Purchasing a conveyor system is a major capital expense for most bakers and snack producers, so they want to be sure they choose one that meets their current and future production needs. They want durability and equipment that’s easy to maintain and clean. They also want a system they can retrofit to accommodate new product lines and future technologies. Recent equipment introductions by leading conveyor manufacturers meet all of these requirements and more.

Undoubtedly, sanitation is one of the most important considerations for today’s bakers and snack producers. Unsanitary food-processing conditions can lead to a host of problems for food processors, including product recalls, fines and a loss of consumer confidence.

“More and more people are paying attention to the whole idea of food safety,” says Don Osborne, team leader at Intralox L.L.C. U.S.A. in Harahan, La., which offers a variety of conveyor belts. “Bakers didn’t use to worry much about it because they have these big ovens that literally kill anything that’s on a product. Now, they’re becoming more aware of the issue.”

Intralox recently introduced several products designed for hygienic food-processing applications, including bakery. Its new ThermoDrive belts are made from homogeneous thermoplastic, with a flexible, 100%-closed surface, and are positively driven using sprockets, so they don’t creep or stretch. These tight-transfer belts also allow for smaller radii at the end of conveyors, making it easy for food processors to efficiently transfer small products, such as cupcakes or cookies.
Intralox’s modular plastic belting, meanwhile, consists of modules designed to interlock into a brick-like pattern, with full-length hinge rods. The plastic material is easy to clean and helps prevent bacterial growth.

“The hygienic design of a conveyor belt is a paramount concern among [food] processors,” says Jamie Card, marketing specialist at Wire Belt Co. of America. The Londonderry, N.H., company offers stainless-steel belts (Flat-Flex, C-CureEdge, TC-327, EYE-Flex, EZSplice and speciality) and CarrySmart conveyors, a made-to-order line of sanitary conveyors (Flex-Turn, Flat-Flex Straight and Flat-Flex Shuttle and Spreader/Converger specialty conveyors). All of the company’s Flat-Flex belting products are accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Sanitation Foundation/ANSI/3-A hygiene standards.

So is Wire Belt’s new Compact Grid conveyor belt. Intended for smaller, more delicate products, such as those in the baking and snack industry, the stainless-steel belt has a 70%-open surface area that makes it easy to clean and keep clean, and it has no concealed spaces in which pathogens and allergens can hide.
Compact Grid is suitable for processes in which product coatings, drainage and liquids or air circulation are factors, says Card. The belt’s 10-mm.-sq. openings also provide enough support for doughy products, such as warm cookies, so they don’t deform into the belt during transfer.

Wire Belt says all its products are designed for clean-in-place (CIP) applications, and can be cleaned with a food processor’s existing equipment, saving time, money and energy.

Dallas-based Triple/S Dynamics Inc., is enhancing its line of all stainless-steel, sanitary slat conveyors to incorporate such features as CIP belt washing and drying systems and continuously welded lifting flights for elevating applications.

The conveyors use a proprietary, overlapping stainless-steel conveyor slat with continuously welded traveling side guides to eliminate crevices in the food stream. The slats are attached to stainless-steel chains that ride on ultra-high-molecular-weight (UHMW) guiderails. The conveyors’ formed stainless-steel frames have openings that provide access between the belts for cleaning.

According to Blake Svejkovsky, manager of product handling systems at Heat and Control Inc., Hayward, Calif., the company’s FastBack horizontal motion conveyors reduce product breakage by up to 60%, compared with vibratory conveyors, and prevent the loss of product coatings, eliminating unplanned downtime required to clean coatings from the conveyor pan.

In addition, Heat and Control’s Revolution distribution conveyors feature rotary gates that eliminate pinch points and product breakage while providing proportional product distribution without the risk of cross contamination and allergen migration.

Beyond Sanitation
While cleanability and sanitation are top of mind for bakers and snack producers when purchasing a conveyor system, conveyor manufacturers know that factors such as reconfigurability, improved production throughput and product handling also influence buying decisions. That’s why they also incorporate these capabilities into their product designs.

“Our DynaClean system is unique,” says Jill Batka, president of Dynamic Conveyor Corp., Muskegon, Mich. “Most of the [conveyor] options out there for snack and bakery are stainless-steel. Our conveyor is plastic-sided with stainless-steel components. In using plastic sidewalls instead of stainless-steel versions, we’re able to give customers the option to reconfigure or repurpose their conveyors when their needs change. It’s very economical to reconfigure a conveyor they already own.”

The custom-designed conveyor is built to meet National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA standards, and is quick and easy to clean and sanitize without using tools.

“It’s also blue, which is a favorite color in food processing because most foods are not blue,” says Batka. “From a safety and a cleanliness standpoint, it’s easy to see food product or areas that need to be cleaned.”

Batka adds that Dynamic Conveyor has partnered with Intralox for many years, and plans to add Intralox’s ThermoDrive belt to its belt options.

Although Wire Belt is very focused on cleanability, Card says the company also is focused on key processing elements like product orientation, product placement and improved production throughput. “The conveyors we design now are more focused on adding value to a product as it flows through a process, rather than just moving a product from point A to point B,” she says. “While that trend is becoming more prevalent in the food-processing business today, Wire Belt has been focused on the value proposition for decades.”

Intralox’s Activated Roller Belt (ARB) technology, which was recently introduced to the baking industry, also offers bakers and snack producers increased throughput, as well as greater product handling flexibility. ARB-equipped conveyors transport products via free-spinning angled rollers that extend above and below the belt surface. Because conveyed products can be moved selectively, ARB conveyors can change the direction, alignment, location and speed of an item independently, without using rails or mechanical controls.

Heat and Control says its FastBack product-blending system, meanwhile, lets food processors accurately mix multiple snack, cereal and other ingredients and maintains the blend all the way to packaging. According to Svejkovsky, the horizontal motion conveyor’s gentle slow-forward, fast-back motion reduces product damage, coating loss and unscheduled cleaning.

ClimbBack, a new version of the FastBack horizontal motion conveyor, has a unique pan design capable of conveying product uphill as much as 8%, operates more cleanly than belt conveyors and reduces equipment stack-up problems.

Purchasing Considerations
While experienced food processors know what they need and want in a conveyor system for their operation, industry newcomers often only have a general understanding of such things as sanitation, production throughput and configuration flexibility. Conveyor manufacturers can provide useful information about these issues and others that can help bakers and snack producers in their purchasing decision.

For instance, a conveyor system that’s easy to clean and inspect is a must for a food-processing company. Knowing how a conveyor must be cleaned (with caustic cleaners, for instance) may dictate the material from which the unit must be constructed (stainless steel rather than plastic or a 316 stainless-steel instead of 304 stainless-steel) and where it can be cleaned. Also, the cleaning process for conveyors having parts that must be soaked in clean-out-of-place (COP) tanks may be costlier, longer and less ecofriendly.

Knowing very specifically how a conveyor will be used and the type and size of the product it will transfer is essential to choosing a unit for maximum production efficiency.

Reliability and sustainability also are important purchasing considerations, say the suppliers. Conveyors and belts made by established manufacturers and from durable, high-quality components and materials typically last longer than their less costly counterparts. In addition to being built to last, well-made conveyors are typically designed so that they can be retrofitted to meet a manufacturer’s changing product needs, a less costly and more eco-friendly option.

Bakers and snack producers planning to buy a new conveyor system or retrofitting an existing system will find plenty of options for their specific needs, thanks to conveyor manufacturers dedicated to helping their customers move in the right direction.