A Look at the History and Creation of Conveyor Belts
Due to their speed, efficiency and ease-of-use, conveyor belts have revolutionized the production of materials across all industries.
What Are Conveyor Belts Made Of?
A conveyor belt consists of two necessary parts — two motorized pulleys and a thick, durable conveyor material. All conveyor belts are created to serve similar purposes. However, the design and makeup of each belt determine what product, weight, speed and industry the belt is best suited for.
There are five categories of material that make up most conveyor belts in use today. Those materials are:
Each type of conveyor belt material comes with its own set of applications and benefits.
A Brief History of Conveyor Belts
It’s hard to imagine a time before conveyor belts were available to make production and transportation more efficient. Let’s take a look at where conveyor belts come from, how they have changed and what the future of conveyor belts may look like.
1. The Past
Although unconfirmed, many believe the first conveyor belt showed up around the late 1700s to early 1800s. The earliest conveyor belts were constructed with wood and leather and were operated by hand. Back then, belts were used predominantly in agricultural settings to move products more easily. The Industrial Revolution brought with it steam-powered conveyor belts, taking much of the manual labor out of belt operation.
After Charles Goodyear patented vulcanized rubber in 1844, conveyor belts saw another significant shift in production ability. Vulcanized rubber was more durable and heat resistant, making it ideal. Steel belts came along in 1902, and underground conveyor belts followed shortly after that in 1905.
Once Henry Ford famously used a conveyor belt system in his assembly line in 1913, belts began gaining a lot more attention. Changes and developments came in spades. By 1970, the first plastic conveyor belt had arrived.
2. The Present
Conveyor belts are being constantly tweaked, refined and redesigned in the present day. As technology becomes smarter, the production field continues to find new ways to make old methods work even better. Conveyor belts are no exception. Many industries have implemented conveyor belts equipped with smart technology, allowing the belt to “talk” to other parts of the production line. Intelligent conveyor belts are equipped with the ability to send alerts during a malfunction or break down, vary its speed at pre-programmed times and start and stop automatically.
Eco-friendly conveyor belts — such as those powered through solar energy or crafted from recycled material — have also seen a rise in recent years.
3. The Future
Although smart technology and other modern advancements will almost certainly continue to play a large part in the evolution of conveyor belts, traditional conveyor belts will always have a place in production and transportation. Not every industry has the need — or budget — to implement computerized conveyor belt technology into their already efficient production line.
Conveyor Belt Materials
Although there are countless ways to combine belt materials into custom hybrids to suit specific industry needs, there are five basic materials that make up most of today’s conveyor belts.
Thermoplastic conveyor belts are made with a thermoplastic polymer. Because thermoplastic conveyor belts are flexible and constructed with hygiene in mind, they are ideal for several industries, including food handling, textile production and heavy-duty metal transfers. Thermoplastic belts are also lightweight. According to The National Industrial Belting Association, to be defined as a lightweight conveyor belt, it must have a working tension of fewer than 160 pounds per inch of width.
The two most common types of thermoplastic conveyor belts are polyurethane (PU) belts and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) belts.
- PU conveyor belts: PU conveyor belts are constructed using FDA-approved materials, making them ideal for food production. They can withstand both extremely low and extremely high temperatures without melting or warping. PU conveyor belts are also easy to clean.
- PVC conveyor belts: These conveyor belts are typically flame-resistant and can withstand similar temperatures as PU conveyor belts. PVC belts can handle contact with chemicals. They are known for being durable. PVC belts are often corrugated for maximum grip.
Metal conveyor belts are strong and very durable, making them ideal for almost every industry — especially industries that deal with raw products, like food service or unpackaged goods. In addition to their durability, these belts are flat and easy to work on. They are also rigid, meaning you do not have to worry about the belt changing shape over time. However, for this same reason, they are not as easy to shape or bend, so possible conveyor paths are limited.
Metal conveyor belts are usually made from either aluminum or shaped stainless or carbon steel.
If you have spent much time in an airport, you have probably seen rubber conveyor belts in action. They are popular in settings like this, as well as in mining. Rubber conveyor belt material is praised for its flexibility as well as its smooth and seamless design. They are also among the most affordable conveyor belt options.
However, their tolerance to heat and wear-and-tear are much lower than other conveyor belt materials. They are also more challenging to keep clean.
Fabric conveyor belts are usually medium-impact and cost-effective. They are often used to transport gravel, sand or other bulk materials. Most grocery stores use fabric-based conveyor belts in their check-out lines.
- Nylon: Nylon is highly durable, resistant to high heat, and can withstand heavy impact. It also adheres well to rubber in the case of a hybrid conveyor belt. It is also less prone to mildew than other fabrics.
- Polyester: Polyester is another synthetic material used for conveyor belts. It has many of the same benefits as nylon, but is typically less expensive and quieter during operation.
- Kevlar: Kevlar is the superstar of heavy-duty conveying. It’s made to withstand flame and substantial impact. It is bulky and made from thicker fibers than most other fabric belts. Some reports say that kevlar belts also run faster and longer than their counterparts.
- Natural fabrics: Natural fabrics are woven to be breathable and include cotton and wool.
Many early models of conveyor belts were made of leather due to its durability and accessibility. Leather is also shock-resistant and has a good grip.
Today, leather is often used as one part of a hybrid or customized conveyor belt.
Choose SEMCOR for High-Quality Conveyor Belting Needs
SEMCOR has been distributing high-quality industrial products — including conveyor belts — since 1907. Our staff is equipped to help you find the best conveyor belt to fit your needs and budget. SEMCOR also has a custom fabrication option, where our team of experts works with you to create a unit that matches your specifications.
In an emergency, SEMCOR has service personnel available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We maintain close relationships with each of our suppliers, ensuring the highest level of technical support available.
Our service area includes Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. Contact us today to request a quote or learn more about what SEMCOR can do for your business.