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A detailed guide to industrial conveyors

In 2020, the global conveyor market was estimated at about US$7.73 billion. By 2026, this is expected to increase to US$10.07 billion. Thanks to short production cycles, advancements in e-commerce (further helped by the pandemic) and an improved international flow of goods, the conveyor market will grow. Globalising this economy is a result of the automation that conveyors provide.

This complete guide to industrial conveyors will provide a business with its basics, how they operator, their uses, and how to select the best suited conveyor.

Conveyor systems defined

Intralogistics is the process of managing the flow of information and material goods inside a production or distribution facility. Conveyor systems are an important segment of this. They serve to transport bulk products, raw materials, goods, or any other type of materials from to places located within the same area or even building.

The industries that benefit the most from conveyors include:

  • Agriculture
  • Mining
  • Warehouse and logistics
  • Aerospace
  • Chemicals and pharmaceuticals
  • Food processing
  • Packaging
  • Beverages
  • Auto motives
  • Bottling and canning industry

The primary reason as to why industries have almost completely switched over to automated material handling and transport is that it enables them to move vast amounts of material while continuously operating. Compared with workers who need rest, conveyor systems don’t require much downtime if they are properly maintained and cleaned. They can run almost non-stop, which results in a direct increase of production within a facility.

System breakdown

Depending on the type of material it is handling and its purpose, different conveyors, work differently. Nevertheless, all of them have a few basic components they cannot function without Drive

There are three most common drivers (power sources) for conveyors:

  • Motors
  • Gravity
  • Manual drive

Industrial systems are typically powered by motors. The most prevalent motors used for conveyors are three-phase AC motors, which are ideal for systems continuously running in one direction. Single-phase motors come with starting windings and capacitor delays, which are unsuited for conveyor systems. Most facilities utilize 440V motors because, with high voltage, there are lower transmission losses over the grid.

Not all conveyors require electricity to be powered. Manual and gravity-based systems are usually centered around rollers. Rollers inside a frame allow workers to push an item from one point to another, provided the frame is horizontal, or if it’s tilted, to slide it down at an angle. These conveyors do not require energy to function and are suited to packaging processes, where large, non-fragile items are moved around.

Mode of transfer

The main difference between conveyor types is how they move materials. This can be done in a number of ways or combinations depending on the production facility’s goals. There are the following ways to transport goods:

  • Belts: made from a variety of materials resting on a steel frame that supports them and the items they’re moving
  • Chains: chains are moved due to sprockets at either end of the trough
  • Buckets: containers which are attached to belts, cables, or chains that move the material along
  • Cables: moving materials with the help of a coated, flexible, stainless steel drag cable with discs attached
  • Pneumatic: moving materials due to compressed air (positive conditions) or a vacuum (negative conditions)
  • Screw or auger: a helical blade called an auger, typically placed inside a tube, that rotates and moves the material
  • Aero-mechanical: the material is driven at high speeds on evenly spaced discss

These are just some of the examples of how conveyors transport materials. Which is most suitable for your operation depends on factors which will be covered further down this article. 

Types of conveyor systems

Based on this outline of conveyor basics, it is right to assume that there are various systems. There are seven most common conveyor types which will be explored now.

Aero-mechanical conveyors

Aero-mechanical systems are built from a steel tube with a circulating rope running through it. Evenly spaced discs along the rope carry material, which creates an airstream by moving at high speeds inside the tube. These speeds generate a centrifugal force to eject the material once it reaches its destination.

These conveyors can operate vertically or horizontally, with flexibility. They convey materials at high velocities, depending on their application, and are also easy to clean.

At the same time, these velocities can compromise material integrity. If the aim is to reduce material breakage in this system, the speed needs to be slow and steady. Aero-mechanical conveyors also require rope-tensioning, making them difficult for maintenance.

Auger (screw) conveyors

Auger is a helical blade (a screw) that moves granular or liquid materials by rotating, usually inside a tube. The rate at which the material is transferred is directly related to the auger’s rotation speed. It is one of the first conveyors to be invented, as ancient Greeks used it to transport irrigation water.

Screw conveyors are good at transporting semi-solid materials, like food waste, municipal solid waste, animal feed, meat, boiler ash, aggregates, and others. They are easy to clean and maintain because they don’t have many moving conveyor components.

Unfortunately, auger conveyors can compromise blends and lead to material breakage. Their efficiency isn’t as high in steep inclines, and it cannot be used in spaces that require multiple planes.

Belt conveyors

Belt conveyors are arguably the most common type of conveyor, found in almost every sector. They have two or more pulleys and a closed loop of material (which is the belt) that rotates around them. A motor can power these pulleys to move the belt and its materials in the right direction.

There are two main types of belt conveyors:

  • For bulk materials, such as coal, salt, grain, ore, and sand
  • For general materials, such as boxes, solid items, and packages

Belt conveyors are not just used in industrial settings. They also transport airport luggage, restaurant food (such as sushi conveyor belts), and even skiers at mountain resorts. Belt conveyors can be enclosed to prevent material loss and contamination.

Bucket elevators

Bucket conveyors move flowable bulk materials (such as grain, fertiliser) upwards in multi-sided containers. The most significant downside of bucket elevators is that they have a lot of moving parts which are difficult to maintain.

 Aside from the buckets, this system includes a belt to carry the buckets and a power source to drive the belt. It can also come with accessories for loading the buckets and receiving the discharged material.

