Selecting the right conveyor for your food application can become a daunting task for any buyer who may not be aware of the key factors to consider. These simple top tips can be used as guidance and a good starting point.
Probably the most critical aspect to consider and to include: testing, product analysis, degradation, cohesiveness and maintaining a blend are some key aspects to consider…but there are many more!
It is vital to look for a conveyor supplier with a comprehensive materials testing laboratory and machine test facilities, which should be equipped with a complete range of conveyors, as well as bulk bag fillers and bulk bag unloaders. A good testing facility will provide wide-ranging scientific product analysis on bulk solids or powder, such as the bulk density and particle size. If your product is characterised as ‘difficult to handle’, or if it is friable, sticky, hygroscopic or tends to cake or pack, this can be difficult to convey. In this case, lab tests are therefore essential to help understand how the product behaves. After lab tests, comprehensive machine trials will give a full understanding of the product to be conveyed, thereby avoiding any potential future issues when choosing the right conveyor.
Understanding requirements for installation and the conveying route is critical; for example does the equipment need to be installed on a second floor, go through walls or round bends? Identifying any possible hazards in the conveying area is essential, such as ATEX zones, FLT traffic, operator safety, equipment barrier requirements etc. It is also important to have an awareness of the area ‘environment’ i.e. what is the ambient temperature, does it change seasonally, as this can affect the equipment if it’s really hot and humid in the summer, cold in winter for example, or is humidity/sea air a consideration which could influence corrosion. Asking questions about cleaning, follow on maintenance and thinking ahead on future plans is also advisable. Plus having a good old fashioned walk-around is always the best place to start!
It sounds obvious, but identifying the key objectives of the process are an important factor to consider when selecting a conveyor. Maintaining blend, increasing throughput, reducing degradation, improving efficiency or reducing manual handling could be driving factors influencing the choice. For example, if the conveyor needs to minimise degradation on a fragile product, then a gentle conveyor such as a cableflow tubular drag conveyor would be a better choice over the spiral of the flexible screw conveyor. Or if the conveyor needs to maintain a mixing blend, then the rotating spiral of the flexible screw conveyor, or aero-mechanical conveyor is a great choice.
A crucial deciding factor in choosing a conveyor is the hygiene specification. With food applications requiring the highest hygiene standards and dust free operations, especially if they operate in an
ATEX environment, choosing a conveyor that meets these needs is vital. The simplicity of cleaning a flexible screw conveyor for example, with its drop out tray and reversible bung, makes it ideal for many food applications. And furthermore, because air isn’t used as a conveying medium in the FSC, there’s no risk of dust contamination or humidity from the atmosphere. Similarly, an aero-mechanical conveyor or pneumatic conveyor is an excellent conveyor choice, as it offers near to total transfer capability which means it requires minimal cleaning
For applications which need results quickly, a mobile conveying solution might be the best option for a shorter lead time. Aero mechanical conveyors and flexible screw conveyors can readily be mounted on wheeled frames, complete with integral controls and a power connection fly lead. This makes it possible to use one conveyor to serve several processes, or to remove it to a remote wash-down area for cleaning. Optional height adjustments on mobile units may also be a consideration if they have to pass under low doorways or if discharging at differing heights. Mobile conveyors offer versatility for those applications that do not have the time to wait for a longer lead time, or prolonged installation times. Plug and play is the name of the game here.
As always, cost is a pivotal factor when selecting a conveyor for your process and depends largely on a number of variables, many of which will have been identified by following the above guidance. However, it is worth mentioning, that when comparing mechanical conveyors, a flexible screw conveyor is the simplest and most economical option out there, comprising a stainless-steel spiral rotating within an UHMWPE food-grade tube. If cost is a deciding factor, it is even more important to select a supplier who will still achieve your objectives and give value. Buying off cost alone can be fraught with danger. It is impossible to pay a little and get a lot, as it simply can’t be done. Going with the lowest bidder offers great risk with it, as frequently the conveyors purchased at the lowest price are not fit for purpose.