Fascinating facts: The Progress of the Conveyor Belt

Just over a century ago, in 1913, car maker Henry Ford brought in the machine that would revolutionise mass-production – the conveyor belt. Thanks to the use of generators and air cannon equipment, it’s become one of the cornerstones of our industrial life and the conveyor belt is used in many more applications than Ford ever dreamed about!

Ford wasn’t the first, though

Although we often look to Ford when we think of mass-production and belts, he wasn’t the first to introduce this piece of equipment. The late 18th century saw rail yards and mines using somewhat primitive – but more efficient than people – conveyors made from leather or sturdy canvas. Ford brought the belt (and the car) to the masses, however, and it was his innovation that made it such an important part of today’s factories.

Assembly lines today

Just as in Ford’s day, the assembly line features a moving conveyor belt and pre-set work stations where employees perform their specific tasks. The difference is that there’s more demand for ever more complicated goods and consumers want them yesterday so workers have to be pretty nifty!

Sometimes humans have been replaced by machines and robots, as these gadgets don’t tire and use computers and lasers to ensure precision. Robots can’t do everything, though – humans are still needed to oversee the production line to make sure everything’s of uniform quality.

Although a conveyor belt is a simple device, the logistics of the average manufacturing process are very complicated. Components and raw materials may be brought in from all over the world and many factories have to re-tool their production machines and methods with every new contract. Conveyor belts, however, stay the same. They’ve improved in quality and safety, though, as a look at the chain sprockets from Renold.com will demonstrate.

Ever versatile

Yes, the conveyor belt is simple, but it’s this blank-canvas sort of simplicity that makes it so versatile and ubiquitous. The conveyor has permeated into pretty much every industry, from farming, to mining, food manufacturing and recycling.

The conveyor belt has been with us for more than 200 years now, and it’s gone from strength to strength. The canvas belts have been replaced by tough, weather, and chemical-resistant Industrial rubber products from a custom rubber parts manufacturing company that have five times the longevity of older types. There’s also metal belts that are flame-resistant, heat-resistant, magnetic or conductive to adapt to a multitude of manufacturing processes. Some belts have flexible walls, or clever cleated designs that can carry goods up steep slopes.

Even better is the fact that modern belts can sort out packages by sensing their positions and weights and rotating or otherwise aligning them so they can be processed more efficiently. There are also belts whose sensors can identify and sort different types of object or package so they can be sent off in different directions as needed.

The future

The evolution of the conveyor belt isn’t over yet, as new rubber compounds are formulated, or new sensors developed. We will certainly be using conveyors for a long time yet as there’s no better alternative to this efficient and safe method of moving goods and materials about our factories and trade routes.

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