Sanitary conveyor systems are a significant investment for most food processors, especially when integrating multiple pieces of OEM equipment into a cohesive line.
Ensuring you invest in the right conveyor system is vital to the future of any processor– because it must meet your needs for construction, design, functionality, maintenance, food safety, quality control, and employee safety.
Why Design Matters
The design of a conveyor system is extremely important to consider before investing in one for your plant.
The right design will help increase food and operator safety while reducing the risk of product contamination that can lead to costly waste or an expensive recall.
Look for conveyor design that prioritizes sanitation and safety — things like fewer harborage points, extensive guarding, and easy-to-clean components.
We’ve broken down the design features you should look for into two categories: Construction & Sanitation and Safety.
Construction & Sanitation Features
When it comes to contamination, prevention is the most important element for your conveyor. Knowing if the conveyor you’re investing in is going to do the best job possible of reducing the risk of contamination is not always easy or straightforward.
Below is our list of the features that make a conveyor safe from the risk of contamination.
Welded vs Bolted Construction
Always invest in a conveyor that is welded together, as opposed to bolted together.
Here’s why: bolted conveyors have an increase in bacteria harborage points. Every bolt location traps bacteria that can make its way back into your product.
Welded conveyors, on the other hand, reduce the number of harborage points.
Just make sure the manufacturer is using the RIGHT welding techniques. Look for:
- TIG welded
- Small welds
- Smooth welds
Those signs indicate a weld that won’t crack or harbor bacteria.
RA factor stands for the roughness average of the stainless steel finish used in the construction of your conveyor. It measures the average distance (or height) of the peaks and valleys from the mean line.
A heavy blast finish will create pores in the stainless steel — pores that trap grease and dirt and bacteria. A swab test on a heavy-blasted finish will typically show higher levels of bacteria.
Make sure the manufacturer uses a smoother finish.
We recommend an RA Factor between 34 and 38 on stainless steel.
Every application is a little different. For quicker-to-clean and fewer harborage points, you will want to select a seamless urethane-style belt. You will especially want this belt for fats and trim. They are easier to clean and scrape.
If a urethane belt is not ideal, you can select an open-hinge seam-free belt. Consult with your OEM about belt styles and materials prior to design. The amount of caustics, temperature, and speed can play a huge role in your belt selection.
With fewer legs attached to your conveyor, cleaning it will be easier.
This is why we also recommend purchasing ergonomic stands that hang off the side of the conveyor. The fewer foot pads on the floor, the easier it is to clean.
Bacteria can easily harbor in the area under the conveyor belt, making it a prime area that needs to be regularly cleaned. But with most conveyors, removal of the belts and addressing sanitation protocol can prove to be a long and difficult process.
Even more, the need for special tools or easily misplaced parts may encourage your cleaning crew to unfortunately forego it altogether. Making sure the conveyor has belt lifters to aid in raising them off of the frame will make the task more efficient.
Having sprockets with an open-architecture design will save time when cleaning. That’s because of the minimal contact surface that exists with the open architecture between the sprocket and shaft.
Hinged or Pivoted Carryways
Belt conveyors have carryways that ensure the belt operates correctly, but when carryways are permanently captured to the frame, they can create pockets of bacterial growth.
Opting for hinged or pivoted carryways allows you to lift the carryways up to clean all four sides, without the risk of misplacing or damaging the carryways.
Return rollers with cleanouts allow the user to spray-clean behind the roller since they float above rather than being fixed to the rollers. Quality control inspection windows allow for QC to open them in a safe manner to view such areas as the sprockets.
Human Safety Considerations
You should also consider operator safety when investing in a conveyor system. Conveyors can be incredibly dangerous, especially when designed or constructed incorrectly. Consider these design features for safety.
Guarding is essential to keeping your operators safe.
There are a number of areas on conveyors that can pinch fingers or other body parts, grab clothing, or even injure appendages. These require proper guarding to keep operators safe while working.
Some areas that require guarding:
- Nose bars
- Retracting areas
- Anything else that has movement
Ensure the conveyors you purchase have extensive guarding around any dangerous points.
Using a Gotcha Stick will help prevent injuries. Also known as a “Guard Opening Scale,” a Gotcha Stick is instrumental in ensuring that the conveyor safeguarding is within proper compliance. So long as the tip of the Gotcha Stick doesn’t reach the point of hazard, the safeguarding is compliant.
Making sure the conveyor’s design is OSHA compliant will help ensure the safety of your employees. The manufacturer should always make sure to be familiar with OSHA regulations.
There’s also an important role that ergonomics play in the health and safety of workers. Making sure workers are comfortable working as much as possible will go a long way in preventing short and long-term issues.
A leading factor of Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) is awkward posture. Awkward postures are those in which the joints are held or moved away from the body’s natural position. Placing excessive stress and force on joints overloads the muscles and leads to fatigue. When joints are worked outside of this normal range for long periods of time, the risk for MSD’s increase.
Awkward posture occurs a lot when working on a conveyor — especially when operators have to reach across a belt to move product.
Including ergonomic stands on the sides of your conveyor will help prevent awkward posture, which will prevent injury.
Make the Right Investment
Conveyor systems with the right design features are pivotal investments in the future of your company and the safety of your product — and no place is more important for the design than the conveyors in your facility.
The design features and other elements above should be considered non-negotiable when it comes to equipping your facility with a conveyor system, both for your bottom line and the safety of your workers and consumers alike. Reach out to the professionals at Fusion Tech for any questions or additional information on choosing the right conveyor system.