Because belting carries finished goods, it receives the most attention, but bakers need to ensure that the conveyors’ frames and key components are adequately scrubbed. There’s something to be said about having a mean, clean, smooth-running machine.

“Often bakers overlook cleaning the support structure underneath the belt,” said Kenneth King, commercial support manager, Ashworth. “Many bakeries use flour or sugar or glazed icings, and any of those materials that build up on the rails are going to cause dramatic increases in friction that could lead to damaging of the belt as well as the system. The support structure on any conveyor has to be focused on as much as the cleaning of the belt.”

Often the top of the belt and side of the framework receive priority treatment.

“The wear strips, sprockets and inner and lower framework also need to be cleaned to help minimize product buildup,” said Cari Rasmussen, food safety specialist, Commercial Food Sanitation, an Intralox company. “Buildup can lead to operational challenges and quality issues due to mold growth and pest infestation.”

Bobby Martin, executive product manager, conveying systems, AMF Bakery Systems, advised storing a strategic supply of spare parts to swiftly repair the most common breakage.

“Sprockets follow the belts in order of importance to keep in inventory, but most of the time, sprockets are replaced when they get worn out,” he said. “The motors and reducers are to be kept in inventory, but these items can be considered predictable to fail. Some parts of a conveyor, such as wear strips or side guides, don’t last as long and will need to be replaced.”

For predictive maintenance, Mr. King noted that Ashworth’s SmartSpiral spiral monitoring system tracks spiral system performance, allowing bakers to schedule maintenance before parts fail. This system will be featured at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), which runs Sept. 7-11 in Las Vegas.

“You can go from a reactive maintenance approach to a more predictive one where you anticipate what needs to be attended to well ahead of time so that you can schedule downtime to do appropriate maintenance,” he said.

Transitioning to more hygienically designed equipment that’s easier to inspect and maintain could slash sanitation and changeover time. Wire Belt’s products are put through testing to earn acceptance certificates from the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Equipment Design Review Section, which relies on third-party private contractors.

“That certification tells the customer that Wire Belt’s product meets NSF/ANSI/3-A 14159-3-2014 requirements and shows the user that this is a product that is food-safe if properly cleaned and maintained,” said Rick Spiak, vice-president of sales and marketing, Wire Belt Co. 

At IBIE, AMF will be promoting a new rod-less horizontal bread diverter that is enclosed in a loop of S-Series, sanitary-designed conveyors. Additionally, the company will use augmented reality to allow bakers to virtually tour a bun and bread line to explore its conveying systems’ dough, pans, products, baskets and basket stacks.

Steve Collison, senior account manager, MK North America, noted that the type of food and its characteristics — low-moisture, wet, sticky, frozen, hard and soft — ultimately impact conveyor and belt selection.

“Choosing the conveyor and belt is critical to reduce difficulty in cleaning and cross-contamination,” he said.

Scott Swaltek, vice-president of engineering, Capway Automation, pointed out that conveyor and belt design — and their sanitary protocols — vary greatly by their application on the production line.

“Make-up areas that tend to be in a washdown environment require belts that can withstand moisture,” he said. “Plastic modular belting made of nylon or non-coated fabric belts — each of which can absorb moisture — have limited roles in these areas.”

Because of a proofer’s proximity to the makeup area, he added, its belts will have similar requirements while cooling conveyors need proper airflow with a higher open area in the belt construction. Each belting type may need different sanitation procedures.

Establishing proper cleaning protocol and standardized operating procedures for sanitation reduce the chance of nearly undetectable issues from exponentially expanding into a major mess when conveying snacks and baked foods on a high-volume production line.

This article is an excerpt from the July 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on conveyors, click here.