as a partnership for success.”