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What Is a Material Handling Conveyor?

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  • Written By: Paul Scott
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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A material handling conveyor is a transport mechanism for raw materials, inventory, and finished products within manufacturing facilities and warehouses. These conveyors are distinct from other conveyor systems in their construction and the fact that they are generally used for unit as opposed to bulk material transport. Material handling conveyors are typically light weight, modular units that are easy-to-move and reconfigure when production or material movement routes change. There are a wide range of conveyor types in use, with roller, slat, and drag chain types being several of the more popular options. Most material handling conveyors also feature fine-speed control mechanisms that allow for adjustments to be made to transport speeds to accommodate differing processes and loads.

Conveyor belts are one of the more efficient and widely-used transport mechanisms in manufacturing, industrial, and warehousing environments. From huge iron ore and coal belt conveyors that run for many miles, to tiny chain conveyors moving domestic appliance parts down an assembly line, conveyors move millions of tonnes of goods across the globe each day. The material handling conveyor is one specialty group of conveyors used to move unit loads within specific areas of a manufacturing installation or warehouse. They differ from their bulk-handling peers in their design, size, and the fact that they do not move continuous bulk loads.

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Most warehouse and manufacturing facilities require that a constant stream of unit loads move from one area to another during day-to-day operations. These may be parts or cartons being moved to or from a vehicle loading bay or sub-assemblies moving along an assembly line. This movement is generally carried out in conjunction with physical input or intervention from an operator or line worker, so the conveyors are typically designed to be of a size and design that offer both comfort and safety during operation. To this end, material handling conveyor installations tend to be focused on a specific range of functions in their height, speed, and transport mechanisms.

There are several popular material handling conveyor types, including roller, slat, and moving chain conveyors. Most have a load bed designed to support and transport a specific item or type of load. Conveyors designed to move cartons and boards, for instance, are typically of the roller type with no protrusions to damage the loads. Those designed to transport delicate electronic parts are usually of the plastic chain type and will feature individual bays along the conveyor length to securely support the parts. Many of these conveyors are designed to move their loads around tight turns, spirals, and even vertically or inverted depending on routing and process specifics.

Material handling conveyors are also extensively used to load finished products, stock, and raw materials into or out of vehicles. These conveyors are often of a telescoping construction, allowing their ends to be progressively moved into the vehicle as loading progresses. Most material handling conveyor installations will also feature a degree of speed control that allows for adjustment of the rate of transport to suit a range of process requirements.

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