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The Evolution of Conveyor Components

By Tom Johnson - Marketing Manager,
Pobco, Inc.

Conveyor ComponentsConveyance of products and the manufacturing equipment used to make products has changed dramatically since the evolution of Plastic Conveyor components. Today there are thousands of standard parts that Conveyor, Packaging, and Food Processing manufacturers use to build their equipment. These products include: Chain Guides, Guide Rails, Bearings, Rollers, Pulleys, Sprockets and Chain/Belt Tensioning Devices. Equipment today needs to stand up to increased speeds and capacities with a focus on precision, safety and extended equipment life. During the years of transition plastic materials have been called upon to perform a multiple number of tasks. OSHA regulations regarding safety and noise has played a part. The primary role of plastics is to reduce friction and wear between moving machinery parts and to prevent metal to metal contact-there by extending equipment life. Other advantages include Self-Lubrication, Wear Reduction, Noise Reduction, Ease of Installation, Compliance with USDA Food Regulations, Cost Reduction and ultimate Customer Satisfaction. Most recently there has been added emphasis on `Sanitary Components' particularly for Pharmaceutical Equipment & Conveyors. Products being specified include POBCO's Patented Guide Rails and Stainless Steel attachments. The emphasis is to produce components that are less likely to harbor bacteria and which can be cleaned easily to reduce bacteria buildup.

Historically Plastics had their birth in 1909 when Leo Hendrick Baekeland of Germany formulated Bakelite Phenolic Resin. In 1901 the Viscoloid Co. of Leominster, Ma. developed Viscoloid sheet. The first true bearing-grade material Nylon was developed by Dupont in 1938. Dupont went on to develop Teflon in 1943. Hercules Co. begins to produce UltraHigh Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) in 1957. Since natural UHMWPE is strong, durable, extrudable and is food compliant at relatively low cost it is the number one material used on conveying equipment today. Leominster, Ma. remains today a hot bed of Plastic manufacturers.

The earliest Bearing material Wood and has been used consistently in many applications since the invention of the wheel. Roman Gladiators drove chariots with wood bearings. The huge stones that made the prehistoric stone circle called Stonehedge in England were brought over land using wooden slides and rollers. The same is true with the stones that were put in place to build the majestic Pyramids of Egypt. Today at POBCO PLASTICS we call our Lube-Filled Wood `Nature's Plastic' since the hardwood comes from the forests and the lubricants from prehistoric animal remains (Petroleum). It all began at POBCO in 1929. America's Industrial Revolution had its birth in Worcester County and the Blackstone Valley between Worcester, Ma. and Providence, R.I. The Blackstone River provided the necessary power to run the many mills that included the evolving Textile industry. In 1793 Samuel Slater at his Slater Mill operated the first Cotton Mill in the United States to use mechanical spinning machines. During the 1900's the Blackstone Valley textile industry began to get smaller as the Southern United States mills became more competitive. Between 1930 and 1980 most of the valleys cotton mills had closed and 90 percent of the woolen and worsted mills were shut down.

For many years POBCO made Wood, Sleeve Bearings and various components used on the Textile equipment including the Looms and Shuttles, which produced the cloth. Here for the first time was a bearing material that was truly self-lubricating and required no maintenance. Here was a product that did not spill it's lubricant on the valuable cloth. Here was a Bearing that eliminated much of the noise of the shuttles and looms. With the death of the Textile industry Wood Bearings needed to find other markets. Today POBCO Wood Bearings and Wear Strips are used most commonly on Auger & Roller Conveyors, Agricultural Implements, Amusement Park Equipment, Glass Making Equipment and Bottling Conveyors. With hundreds of different Plastic Polymers available today via the molded, extruded or machined processes engineers are less likely to specify Wood for their equipment. But, lube-filled wood will often perform better than plastics. All bearing materials have their application. POBCO PLASTICS manufactures products using more than 20 bearing-grade and food-grade plastics but, recommends wood for many tough applications. The properly made wood bearing/wear product can often handle greater loads at reduced friction levels. Quality wood bearings, wear strips and related components contain 40% lubricant by weight. This is more than double the lubricant content of other materials including lube-filled metals and plastics. Wood products also have no static-electric charge and work well in dirty, abrasive environments.

The choice of bearing materials hinges on factors such as speed, load, temperature, cost and chemical or food contact. Eliminating `downtime' is one of the primary goals of maintenance and engineering departments. It is important that we operate with an eye to solving mechanical problems and have insight as to what components and materials will work well in any given application.