Early industrial conveyors, still often found in iron foundries, consist of a succession of rollers that allow products to be easily shunted across the factory floor to a succession of work areas for additional processing to take place.
As factories became busier and bigger, the main problem often became getting the raw materials from canal barges, ships or railways to the points where they were needed. Electrification helped manufacturers link horizontal conveyor runs with bucket lifts, hoppers and other mechanical devices, so that materials could be conveyed almost continuously into the production end of the conveyor.
Today, it is not unusual for raw materials to be delivered at one end of a conveyor and finished goods dispatched from the other. Ford Motor Company claims to have built the first continuous assembly line in 1913. However, there are many problems with these traditional mechanical conveyors.
Problems with mechanical conveying
A mechanical conveyor typically comprises a hodgepodge of different methodologies – one to unload material from the delivery vehicle, one to operate the storage hoppers, another for the straight runs, others to navigate turns or changes in elevation, and so on. Although automation is sometimes possible, it is no simple matter to get each section to behave properly with the others and maintain a compatible delivery rate through each section.
Mechanical conveyors also consist of a huge number of individual components, all of which are subject to heavy wear. Production is halted whether they are stopped for routine maintenance or because they have already broken down. Maintenance costs are high and the number of personnel required to keep them moving is a significant overhead.
Mechanical conveyors are often impossible to move when you need to redesign the site.
The vacuum conveyor
A vacuum conveyor uses air pressure to suck raw materials through a continuous tube, pipe or duct. Similar systems that blow the material through are usually referred to simply as pneumatic, or positive pressure, conveyors. The main difference is that the compressor is located near the delivery end in vacuum-driven conveyors and near the collection point in positive pressure conveyors, (see https://www.aptech.uk.com/pneumatic-conveying-systems/vacuum-conveying/.
Pneumatic pipelines can extend over long distances, navigating bends and changes of elevation, with few additional parts required. They are low maintenance and very easy to fully automate. They reduce downtime, labour requirements and maintenance costs.