Not All Belting Materials Are Created Equally
Stainless Steel: an Ideal Conveyor Material for Specialty Food Packaging Applications
By Denis Gagnon, CEO of Belt Technologies, Inc.
Conveyor belts can be made of a variety of materials, including solid stainless steel, metal mesh, plastic and fabric—but not all belt materials are created equal. Due to the hygienic nature of the products they handle, businesses operating in the specialty packaging sector must adhere to rigorous health and safety standards. Whether these businesses work with accumulators, heat sealers, cardboard packers, film wrappers, or conveyors, they must strike a balance between optimized product throughput and excellent sanitary conditions. When it comes to selecting a conveying material that can meet the necessary criteria for these various processes, stainless steel is a clear choice.
The downsides of traditional belting materials
Fabric and plastic belts, such as those made of nylon, cotton, polyester or polymer, suffer from significant drawbacks, including poor wear characteristics and inadequate hygiene. Furthermore, both fabric and polymer belts are prone to accelerated degradation, which can harbor undesirable bacteria. As a result, they need to be frequently replaced, leading to reduced productivity and increased costs.
It’s also important to differentiate solid stainless steel belts from metal mesh, which consists of metal chain links. While this approach offers the inherent advantages of stainless steel, it also comes with a serious drawback. These belts consist of numerous interconnected parts, requiring lubrication to prevent friction between the elements. Unfortunately, this introduces an additional contaminant into operations and poses a risk to the cleanliness of the products being handled.
The advantages of stainless steel
In contrast to other materials, solid stainless steel has a smooth, impermeable surface that offers no opportunity for the invasion of microbes or bacteria. The complete lack of gaps, recesses and crevices also makes accumulating and trapping solid particles virtually impossible. While all belts require cleaning and removal of food debris to prevent contamination, solid stainless steel dramatically simplifies the process.
In fact, thanks to its resistance to chemical corrosion, stainless steel can undergo a thorough cleaning process using clean-in-place (CIP) procedures. This allows for the use of high-powered steam, chemical cleaning solutions and high-pressure wash techniques, ensuring effective sterilization and maintenance of sanitary conditions while eliminating lengthy production shutdowns.
Additionally, solid metal belts offer unlimited travel lengths and are available in a wide range of alloys. Many alloys exhibit excellent resistance to distortion and perform exceptionally well in high-temperature applications. For example, the alloy Invar remains undistorted when operating in environments up to 400 °F. Taking it even further, alloys like Inconel 625 and 718 can withstand temperatures greater than 1,000 °F. In stark contrast, polymeric belts and belts made from fabric materials are unable to endure such extreme temperature variations without experiencing distortion or complete deterioration.
In comparison to other components used for power transmission or motion control, such as linear actuators, lead screws or chains, solid metal belts have an enhanced strength-to-weight ratio, exceptional durability and precise positioning capabilities. These characteristics allow the steel belt system to be positioned accurately and repeatably over the entire life of the belt.
Each solid metal conveyor belt can have a customized pitch profile—the space between individual perforations, timing pins or other features. Perforations are created by mechanical and laser cutting, die-and-cut presses and rotary-pinned perforation rollers. While custom pitch profiles vary by manufacturer, Belt Technologies can create perforations in stainless steel belts as thin as 0.002 inches, as narrow as 0.040 inches, and as wide as 36 inches.
Food Packaging and Heat Sealing Applications
The advantages associated with solid metal belts make them a natural choice for specialty packaging applications. For example, these belts have been instrumental in the food processing industry, particularly in the adoption of sustainable paper packaging with heat-sealing bands. In the past, Teflon sealing bands were commonly used; however, they could not withstand the high temperatures necessary for heat sealing advanced materials used in the packaging industry. By using stainless steel belts, food processing companies have achieved successful package sealing while simultaneously advancing their sustainability initiatives.
About the Author
With more than 25 years of executive management experience, Denis Gagnon has served as the CEO of Belt Technologies since 2019. For more than 50 years, Belt Technologies, Inc., has produced PureSteel® metal conveyor belts, timing belts and pulleys ideally designed for automation applications. Committed to providing customized solutions to meet exact specifications, Belt helps customers achieve optimal performance while maintaining standards for the most stringent levels of safety.
Learn more at www.belttechnologies.com