Low-tech upgrades still important
Often, benefits designed for one aspect of an upgrade -- sanitation, maintenance, quality, productivity -- yield improvements in other areas. For example, lift-up conveyor sections speed cleaning as well as enhance productivity, and quick-connect hardware enhances food safety, eases maintenance and speeds changeovers.
The alignment key Dorner Manufacturing uses to eliminate set-screws helps reduce the "inherent biohazard risks" of bolts, connectors and set-screws that can collect and harbor contaminants, says Hosch. For the same reason, he says, smooth, continuous welding is critical to sanitation and therefore preferable to skip-welded connections on equipment.
The combination of many small, related improvements can produce significant, cumulative savings and benefits. "We get calls from customers all the time who are looking for simple solutions," says Rick Milner, technical services engineer with Wire Belt & Co. (www.wirebelt.com), Londonderry, N.H. "They're not looking for something to help them fly to the moon."
In addition to its U.S. belt manufacturing, Milner's division, together with international sister divisions, offers small, specialty conveyor systems. It's a relatively low-tech affair, typically with no need for sensors, servomotors or programmable controllers. The typical unit includes a motor geared from 6-36 ft. per minute. "We've never been asked to do more, except for our shuttle conveyors, which use a pneumatic stroke and need some controls," Milner says.
Food processors, automation contractors and larger machinery-makers, however, often will integrate their conveyors to track run rates, temperature ranges and data on the plant floor -- using whichever automation hardware and software the end-user requires. Other than the shuttle conveyors with their pneumatic controls, Wire Belt's conveyors limit controls to a motor and gearbox.
Some innovations come not with technology but with new sources for replacement parts or customer service enhancements. For example, patent expiration on Frigoscandia (www.jbtfoodtech.com) spiral freezer parts led Ashworth Bros. (www.ashworth.com), Winchester, Va., to offer drop-in replacement belts. In addition to its metal belts, the company appears to be unique in offering what appears to be the only USDA-accepted plastic belting, good for applications down to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. The plastic mesh is said to be more open and accessible than standard metal and therefore easier to clean.
Other low-tech but effective innovations include the spool-like "Rack-n-Roll" crating, in which the self-stacking belting is delivered. Users can minimize damage while more effectively unfurling it for easy installation and maintenance.