In the past, the conveyor belt was the centrepiece of food factory automation, served by workers carrying out manual functions on the foodstuffs as they passed before them. Now the conveyor is an integral part of a complex automation system in a typical food processing facility.
Network of processing routes
The network of conveyors and processing points has been compared to a roadmap of a city’s streets, with the product moving on a journey through the network. A product can take different routes to its destination, depending on what type of processing it needs on its way to final packaging. The processing routes must obviously be designed from the beginning to be as efficient and error-free as possible.
Where products not only have to be moved through the factory but also need to be sorted, a vibrating conveying system is often used. This is usually trough-shaped rather than flat, with the vibration making a bulk raw material spread out so that it can be sorted, picked, washed or inspected for quality standards. For the sides of the trough, a slope of just five degrees is needed. Tough and robust, these belts can withstand challenging environments.
Vacuum conveyors increasingly used
Food production facilities increasingly use pneumatic or vacuum conveyor technology. This has great advantages in food processing; for example, as the foodstuff is enclosed within the conveyor, it is protected from contamination. Dairy Foods magazine notes that powders, beans, granules and other foodstuffs are particularly suitable for transporting via a vacuum conveyor.
In addition to the hygiene benefit, foods that are affected by humidity can be safely sent around the facility in a vacuum. The conveyor can also be used to mix or blend food ingredients together or to send large amounts of fresh ingredients to the packaging area while keeping them in peak condition.
With all these advantages, many food manufacturers and processors see vacuum or pneumatic conveyors as the next logical investment for their facility; however, deciding what kind you need and how it would operate in a specific plant requires careful thought and expert advice from a supplier with wide experience in this area, such as http://www.aptech.uk.com/pneumatic-conveying/vacuum-conveying/.
The best approach is to draw up an outline design and invite an experienced supplier to talk it over with you.