Enclosed Track Conveyor Systems

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Overhead chain conveyors have developed a reputation as the workhorses of the conveyor industry. Low maintenance and operating cost is their trademark. Simplicity of design is key.

Some basic application rules apply and when followed, these systems will normally outlast several generations of the products they are used to carry. It is not unusual for an overhead conveyor to last eight to ten years or even longer, with only minimal maintenance performed on it throughout its life. Maintain them, and these machines will last a lot longer than that.

The primary applications of the overhead chain conveyor are paint lines and the transferring and buffering of manufactured parts. Both applications are most commonly seen in the automotive manufacturing sector. Walk through any plant in this industry and you would be hard pressed not to bump into one in your travels.

This sector and in particular, the paint line application, is probably the most severe environment to which you could subject a piece of equipment. Some paint lines incorporate spray washers with detergents to descale or degrease parts prior to painting. Not only do you get overspray and mist, add a dose of a corrosive substance to boot. Next, you take those parts through a dry-off oven where you increase the temperature to help evaporate the water and detergent, creating a nice steam-bath environment. Of course, your chain and track have now lost their lubrication through the process. Conveyor chain is subjected to this abuse once per cycle of the conveyor.

Now you’re set to thoroughly abuse your conveyor. Why not cake it with paint or primer and bake it at 450 degrees or so? It seems like a fitting conclusion to a cycle of machine abuse.

If you are going to submit your conveyor to this kind of abuse, you had better take some time to consider the overhead conveyor styles made today. It could save you money in the long run, while reducing your day-to-day maintenance costs. Your choice may even improve the quality of your product.

There are two styles of conveyor on the market today. The I-beam system has been around for almost 100 years and has been applied to almost every task known to the manufacturing world – from carrying plastic parts to entire automobiles. It has a wide capacity range. It is bulky and ugly. But it gets the job done through brute force.

The disadvantages of the I-beam are numerous. It has a tall cross-section. It has many components that are exposed to the elements. Dirt, paint, water and other contaminants can adhere to these exposed components and fall off at the most inopportune moments, and as Murphy’s Law would have it, just after fresh paint has been applied to the parts hanging below. You’ll have to protect the chain from the elements or clean it regularly. The tall cross-section means you’ll need a taller paint booth, washer and oven.

These factors were probably the impetus for creating a new conveyor design.

Enter the enclosed track conveyor. The basic premise is to run a conveyor chain inside a round or square shaped track, thus eliminating most of the possibility for contamination from the elements. In designing the conveyor this way, additional benefits were to be had. Benefits like low cross-section height can mean lower costs for ovens, washer and spray booths.

The enclosed design is inherently safer due to the reduced number of components that are directly exposed to the workers. The enclosed track conveyor even has additional flexibility not possible with an I-beam monorail conveyor. You can invert it or create over / under units (vertical loops). Certain manufacturers have conveyor designs that can actually be used in any configuration – slot down, slot sideways or slot inverted (up) – to give you the best solution for your application. And last but not least, the enclosed track conveyor is lighter and less bulky than its I-beam ancestor. Subsequently, the enclosed track conveyor has a bolt-together design with no welding required for easy on-site assembly. This will save a bundle on installation and allow you to make changes without hacking your conveyor apart each time. Worn track components can be replaced a lot quicker if necessary, too. Not a bad list of advantages to consider next time you are in the market for an overhead chain conveyor system.

By Karl Scholz GM, PACLINE OVERHEAD CONVEYORS

Published in Ontario Industrial Magazine, March 2000

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