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Transport Of Bulk Materials By Conveyor Dates Back To 1795

Hytrol Conveyor Company's first conveyor

Hytrol Conveyor Company's first conveyor, designed by founder Tom Loberg in 1947, moved bags of seed in preparation for stacking, and folded when not in use. Loberg discovered that the right angle reducer he had designed for a rotary lawn mower was just the right size to make a belt run at the proper speed on a conveyor. (photo courtesy of Hytrol Conveyor Company)

Conveyor systems have been an integral part of material handling for over 100 years, and their origins can be traced back even further than that. Transport of bulk materials by conveyor belts dates back to around 1795, although the vast majority of these early iterations were used to move grains over very short distances.

The first conveyor belt systems were very primitive and consisted of a leather, canvas or rubber belt traveling over a flat wooden bed. This rudimentary system was successful enough to provide incentive for engineers to consider conveyors as an economical and efficient way to haul large quantities of bulk material from one location to another.

By the turn of the 20th century, conveyors were being used in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to unload wooden shingles from rail cars. Soon, conveyors were being used for other applications as well, and overhead trolleys and belt conveyors were moving items in manufacturing plants.

Hymle Goddard of Logan Company received the first patent for roller conveyor in 1908, but the conveyor business didn’t truly flourish until a few years later. Automotive production utilized powered and free conveyor lines beginning in 1919, and throughout the 1920s, conveyors became a popular tool for handling mass produced goods within factories.

Colson belt conveyor

Colson belt conveyor (photo courtesy of Colson Caster)

During the 1920s, conveyors were devised that could carry items over longer distances. One particularly advanced installation was built underground to handle runs of mine coal over a length of eight kilometers. This conveyor belt was composed of layers of cotton and rubber covers, the main materials used to make belting at that time. Although archaic by today’s standards, this material handling system was selected instead of railcars in many subsequent mining applications.

Today, the longest conveyor belt in the world is used in the phosphate mines of Western Sahara and measures 60 miles long.

During World War II, manufacturers created synthetic materials to make belting because of the scarcity of natural components. Today’s conveyor belting is made from an almost endless list of synthetic polymers and fabrics and can be tailored to any requirements. Possible uses of conveyors have broadened considerably since the early days and are used in almost any industry where materials have to be handled, stored or dispensed.

   
Ermanco XenoRol Powered Roller Conveyor system

Remotely controlled switches on this Ermanco XenoRol Powered Roller Conveyor system moves cases to various shipping lines, 1968. (photo courtesy of Ermanco)

Buschman conveyor, 1989

Buschman conveyor, 1989 (photo courtesy of Diamond Phoenix)

   
Table conveyor for production, 1968

Table conveyor for production, 1968 (photo courtesy of Ermanco)

Powered parts conveyor with metal cleats

Powered parts conveyor with metal cleats used to carry scrap from stamping machines, 1968 (photo courtesy of Ermanco)

     
     
Ermanco conveyor system in a cold storage warehouse

An operator at the control station of an Ermanco conveyor system in a cold storage warehouse. Rows of order picking lines are fed to this point, where cases are skewed to the left. Front edge of case breaks photo cell beam causing conveyor to be programmed in magnetic code. Operator punches out codes at console to establish memory in the belt. (photo courtesy of Ermanco)

Powered roller conveyor in the front window of Fred Hill and Son Co.

Powered roller conveyor in the front window of Fred Hill and Son Co., circa 1950 (photo courtesy of Fred Hill and Son Co.)


 As with any equipment that contains moving parts, user safety is always a concern. In 1947, the first standards involving conveyor safety were developed by the American Standards Association. This industry has committed itself to safe operations in recent years and has developed a wide range of safety labels and brochures.

In the 1970s, conveying systems often generated high noise levels. One of OSHA‘s first priorities upon its creation in 1970 was curtailing conveyor noise. Conveyor manufacturers responded by developing precision bearings, quiet rollers and long-lasting parts to eliminate the premature wear that caused rattling.

Other technological advancements include those in maintenance and systems control. At one time, conveyor maintenance was quite difficult because the systems were permanently configured and fixed in place. Production changes and standard maintenance usually required extensive downtime and considerable expense. Often, conveyors had to be replaced with completely new systems substantially before their expected demise. During the 70s, 80s and 90s, engineers of conveyor equipment developed and perfected internally powered conveyor rollers and motorized pulleys that eliminated costly maintenance needs.

New configurations and technological innovations have kept conveyor systems on the cutting edge, along with other automated material handling systems. Computers now control complex applications, and increased automation has helped the systems become more efficient.

Changes in technology are certain to keep the industry in motion as users look for faster throughput, diverted sorting and use of wireless technologies.

Belt conveyor, circa 1954

Belt conveyor, circa 1954 (photo courtesy of Modern Group)

Transporter, circa 1975

Transporter, circa 1975 (photo courtesy of Diamond Phoenix)

             
Gravity wheel conveyor, 1968

Gravity wheel conveyor, 1968 (photo courtesy of Ermanco)

Closed loop transporter system, circa 1977

Closed loop transporter system, circa 1977 (photo courtesy of Diamond Phoenix)

Horizontal carousel, circa 1993

Horizontal carousel, circa 1993 (photo courtesy of Diamond Phoenix)

 
         
Two horizontal belt conveyors with power turntable, 1968

Two horizontal belt conveyors with power turntable, 1968 (photo courtesy of Ermanco)


Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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