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Reduce conveyor maintenance by improving access

By |  February 20, 2020
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“Access” can mean observation points, entry doors and workspace for service. Photo courtesy of Martin Engineering

Virtually every vehicle on the road today is designed with a hood that can be easily opened for access to the engine.

The hood design means mechanics can more easily perform routine service and diagnose and address problems that arise during the vehicle’s lifespan.

Conveyor systems should be designed in much the same way, with convenient points along the length of the belt to allow technicians to inspect belt condition, perform service as needed, and help prevent catastrophic failure.

Unfortunately, this type of access is often overlooked when engineering conveyor systems – until a pressing need arises, increasing the difficulty of an ongoing inspection that could have allowed technicians to observe and service critical components before a crisis develops. As a result, costs go up and productivity goes down.

Responding to the market

Conveyor manufacturers have responded to the need for increased accessibility to system components by developing components and accessories specially designed to reduce labor time while improving safety during service. Innovative equipment designs such as slide-out cradle frames, belt cleaner assemblies and idler assemblies – as well as sealed heavy-duty inspection doors – offer improved access for safer and more efficient maintenance, resulting in fewer injuries, reduced labor and a lower total cost of operation.

“This is a cascading issue,” says Daniel Marshall, product engineer at Martin Engineering. “Insufficient access leads to poor maintenance practices, resulting in emergency outages and diminishing the operation’s productivity and safety. From an ownership and management perspective, downtime and injuries affect profitability through loss of production, capital expenditures for new equipment and ongoing insurance implications.”

In the past, managers often decided against the expense of adding safer and easier access points to a conveyor system beyond what is required by code. Over the conveyor’s lifetime, however, safety professionals estimate that poor access adds as much as 65 percent to maintenance and cleaning costs.

When designing proper access into a bulk material handling system, there are three easily achieved goals:

• Easy to see. If equipment cannot be seen, neither can the problems.

• Easy to reach. Equipment maintenance is likely to be postponed if it is awkward or dangerous to access.

• Easy to replace. Broken equipment is likely to remain that way if it is complicated and time-consuming to service.

Loading zone innovations

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Inspection doors and track-mounted components facilitate maintenance for extended equipment life. Photo courtesy of Martin Engineering

Many conveyor transfer points still have an antiquated roller system tasked with absorbing impact and centering the cargo, according to Marshall.

“These components often break and seize, causing friction and a potential fire hazard,” he says. “To replace them, several workers must remove the skirtboard and break the plane of the conveyor to reach across the stringer with heavy tools to assess and repair equipment.”

To reduce maintenance time and labor, improve safety and extend equipment life, operators should consider track-mounted impact cradles and belt support cradles. Located under the skirtboard and mounted with rugged steel assemblies, the cradles feature large impact-absorbing UHMW polymer “box bars” engineered with smooth surfaces that the belt can slide across with little friction or belt wear. These assemblies can be pulled out by a single worker and – working safely from outside the conveyor and using only a single tool – the box bars can be simply removed and flipped in a matter of minutes to double the service life.

Along the cargo path in the settling zone and beyond, retractable idlers support the belt and maintain the trough angle. Exposed to the punishing environment, gritty dust and extreme weather, rollers can seize over time. Often set closely together in the loading zone to avoid belt sag, slide-out/slide-in roller frames permit workers to perform idler service outside of the belt plane without the need to raise the belt or remove adjacent idlers.

Discharge zone maintenance

In addition, wear parts like belt cleaner blades should be monitored, serviced or changed regularly to prevent carryback from causing dust and spillage along the belt path.

“Blade adjustments and changes can require several hours of downtime,” Marshall says.

Primary cleaners – located on the underside of the head pulley – are mounted on rotating assemblies designed to retain the proper tension between the blade and the belt. Secondary cleaners are located behind the head pulley and raised slightly above the belt line for tension. Specially-designed units can slide in and out by simply pulling a lever and releasing a pin. This can allow blade maintenance to be performed outside the system by a single worker in under an hour.

Inspection doors

A tight seal is key to preventing fugitive dust from leaving any chute. Many current setups require workers to crouch or crawl under the system or even enter a confined space to inspect it or perform maintenance. This can result in serious injuries.

Inspection of the system needs to be fast, easy and safe. Small inspection doors – either solid or grated – can allow several observation points. Larger doors can offer access points with ample space for service of specific wear parts.


Information for this article courtesy of Martin Engineering.


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