Conveyors are being developed with advanced technology that addresses bakers’ specific needs. Bakers are interested in conveyor sanitation amidst food safety concerns, as well as increased flexibility, speed and automation. Belting options are increasing, and bakers are looking to conveyor suppliers to help them choose the best option for their system.
Bakers are requesting more sanitary belts as food safety continues to cause concern.
“We’re hearing a lot about food safety and food security,” says Rick Spiak, vice president of sales and marketing, Wire Belt, Londonderry, N.H. “Allergens are becoming a huge issue in the industry. From a conveying standpoint, one of the biggest changes you’ll see is a focus on sanitary design for ease of cleaning to eliminate pathogens and allergens.”
As a result, proper cleaning and sanitation of conveying equipment is becoming more of a concern in the industry.
“The main thing is getting everything sanitized,” says Scott Hanson, consumer development manager, Cambridge Industries Inc., Cambridge, Md. “Most conveyor manufacturers and sanitation crews take the belt off to clean the conveyor, which is the right thing to do but not always possible. Some companies take off metal belts and soak and pressure wash them.” In addition, most conveyors today are built with fewer components and are designed to allow operators to clean the whole conveyor itself, explains Hanson.
This increased trend toward food safety has changed the way bakers view the conveying industry.
“The conveyor industry has always been looked upon as an ‘anybody can do it’ type of industry. That’s not the case in today’s world,” says Terry Benda, president, Benda Manufacturing Inc., Tinley Park, Ill. “The trend toward food safety has changed that thought pattern forever. We’re constantly thinking of the safety of our customers and the consumer,” he adds.
In addition to food safety, environmental concerns are affecting manufacturers. Green Belting Industries, manufacturer of PTFE coated fiberglass conveyor belts for the tortilla industry, recently changed its resins to fit new environmental requirements. “Our customers report the new PTFE resins introduced this year are working better and lasting longer with the added benefit of ‘being green,’” says Joe Smith, international sales manager, Green Belting Industries, Ontario, Canada.
Bakers also are looking for conveyors that offer the flexibility to cater to a large number of applications, eliminating the need for several pieces of equipment. “A conveyor could be used in coating operations and then for moving products from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ in another application,” Spiak notes.
Increased automation also is effecting how conveyor systems run. Bakers want conveyors to perform with uninterrupted product flow, handle products gently and minimize the amount of labor needed; a task, Benda says, that can only be accomplished by adding intelligence to conveyors through automation.
“There’s a lot of robotics, electronics and more specialized conveyors now than there were five or 10 years ago, which leads to less labor force in the plant,” agrees Bart Shellabarger, director of market and business development, Cambridge Industries Inc. More gadgets and sensors on the conveyors now help move the product up and down or redirect it. In addition, gadgets on conveyors now are appearing upstream in the processing section of the conveying line, rather than just in the packaging area, he adds.
With so many new design options to choose from, bakers are growing more interested in customized conveying options. WireBelt does some level of customization on standard conveyors 92 percent to 95 percent of the time, notes Spiak. In addition to asking for increased customization, bakers are looking for conveyors that will give them increased automation, the most throughput and less downtime.
“One thing I see most prevalent in the tortilla industry is conveyors are going faster and faster. Equipment is going high speed,” notes Pete Moore, inside sales manager, Lumsden Corp., Lancaster, Pa.
The jury remains out on the best type of belting for a given conveyor. The industry now offers a variety of belts to choose from, and consumers are relying more heavily on their conveying manufacturers to assist them in choosing the best belting product for their application.
“One innovation in baking is the positively driven belt, which reduces the chance of slippage, especially when there is a product that may be wet or [coated in] icing,” says Glenn Farrell, chairman and C.E.O., Lumsden Corp. Positively driven belts are sprocket driven, and allow for better tracking and a non-slip drive system. The other option is friction driven belts, which often run on a magnetic-drive roll. While stainless steel is non-magnetic, many stainless-steel belts on the market are designed to work on a magnetic-drive roll, Moore adds.
Several years ago, the industry pushed to move from metal belts to plastic belts because they were thought to be easier to clean, Shellabarger says. Plastic belting also is lighter and offers less wear and tear on the drive system. “In the last year or two, we’ve been switching out a lot of plastic belts to metal, and the main reason is cleanability. With plastic belts, depending on what type of belt you get, there are a lot of crevices and areas in that belt where unless you soak the entire belt, it’s hard to get clean,” he adds.
“With rising stainless steel prices, manufacturers need to look at new materials,” says Jonathan Lasecki, chief engineer, Ashworth Bros., Winchester, Va. “Plastic has been a front runner, and it has lots of advantages.” For example, plastic belting can be moulded ahead of time, allowing for quicker delivery, and features, such as land dividers and open areas, can be moulded into plastic belts. “A large open area with moulded-in features facilitates thorough cleaning,” Lasecki adds.
Hybrid plastic belts, made with plastic and metal, are another option, which can be made to be very open with exposed rods for increased sanitation. “A lot of the plastic belts in the past have been manufactured with plastic rods. When you put a plastic rod into a plastic belt you have a beam strength issue. The plastic rod is not as stiff as stainless, and deflection across the width of the belt is possible,” says Lasecki. By using metal rods in plastic belting, manufacturers can keep the modules light and open. The bottom line is that all belts hold advantages, and bakers need to find a belt that works with their particular system and product line.
“Knowing and understanding the limitation of all belt types, whether it be plastic, steel or fabric is the most important knowledge we can offer our customers,” Benda says. Understanding the baker’s requirements and matching the correct belt with the correct conveyor design is what sets conveyor manufacturers apart, he adds. “Our customers rely deeply on our knowledge and expect us to understand exactly what their needs are. We must make the correct choices for them, and that choice must be correct the first time,” he adds.
As conveying technology evolves, Spiak predicts sanitation rules will grow stricter and bakers will continue to demand conveyors that come apart more easily for cleaning. Conveyors with modular construction already allow processors to pull the machinery apart and put it back together easily, as well as clean it without adding a lot of extra cleaning equipment or special procedures. “I think you are going to see more modular construction for ease of cleaning more than anything else,” Spiak says. “Every bakery we talk to [says] allergens are on its list of high priorities, so I think cleanliness, ease of cleaning, modular construction and further customization [will continue as future trends].”