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The term "rail conveyor" can refer to several styles of conveyor systems that are used to transport items from one location to another. Any conveyor system that uses a rail or series of rails with pulleys, wheels, or cylinders mounted to them can fall under the category of rail conveyor. A common place to see such a system is in a dry cleaning business; the garments to be cleaned or recently cleaned will be hung from hooks mounted to pulleys, which in turn are mounted within a track or rail system mounted to a ceiling.
The advantage of a rail conveyor over other types of systems is the ability to fix the position of items being transported. In the case of a dry cleaner rail conveyor, the garments that are freshly cleaned can be kept in order by hanging them from the pulley-mounted hooks, which will not stray in any direction from the fixed rails. Other rail systems can be mounted on the ground or on a frame of some sort to accomplish the same goal. Pallets are often used in conjunction with rail conveyor systems mounted on the ground or on a frame, since the structure of a pallet lends itself to easy guidance along a track or series of tracks.
Like other conveyor systems, the rail conveyor may be powered or unpowered. Powered models generally feature some sort of motor, and since these conveyor systems tend to be used indoors, electric motors are most common. A drive chain or belt will turn a pulley or several pulleys, thereby providing propulsion for the items being hauled along the rail. In other instances, the conveyor may be unpowered, which means an operator will have to push or pull items along the rail or rails by hand in order to effectively move the items.
The materials used to make the rails and the pulley wheels can vary, though the rails are usually made from some sort of durable metal such as steel. The pulley wheels may also be made of steel, though they can be made from composite plastics as well. Bearings are usually mounted in the center of the pulleys to facilitate easy, smooth movement, and in some cases, these bearings may be easily replaceable should one break down after time. An axle will run through the center of the bearing and will usually either mount to the rail itself, or to a hook or other trolley to be moved across the track.