Conveyor belts are a huge part of most of our industries now and are found everywhere, from cake factories to iron mines. Conveyor belts and the heavy duty chains they use keep the wheels of industry and supply turning. As an important part of any factory or mine, the conveyor belt must be up to the job, as well as well-maintained and serviced, especially if it’s to last for years.
Of course, maintenance only goes so far, as there are often environmental or climatic factors that can affect the performance of the belt. In extreme environments, these conditions can even shorten the life of the belt or its components. There’s sharp rocks and rubble, harsh chemicals, intense heat or cold, for example; even the oils used in food factories can affect the belt after a while.
What are the workplace environments and conditions that can have an effect on a belt?
There are some areas of the world where industry has to keep moving despite temperatures as low as -35C; there are also industries which need to use very low temperatures. These very cold environments can cause conveyor belts to lose flexibility and occasionally even to fracture. To prevent this, the belt must be made from materials that retain flexibility at -35C or lower. As well as the components themselves, there’s also the lubricants to consider – at very low temperatures lubricants can become too viscous to work properly, or even solidify.
In addition to this, outdoor belts in polar regions can undergo great temperature changes and this can cause too much expansion and contraction, which can lead to jams and even cracks.
Then we have the desert areas, or the iron foundries and ceramic factories, which all involve high temperatures. These belts have to stay functional in outdoor temperatures of 50C and higher – up to 1,000C in kilns, for example. These belts need to be made from specialised steel and rubber compounds that can stand these inhospitable environments and still perform well.
You might imagine that a food factory would be a paradise compared to an Arctic fishery or an iron foundry; it is a much more benign environment, but it still can present problems to a conveyor belt. Chief hazard is the oils and fats used in the various foods, which can slowly damage the belt or alter the lubricants, affecting their performance. Acids, like vinegar, citric acid or malic acid, can leak out from foods and affect or corrode parts, which is why it’s important to keep belts clean at all times.
Sand, salt and dust
Deserts are sandy places, as are many coastal areas. The air around these places can cause problems to conveyor belts. If a belt is near the sea – in the case of a fishery – then salt spray could increase rusting; there’s also the problem of salt drying and becoming abrasive, just like sand and dust already are. In these sorts of areas, a belt should be made of very resistant and layered material; it’ll also need regular lubrication and any metal parts should be made from coated steel.