Conveyor belts are no longer a medium to just transport product, now they are looked at as part of the total operation of conveyor systems. Sanitation and increased strength have become major factors which define both the conveyor system and belt design. In this exclusive interview with Andreas Hofman, commercial director EMEA at Ashworth Belts B.V., we take a look at several innovative features of state-of-the-art conveyor belts and systems.
By Dan Orehov
What would you say are the most interesting changes to conveyor systems and conveyor belts in the past years?
Our awareness and understanding of food industry sanitation techniques, enables our development engineers at Ashworth to focus on belt designs which are simple and easy to clean. In addition to sanitation, food processors are pushing the envelope on production and constantly trying to get a “little bit more” out of each day’s operation. This requires wider and strong conveyor belts to carry and process increased production requirements. The wide acceptance of new technology, such as our PosiDrive Spiral™ system and our Omni-Grid® 360 Weld belt are two examples where our design focus has addressed sanitation and belt strength.
How does recent innovation in conveyors help frozen food manufacturers/processors?
Increasing belt strength, thus carrying capacity, boosts the limits which the belts can operate to meet the increasing demands of today’s production requirements. Supplying belts like the one used on our PosiDrive Spiral™ system enable food manufacturers to address present capacity requirements when conveying very oily product, heavy product loads, or where product positioning is critical.
What are the main benefits of state-of-the-art conveyor systems for the frozen food industry?
State of the art conveyor belting is designed not only for increased production demands but just as importantly to reduce sanitation and maintenance requirements. Reducing the required time to clean a conveyor belt allows it more time to be in operation adding profits for the processors.
Please provide details about the best-selling conveyor belts and systems in your portfolio.
Sanitation continues to be a major factor when frozen food manufacturers look to select conveyor systems such as spirals. Grid style belts with bridge welds have been used on spirals and other conveying equipment for many years. Bridge welds on Grid style belts create gaps between the connector rod and drive link interface. These gaps make it more difficult to remove product debris from this area of the belt and increase the risk of food contamination. To address this sanitation challenge Ashworth developed the patented zero-tension, 360-degree buttonless weld, a hygienic weld design that is smooth and crevice-free. This makes these belts much easier to clean in freezing, proofing, and cooling spiral applications. Ashworth’s patented zero-tension, 360-degree buttonless weld feature available on our Omni-Pro®, Omni-Grid® 360 Weld and PosiDrive Spiral™ system line of belts helps frozen food manufacturers reduce sanitation “down-time” and minimize food contamination risk. Thus, these belts have become our most requested products.
What are some of the main demands from your clients in frozen food, pertaining to conveyors and systems they purchase?
Increased consumer demand is pushing our customers to find ways to increase production volumes while maintaining consumer product quality expectations. In order to retain brand loyalty, our customers are looking for conveying equipment and belts that offer either new production solutions or the ability to upgrade existing equipment. To meet consumer expectations, our customers are looking to equipment manufacturers such as spiral manufacturers to increase the size of their systems. As a result, spiral system manufacturers are designing their systems to utilize much wider conveyor belts. The increase in belt width to handle increased product loads does pose certain mechanical challenges. Increased product load inherently increases tension on the belt. This increase in tension can, over time, decrease belt life. In applications were a wide belt is required to carry oily products, belt tension can increase when product oils come in contact with the inside drive link on the belt. The oil is transferred to the UHMW vertical cage bars that make-up the construction of the spiral drive drum. This can cause a decrease in drive friction between the inside belt edge and the vertical cage bars on the drive drum. This too can increase belt tension and decrease belt life.
Ashworth’s new patented PosiDrive Spiral™ system is an ideal solution for systems conveying heavy product loads that generate high belt tensions. The unique cage design of the PosiDrive Spiral™ system engages the inside belt edge to drive the belt. This engagement of the inside belt edge does not rely on conventional friction to drive the belt. In spiral applications conveying oily products, the oil poses no adverse impact on belt or system performance making the PosiDrive Spiral™ system an ideal solution for conveying a variety of products.
Where product positioning on the belt is a concern, the PosiDrive Spiral™ system can help to minimize product movement and streamline packaging. The PosiDrive Spiral™ system has also been designed to simplify system operations by incorporating just a single speed control which allows for fine tuning of product dwell time. When product support or product marking is a concern, the PosiDrive Spiral™ system belt is available with a wide range of mesh overlay options.
How can a proficient conveyor system and conveyor belts help frozen food manufacturers obtain the needed ROI in a quicker amount of time?
Frozen food manufacturers look for proficient conveyor systems equipped with belts that can carry heavier loads to increase throughput, while meeting sanitary design criteria to reduce sanitation cost and require less maintenance thus reducing maintenance costs. Ashworth’s application engineers assist frozen food manufacturers by providing customized belting solutions to meet these key requirements in order to achieve a quicker return on investment.
If you compared the U.S. vs. Europe or other parts of the world, does client behavior differ with regards to specifications for your products?
We see no discernable difference in U.S. and European customer behavior regarding specification requirements. system size and throughput requirements vary by producer, yet Ashworth designs and offers only products meeting the highest standards. There are well established equipment sanitation standards worldwide and Ashworth uses the most stringent requirements across all our product designs to ensure that these levels of acceptance are met.
What product categories in frozen food best fit the conveyors in your portfolio and why?
Since Ashworth’s invention of the lotension spiral system in 1967 our belts have been used in cooling, proofing, freezing, and cooking spirals throughout the food industry.
Lastly, please discuss the trend of saving energy and other resources, as well as obtaining a higher throughput and how conveyors can contribute to this.
Increased throughput and energy saving are both parts of every design we offer and very important in the total cost of ownership. A conveyor belt is often the largest single component of a conveyor system. In addition to the cost of the belt we need to be aware of the cost to operate, clean and maintain the equipment; when these aspects are kept in mind during the design phase it contributes to the long-term reduction of these incidental costs. The overall intent being to increase profitability for the processor.