UHMW vs. Steel Conveyor Chain Drag Comparison

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It may seem trivial, but the materials over which your drag conveyors pull their chains make a sizeable difference in efficiency. It takes more energy to drag a chain over steel, for example, than it does over UHMW, so a conveyor that runs steel-on-steel will prove less efficient than one that runs its steel chains over a low-friction, plastic liner like UHMW, as do SMART Conveyors™ from BE&E.

To demonstrate this, we conducted a test. We pulled a 10′ section of tabbed 81X chain over smooth, dry sheets of mild steel UHMW plastic. We tested both sheets under the same environmental conditions, using a luggage scale to measure the pull force required to move the chain. This feat we repeated several times on each sheet before averaging the results.


Materials Tested

UHMW, dry

Mild Steel, dry

Material pulled

Material: 10′ of 81X chain (mild steel) equipped with welded tabs.

Weight: 29 lbs.

Chain length touching base material: 16-¼”

Note: We folded over the chain and secured it with zip ties so the surface area of the chain touching each test material remained consistent.

Measuring Instrument

Baggage weight with 0.1-lb accuracy.

Environmental Conditions



Humidity: 32%

Our tests revealed that it requires more force to pull a chain over steel than UHMW. It took 5.83 lbs. of force to pull the chain over the plastic, whereas it took 8.07 lbs. of force to pull the chain over the steel, a 28 percent difference. These results align with the well-known properties of each material. UHMW’s kinetic coefficient of friction is between 0.09 and 0.20, while the coefficient of mild steel is between 0.5 and 0.8. Considering these coefficients, the difference in force required to move the chain across each surface should fall between 11.25 and 40 percent, which aligns with our test results.

Friction Test Results in Conveyor Chain Pull Test

Why Coefficients Matter in Conveyor Efficiency

Our test results bode well for BE&E’s conveyor design, in which the chains run in UHMW-lined channels. Most drag conveyors don’t do this. Instead, they run their chains over mild steel panels on the underside of the conveyor and AR steel rails while returning to the conveyor tail. The effort most conveyors require to operate is thus higher compared to SMART Conveyors™.

BE&E’s design further increases the conveyor’s efficiency by utilizing the chains’ rollers. Once operational, the chains’ sidebars quickly wear grooves in the UHMW strips, which then act as rails over which the roller chains can actually roll. When they do so, the system must no longer work against a sliding force but a rolling one. The system thus requires less energy to operate.

Differences in the material over which the chains are pulled matter, as they impact the amount of energy conveyors require to run, thereby affecting operational costs. Because SMART Conveyors™ run their chains on UHMW, they are one of, if not the most efficient drag conveyors on the market. If you want to decrease the energy you use, consider SMART Conveyors™ today.


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