When a conveyor belt works correctly, it quickly moves items from Point A to Point B, which means improved productivity, fewer risks, and increased mobility, which can generate savings at manufacturing, processing, and distribution facilities.
But when production stops unexpectedly due to a plugged, leaking, worn or broken belt conveyor, it can increase downtime and maintenance, and costs can stack up quickly.
Let’s use a practical example to illustrate the lost revenue and productivity when a conveyor belt goes down. A food processing facility operates 12 hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, for 3,000 operational hours a year. Imagine this business generates $5 million yearly or $1,666 an hour. If a conveyor belt malfunctions due to unexpected belt damage, production stops. If it takes ten business hours to repair the problem, it will cost this business roughly $16,666 in lost revenue due to downtime. Add lost revenue to the costs associated with labor for affected employees, lost productivity, and repair costs, and the impact adds up quickly.
This simple math illustrates why it’s best to avoid conveyor belt downtime and implement a preventative and routine maintenance plan.
Building operations, plant, and facilities managers can avoid downtime when they prioritize conveyor maintenance and correct common problems before they lead to downtime.
Common Conveyor Belt Problems
Even small conveyor belt problems can cause a domino effect that creates issues company-wide. The most common problems to watch for include:
Conveyor Belt Tracking
Conveyor belts must stay on track to be efficient and dependable. But too often, conveyor systems experience belt mistracking and slippage. The key to an efficient and productive plant is better belt tracking.
Belt tracking manages and aligns a conveyor belt on the correct path to ensure the conveyor system functions smoothly and maintains high output. Mistracking occurs when the conveyor belt slips to either side or the entire system become misaligned.
Mistracking can limit belt life and contribute to uneven belt wear. High belt turnover, increased waste, product recalls, and throughput reductions result. In food processing facilities, it can even trigger a food safety inspection. Worse, if a belt slides off track completely, it can cause the entire conveyor belt system to malfunction and shut.
The primary source of mistracking is often material build-up on the bottom side of the conveyor belt or pulleys. When material builds up, it can lead to roller or pulley problems that cause the conveyor belt to mistrack one side.
Pro Tip: A thorough preventative maintenance program with regular inspections and cleaning with a dry steam-based solution can catch problems early to prevent tracking issues from worsening and creating bigger ones.
Prevent Belt Slippage
Conveyor systems must maintain precise tension to operate correctly. Too much tension can cause the belt to slip. The head pulley often breaks down or becomes worn, reducing tension in the system and causing the belt to slip.
Common causes of belt slippage include:
- Overweight Loads
- Low Temperatures
- Pulley Installation Problems
- Pulley Malfunctions
Tension loss can stretch and strain a conveyor belt, generate loud grating noises, and lead to belt slippage. Here, the system requires time-consuming maintenance to correct the problem.
Pro Tip: Check all parts and pieces of the conveyor system regularly, clean, and make conveyor belt repairs as needed to avoid this common problem.
Monitor Material Carryback
Carryback is defined as any material that remains attached to a conveyor belt past the discharge point. It is one of the main sources of fugitive materials believed to cause conveyor maintenance issues.
Material buildup on a conveyor belt can trigger roller and pulley problems and cause safety issues down the road such as fire and health hazards. It’s best to reduce carryback before it causes problems and limits productivity.
Pro Tip: Address carryback by removing it with primary and secondary cleaners, spray bars and wash boxes. In dry clean only environments, consider using dry steam solutions and belt cleaners to safely remove debris and leave surface clean and sanitized. Install a cleaning system to scrape the belt of any material left behind to prevent dirty belts.
Stop Seized Rollers
from metals such as steel. But belts are also constructed of plastic modular belting and nylon. Whatever the material, conveyor belts can develop sharp edges when they seize up. Later, these sharp edges can cause conveyor belts to mistrack, posing a safety hazard to workers, damaging goods and materials, and destroying the conveyor belt beyond repair.
Pro Tip: Seized rollers can shut down the entire conveyor system and lead to major repairs. Perform regular inspections on rollers to prevent this situation.
Repair Belt Tears and Seam Rips
Moving products with sharp edges can lead to perforations and tears in plastic and nylon conveyor belts. Stress and tension on the belt can lead to seam rips and tears, reducing belt life expectancy. Correcting these problems demands a good repair process.
There are three ways to repair a tear or rip:
- Vulcanization: A reliable repair process that relies on pressure and heat to fix tears on thermoset rubber and thermoplastic belts.
- Metal fasteners: A quick and easy repair method that uses metal fasteners to stitch a belt back together. This fix is not as reliable or long-lasting as vulcanization. It also is unsafe in the food industry should a fastener fall off into the food.
- Cold curing: This method repairs gouges or scoring on the belt with a cement comprising a base compound and a curing agent that applies like paste. Technicians should only employ cold curing when they cannot use other repair options.
Pro Tip: Belt repair carries high liability in food processing and can expose a food processing plant to inspection services and product recalls. With food-grade belts, replacement becomes the safest option.
7 Steps to Keep Conveyor Systems Better Maintained
Improving the self-inspection process on a regular basis and prepping for emergency repairs will increase productivity and maintain the reliability of a conveyor system. Here are seven steps to improve conveyor maintenance which can help reduce the need for new conveyor belts:
- Understand the facility’s unique maintenance needs. It’s vital that facility managers identify regular maintenance needs at the facility before adjusting maintenance programs and inspection processes. A food processing plant conveyor system demands different preventative maintenance than a glass manufacturing plant.
- Develop a maintenance plan. This plan should cover how to inspect equipment, identify preventative maintenance needs, and list the steps to take when maintenance needs are found.
- Create sanitation practices.In wet cleaning, use approved wash down cleaning chemicals, and in dry clean only, consider the benefits of dry steam solutions to clean and sanitize surfaces.
- Look for signs of belt damage. Train technicians to look for strings or frays and loose pieces on conveyor belts and wear and tear on belts and components. These signs point to a need for repair or replacement.
- Check tracking. Make sure technicians install belts at the correct tension and operators keep the conveyor system clear of debris. Fix any tracking and alignment issues.
- Keep parts on hand. Limit downtime by keeping spare parts, such as sprockets, drives, cleats and motors, and other hard-to-replace parts on hand.
- Know how long your belts last. Tracking belt life helps building operations, plant and facilities managers develop a replacement plan for conveyor belts. Belts at a vegetable processing plant may require daily replacement, while a distribution center may only need belt replacement every five years. With this data, technicians known when belts begin failing quicker, pointing to a mechanical issue with the conveyor system.
Conveyor system maintenance is necessary anywhere facilities use conveyor belt systems to reduce downtime and improve productivity. Click here to learn more about our Conveyor Belt Maintenance, Cleaning, and Sanitation Solutions. We offer free onsite consultations, including free demonstrations to help your facility develop a plan for an effective conveyor belt maintenance and cleaning program.
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