In a search for an alternative to metal when it comes to spiral belting, bakers may have found an answer in plastic. Metal belts require some kind of lubrication and could cause contamination to the products said Frank Achterberg, president, Capway Systems USA, York, PA, which started offering all plastic belting about 10 years ago.

According to Scott McCally, mechanical engineer, Stewart Systems, Inc., Plano, TX, plastic belts require significantly less lubrication than metal belting, which greatly reduces messy debris buildup from grease.

Spiralox modular plastic belts from Intralox, Harahan, LA, are easier to clean than metal and other plastic spiral belts. The modular design of Spiralox belts makes repairs and changeovers simple and quick by allowing operators to replace damaged pieces without removing the entire belt, maximizing production time and minimizing costs. This ease of maintenance can lead to up to 90% less unscheduled downtime than other belt technologies, according to Rod Markovits, global spiral manager for Intralox.

However, plastic isn’t for everyone. Although Stewart Systems adapted its Helimatic cooler to use Intralox plastic belts, Mr. McCally said many bakeries still choose metal belts because of the cost. Plastic also doesn’t work in every application.

In situations where products are exiting an oven onto a plastic belt, bakers fear that flaming product could ignite a hazardous fire. In these applications, management often opts for stainless steel, according to Ashworth Bros., Winchester, VA. A completely plastic belt also presents some concerns because it requires more material to match the strength of stainless steel belts, according to Marty Tabaka, Ashworth’s sales director for the Americas. This extra material makes the belts more dense and difficult to clean.

To address these concerns and still offer a plastic belting option, Ashworth Bros. developed the Advantage modular plastic hybrid belt. Stainless steel rods add support and strength to the plastic modules. “It is just as easy to clean as a metal belt, and you don’t have the additional cost of installing extra supports,” Mr. Tabaka said. With a fully plastic belt, extra beam supports typically must be added to prevent the belt from sagging between supports. Ashworth’s hybrid belt eliminates that need by incorporating stainless steel with plastic modules, so the belt can support itself as a fully metal belt does.

Tecnopool, based in San Giorgio in Bosco, Italy, whose equipment is distributed by ABI Ltd., Concord, ON, manufactures its own belts for its spiral conveyors, all of which start as a stainless steel belt, but customers can choose between stainless steel or plastic mesh overlays. Choosing the right belting material often comes down to product and plant environment.