These conveyor systems have low driving power and are therefore quite efficient. However, bucket elevator components require high maintenance expenses, and the equipment is challenging to clean. 

Cable conveyors

Cable material handling systems consist of a cable, typically made of stainless steel. If they are enclosed, tubular cable conveyors minimise contact with food materials, and preserve material integrity. To transport the material, solid discs are attached to the cable. They push the material through the tube.

Cablevey’s tubular cable systems have low energy consumption because their motors are typically 5 HP (up to 7.5 HP). They can move material at angles, vertically, horizontally, or in tight sweeps. They have removable parts, making them easy to maintain.

The main advantage of tubular cable systems is that they eliminate material degradation. They provide a dust-free environment and allow for consistent blending. They are ideal for the following materials, to name a few:

  • Petfood
  • Nuts
  • Snack foods
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Coffee
  • Powders
  • Biomass 

Chain conveyors

These conveyors are made from an endless chain supported by sprockets. Chains can have special attachments to them for carrying specialty loads, which is the primary use of chain conveyors – such as wide or long items like pallets, industrial containers and grid boxers.

The difficulty with chain conveyors is that the sprockets require frequent replacement, leading to prolonged downtime. The chains themselves are easy to maintain since individual links can easily be replaced. But they are not easy to clean. They are not suitable for fine, powdered materials because they can accumulate in the links and lead to the breeding of bacteria. These systems also require a lot of power consumption.

Pneumatic conveyors

There are four basic components to a pneumatic system:

  • An air source
  • A material feeding device
  • A conveyor line
  • An air-material separator

Pneumatic conveyors are well suited to moving dry bulk materials through a vacuum (negative conditions) or air pressure (positive conditions).

They transfer material through a tube (fully enclosed line), reducing the chances of material loss.

Fine, dry powders that are fluidisable are the best materials for pneumatic conveyors. Granular or pelletized materials are also accepted. The following materials can also be transferred:

  • Sugar
  • Coal fines
  • Starch
  • Wheat flour
  • Sands
  • Food products
  • Metal powders

The advantages of air pressure or vacuum conveyors is their low maintenance requirement and flexibility. However, they are not particularly energy-efficient, and can significantly damage delicate material – up to 10 percent of conveyed product.

Support and controls

An industrial conveyor system would be unable to operate without many of its support mechanisms. It requires the proper frames to support the belts, chains, sprockets, buckets, and similar components.

Industrial conveyors are controlled in various ways. Some operate only in one direction, while others can reverse direction if needed. All conveyors should be outfitted with emergency stop buttons and safeguards in case of an accident.

Conveyor applications

Industrial conveyor systems’ primary purpose, as mentioned, is to move products and materials, and store and buffer materials if needed.

Here are the main applications of an industrial conveyor system:

  • Standard transport: if the same type of material needs to be moved from the same starting point to the same endpoint over and over again, workers shouldn’t be forced into repetitive motions that could damage their health. Forklift movements can also be reduced by installing a conveyor to cover this distance and take over the transport.
  • Heavy load transport: some items cannot be moved due to their size and/or weight. Special conveyor systems are built for these materials.
  • Assembly conveyor: working on an assembly line requires a conveyor to move an item as workers perform their tasks. These conveyors are frequently used in the automotive sector.
  • Protection from damage or injury: some items aren’t too heavy or difficult to move. But performing repetitive movements risks workers’ health. Conveyors can achieve the same in less time, with much less muscle strain involved.
  • Human error: due to the fragile nature of some products or materials that means they cannot be moved by hand or forklift; it is good to introduce conveyors as a safe way to transport easily damaged products.
  • Bulk material transport: gravel, sand, iron ore, coal, and similar are difficult to transport. The right type of conveyor can facilitate moving these materials in bulk.
  • Complete automation: if robots deliver products to the conveyor or receive them from the conveyor, it is easy to control the production and adjust it for just the right output you need.

Storing and buffering

Conveyors can also assist with the storage of various products and materials.

  • Product storage: if there is a demand for product storage before the next production step, specific conveyors can accommodate this
  • Accumulation banks, or buffers: this is a flexible type of storage that manages the flow of production. A buffer can either be increased or decreased depending on the demands of the process
  • Conveyors can also allow workers to sequence and resequence products between processes. Organising products into batches and prioritising them increases productivity


An industrial facility would be unable to function efficiently without material handling equipment. Conveyor systems can be found in a number of industries. A reliable system is crucial, for transporting products and materials inside a distribution centre or production facility.

Industrial conveyors need a power source to drive it. This can be electricity, gravity, or it can be manually driven. It can have a range of different modes of material handling, such as belts, rollers, buckets, cables, chains, and so on. An industrial conveyor system also requires a support framework and controls for turning it on and off, adjusting its options, and stopping it entirely in emergencies.

Conveyors are not only beneficial for moving materials but also for storing and buffering them. Special types can also sort items.

To choose the right one for your company, you’ll need to take into account the materials being transported, the floor space available, your budget, whether it’ll be part of any assembly lines, and how important material integrity is to you.

Designing the right conveyor layout can be an arduous task. If you’d like some help and are interested in tubular cable conveyors, why not reach out to Cablevey, a conveyor system manufacturer. Our experts will be glad to meet your business needs and help you lead your organisation into the future of conveying technology!

For more information on Cablevey Conveyors visit their website, HERE.



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