3 ways to reduce conveyor downtime

Features - Material Handling

Common causes of downtime include carryover, inability to convey a specific composition of material and preventive maintenance issues.

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Increasing conveyor utilization is a key to keeping metalworking processes moving.
Images courtesy of Prab Inc.

When it comes to conveying recyclable metals, several universal—yet crucial—considerations must be made to ensure the conveyor will perform efficiently and reliably:

  • How heavy will the load be?
  • What volume of material will need to be conveyed?
  • How far will material have to travel?
  • What will the composition of the material be?
  • Is the material wet or dry?
  • Is the material flowable?

Conveyors that move metal scrap are workhorses. But metal scrap conveyors are not one size fits all. Metal scrap, which can be dry or coated in cutting fluid, comes in many types and forms: flowable chips, bushy bundles of turnings, stampings and other large pieces of metal. This creates a dynamic set of application criteria that the conveyor must be engineered to handle.

When metal scrap reaches the end of a magnetic conveyor, it is cleanly discharged without carryover.
Images courtesy of Prab Inc.

While selecting a conveyor that will accommodate the unique properties of scrap metal is a solid first step to getting the most service life out of a conveyor, additional factors should be considered for reducing downtime. Common causes of downtime associated with conveyors include carryover, inability to convey a specific composition of material or payload and preventive maintenance issues.

Conveyor manufacturers are engineering a variety of equipment solutions with the intention of helping scrap recycling operations reduce downtime.

Preventing carryover

As conveyor problems go, carryover (or carryback) is a chronic nuisance and a leading cause of unscheduled downtime. When material fails to discharge at the end of the conveyor and is pulled back into the backside of the unit, it results in unplanned maintenance. Carryover will sometimes even damage the equipment.

Some conveyor belt types used for transporting scrap metal are more predisposed to carryover than others. For instance, steel belt conveyors, which are widely considered a versatile choice for scrap metal conveyance, are more prone to carryover because of how the belt is constructed. Made up of a series of pans that have gaps between them, material sometimes becomes lodged between the pans.

A couple of conveyor belt designs are engineered specifically to eliminate carryover of metal scrap. The first is a magnetic conveyor that, as the name implies, uses magnets to make ferrous metal scrap stick to the conveyor.

As the material reaches the end of the conveyor and the magnets cycle back into the unit, the metal scrap loses contact with the magnets and cleanly discharges from the conveyor. The obvious drawback is that a magnetic conveyor will not move nonmagnetic metals, such as aluminum and copper.

Oscillating scrap conveyors specialize in moving hot, dry or wet abrasive metal scrap, as well as finished parts, across horizontal distances.
Images courtesy of Prab Inc.

Another type of conveyor that is engineered to eliminate carryover is a pivot belt conveyor. Each individual pan on a pivot belt conveyor is hinged on one side. As the pans move from the feed area toward the discharge chute, the surface of the pan containing the scrap faces up. When the pan reaches the discharge chute and begins to cycle back into the unit, gravity forces the pan to rotate on the hinge, which flips the pan over. This motion causes the pan to flap and flings the scrap off the pan, which prevents the scrap from sticking to the belt. This type of conveyor is ideal for thin, flat and oily stamping scrap.

Avoiding bundles of trouble

Inability to convey a specific payload or composition of scrap material is another common cause of conveyor-related lag or downtime. Bushy bundles of stringy metal scrap are notorious for causing delays, especially when loading onto screw/auger conveyors. Rather than following the feed of the auger, the bundles roll around in the in-feed hopper—usually until an operator manually breaks them apart and forces them along the conveyor. This process is not only slow and a waste of resources, but it also is unsafe.

Hinged pans on a pivot belt conveyor fling metal scrap into a discharge bin when the pan rotates on its hinge at the end of the conveyor.
Images courtesy of Prab Inc.

Adding a step to automatically precondition the bundles for conveyance will result in more efficient operation. Auxiliary systems can be installed that will tear bundles into smaller pieces before the scrap metal being fed to the auger. This enables the system to consistently move scrap metal without operator intervention.

Heavy loads are another problem. Occasionally, loads will be heavier than what the conveyor is designed to move, which can overload motors and damage the scrap-handling equipment. Some conveyor systems include safeguards, such as torque-limiting protection, that automatically shut the conveyor down when a load becomes too heavy.

Improving build quality

The build quality of any equipment significantly factors into the amount of maintenance it will require. But with conveyors, certain engineering features help eliminate structural weaknesses, increase the service life of the equipment and decrease common maintenance issues. Many features can be engineered into conveyors to reduce maintenance:

Conveyors constructed of heavy-gauge materials help prevent structural deficiencies that contribute to increased maintenance.
  • large rollers to cut down on friction and reduce belt pull;
  • flanged rollers to help keep the belt tracking straight, which reduces frame wear;
  • belt reinforcing impact plates to help protect the belt;
  • heavy-gauge side frames;
  • track and wear bars for precise belt tracking and longer life;
  • integrally die-forming side-wings and flights; and
  • welded seams rather than bolt-together construction to keep the unit straight and strong.

Conveyor operators must perform routine preventive maintenance, including lubricating bearing and rollers and checking belts for wear and slack (the frequency of maintenance and inspections depends on run time). Design features or system options can help decrease routine maintenance, such as self-cleaning systems, lube systems that automatically grease bearings, controls that provide maintenance-schedule alerts and remote monitoring systems that warn maintenance staff of potential issues.

A conveyor that is not providing optimum performance can be a significant drain to scrap metal recycling operations. By minimizing—or even eliminating—carryover, effectively handling difficult material compositions and reducing routine maintenance requirements, manufacturers will position their facilities for consistently efficient processing.

Mike Hook is the sales and marketing director for Prab Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has more than 15 years of mechanical design and application experience. More information on Prab is available at www.prab.com.