ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Transferring products from one conveyor to another requires more than minding the gap.
“Transfer points between belts of all styles are always problematic,” said Peter White, president, IJ White Systems. “As products are conveyed from one belt to another down the line, they can become misaligned. In addition, transfers due to the speed differential tend to cause crumbing, heel sanding and cripples that contribute significantly to sanitation issues.”
Mr. White added that tight-turn conveyors might damage products due to belt collapsing on the inside edge.
Ensuring everything remains in sync without losing orientation requires a close examination of every component of a conveyor system, according to Bobby Martin, executive product manager, AMF Bakery Systems. Don’t see it as just one long operation.
“They should look at the conveying system one item at a time and challenge the quantity of transfers in the solution offered,” Mr. Martin said. “The competition among equipment suppliers brings a wide range of solutions and prices, so the choice of the equipment supplier should stand on the best balance between design and price.”
Snacks such as soft cake donuts provide additional transfer issues because of their size, shape and texture.
“Donut holes are the biggest challenge when it comes to transfer points,” Damian Morabito, president, Topos Mondial, explained. “It’s like conveying little delicate ping pong balls from point A to point B. It becomes a challenge because donut holes and minis want to sit on transfer points like a hot dog on a roller, and that chews them up.”
Mr. Martin suggested it’s no big, hidden secret how to convey small baked goods. Just well-thought-out design tailored to a production line’s output. For cooling applications, AMF offers a horizontal diverting system in combination with a spiral conveyor to slow product movement after baked goods slide out of the oven. Faster is not necessarily better when it comes to minimizing waste and enhancing yield.
“Reducing speed means reducing vibration at transfer points,” he pointed out.
Additionally, Mr. Martin noted AMF designs its A-Series and S-Series conveyors with a robust frame structure to provide stability to the belts.
“At the transfer points, our engineers have developed an expertise for looking at every product transfer and offering specific transfer designs for specific products,” he said.
Bakers have many other options for transporting small items. Steve Collison, senior sales engineer for MK North America’s CleanMove line, suggested using powered, tight-nose transfers placed between conveyors. They can funnel products along different-sized equipment with larger infeeds, discharge sprockets or pullies. Moreover, to maintain alignment, he advised using powered belt turns for radiuses.
“Row aligners can be used if there is enough space between the rows for some products when alignment may become skewed,” he noted.
Ashworth relies on its Cleatrac line to create tight transfers on spiral conveyors, said Bryan Hobbs, director of North American sales. The system consists of a mesh conveyor belt with drive components, sprockets, filler rolls and support bearings. The woven wire belt comes in a variety of materials and mesh configurations to provide proper product support and airflow for a range of baking applications.
Barry Whitman, global sales manager for Precision Food Division, which includes Kofab and Meyer Industries, expects further advances in belting in the near future.
“One thing positive drive belting doesn’t give, yet, is the small diameter tight transfers that we need when conveying a cracker or cookie,” he said. “There are a couple companies working on it. Once they do, that will be a huge advantage to the cookie and cracker conveying industry from the belt point of view.”
Still, a lot of versatility exists today. Wire Belt relies on its Ladder-Flex for spreading, converging and diverging a wide variety of products.
“A lot of times, product lines are initially designed for a single product,” said Rick Spiak, vice-president of sales and marketing, Wire Belt Co. of America. “Then six months down the road, the marketing department manager comes in and says, ‘We need to make this other product now,’ and everything has changed, and the line is not optimized for the new product. You want a support mechanism that’s going to handle the small products as well as larger ones.”
In addition to a product’s dimensions, Mr. Spiak suggested that bakers predetermine line speed, belt width and the weight of products per centimeter or square meter when adding or upgrading a production line.
“Is it a sticky, dry or wet product, or is it chocolate-coated?” he asked. “Are we going to run into cleaning problems? If it’s a small bakery that’s running tons and tons of different crackers and needs flexibility, then its line needs to be designed differently than if it were running a product that is always the same size, shape and exact weight at the same speed.”