SMART Conveyors™ Reduce Maintenance

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It’s said good work is hard to find, and that’s when laborers are plenty. It’s all the truer when they’re scarce. Yet such is the state of the labor market for maintenance personnel. Travel back to the ’40s, and any John, Dick, or Harry understood the basics of a mechanical system. They could change the oil in their cars, at least. Nowadays, it’s hard to find workers who know the difference between a gasket and a sprocket.

For manufacturers, the shortage of knowledgeable employees means they’re competing heavily for a labor pool that’s been shrinking generationally. It also means the maintenance personnel they do have are increasingly harried with the amount of work they’re expected to manage. Due to this, forward-thinking manufacturers are actively investing in robust machinery like SMART Conveyors™ from BE&E—equipment that’s more reliable and which can significantly decrease maintenance.

Such was the reasoning why an OSB manufacturer purchased multiple T-Series SMART Conveyors™ from BE&E this past year to handle the hog fuel at their plant. They wanted machines that would run reliably between scheduled maintenance visits and not need constant attention, something they could essentially forget about until a calendar event read, “Check the chain slack.”

Note that our customer didn’t expect a maintenance-free conveyor. They were smart enough to recognize no such machine exists, and SMART Conveyors™ certainly need maintained in order to function optimally. But the amount of maintenance SMART Conveyors™ require to run well is far less than comparable drag conveyors.

Inevitably, such a claim raises the questions, “How?” or “What’s so different?” The answer comes down to engineering. BE&E’s team designed its conveyor to maximize the lifecycles of its components and speed up routine maintenance. Their goal has been to manufacture high-value equipment, so every component has been designed toward this end.

Conveyor Chains

The chains in our conveyors are one example of this philosophy. SMART Conveyors™ use roller chains to pull material through the system. An advantage to roller chains as opposed to drag chains is that they carry weight on their rollers instead of their sidebars.[1] The rolling force reduces wear inside the conveyor, most significantly in the curves.

We’ve achieved longer chain life further and more significantly by running the chains in dedicated channels outside the material path. Protecting the chain this way is important, as it reduces the corrosive substances to which the pin is exposed, thereby extending its life. And that’s important because the pin, rather than the sidebar (the weakest part of a chain when it’s new), is what breaks during a normal chain lifecycle—the pins weaken over time; the sidebars do not.

Because the pin is such an important aspect of chain life, BE&E’s engineers made sure to designate chains with large pins for the M and T SMART Conveyor™ series: C2160H and T100, respectively. The latter is a custom chain we designed with massive pins to ensure a long life in the harsh conditions they’re expected to perform.

Not only have we made sure the chains last through our general design parameters but by specifying run speeds as slow as possible for each new build. Chain pins primarily wear as they flex around the head and tail sprockets in the conveyor, so slowing down the conveyor reduces the amount of wear the chains incur by reducing the number of cycles the chains undergo. Yet we stress within their tolerances because we’ve seen too many instances where the conveyor manufacturer either overestimated the chain strength or underestimated the load on the chain, which resulted in a system that never worked properly. Understanding the chain and load properties is essential to a long chain life because when engineers get these wrong, they’ll spec the conveyor incorrectly.

In addition to engineering the chains for long life, BE&E has made sure the chain is easy to access and replace, even in the event it breaks. SMART Conveyors™ are assembled with bolts, which makes getting at the chain simple. And if a chain breaks, it only sags in the channels; it won’t drop and collect in the tail, creating a tangled mess that can take hours to unravel.

Conveyor Bottom Panels

Besides the chains, BE&E also ensured the bottom panels would wear slowly. This we achieved by holding the paddles off the conveyor floor—the slight gap between the paddle and floor effectively reduces mechanical wear. The paddle shape also helps in this regard. Our team designed SMART Conveyor™ paddles with “fingers” rather than a solid edge, which prevent material from wedging under the paddle, where it would increase friction and dig into the floor. These design elements have been so effective we virtually never receive orders for replacement panels.

Even when a floor section must be replaced, it’s faster and easier than in most other drag conveyors. SMART Conveyors™ are constructed in five-foot (60″) segments consisting of three 20″ floor panels instead of the solid 10′ (120″) segments standard in most conveyors. The shorter segments make panels much easier to handle. Also, as mentioned, panels are bolted to the frame, not welded, so no hot work is required to replace them.

Conveyor Wear Materials

Wear strips are another component our engineers made sure would last. As a caveat, the amount of care these components require depends on where in the conveyor they’re located, the shape of the conveyor, and the material that runs through the system. For example, wear strips in the straight sections wear very slowly. Thus far, only one customer has needed to replace them, and that after ten years. On the other hand, wear strips in the upper section of a dual-curve conveyor may last only a year if the material contains abrasive particles.

Still, yearly replacements of curve wear components are a rare requirement for our conveyors. As with the straight section wear items, grooves form in the curve wear strips, which allow the chains to roll on the “rail” that forms in the plastic, which minimizes wear. And that’s for S-Series SMART Conveyors™. M- and T-Series conveyors are equipped with AR steel rails in their curves, which virtually eliminate maintenance on these components.

To make replacing the curve wear strips on our S-Series conveyors faster and easier, we designed them so maintenance personnel can access them from outside the conveyor. Technicians must simply remove a protective plate, remove the cartridge with the wear strip, stick in a new strip, and replace the cartridge. The process takes only a few minutes for each cartridge and is completed with the chain unbroken.

General Conveyor Maintenance

The team at BE&E made SMART Conveyors™ so other routine maintenance is easier, as well. Technicians can determine whether our M- and T-Series conveyors are tightened correctly when they can spin the thumb screw in the take-up assembly, for example.

M- and T-Series conveyors are also:

  • Equipped with a split head. In the event a headshaft does need replaced, crews can do so many times faster than with a single-piece head.
  • Available with large access doors, which make it faster and easier to get to internal components.

Conveyor Fail Points

Another way our engineers designed SMART Conveyors™ to decrease maintenance is by incorporating fail points to protect critical components. Above all, we want to keep the headshaft and chains safe because replacing these items is expensive and can take hours. Therefore, we ensured the conveyors would sacrifice less critical components before the chains or shafts break.

The primary fail points in the conveyors are the paddle fingers. If a conveyor encounters a small obstruction or if a particle manages to wedge under an individual finger, the paddle finger will give or break.

The second fail point is the paddle frame. If the load on the paddle becomes too great, it will bend the paddle frame, causing the paddle to curve. After the paddle frame bends, the bolts holding the frame will snap. Only after all these elements have failed is there a risk to the chain and shaft.

A secondary advantage to these fail points is that they cue technicians into issues during inspections. Bent and broken paddle frames, for example, tell a technician that items are getting into the conveyor that shouldn’t be there, and they should screen the material screen before paddles get ripped off their mounts or worse.

Addressing that issue requires time, of course, but it serves to protect the system from future disruption. It’s an example of how SMART Conveyors™ serve to prevent downtime with better design. They require attention, yes, but the attention isn’t usually isn’t unplanned. In the long run, they save companies labor and can help prevent revenue loss from unscheduled downtime. They’re the solution for tomorrow’s problem.

Learn more about SMART Conveyors™.

[1] The roller chains in SMART Conveyors™ run on their sidebars until they form grooves in the machine’s wear materials. The grooves create a center “rail” over which the rollers then carry the weight. Wear drops significantly when this occurs.


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