Food Packaging Systems: Larger Tubular Drag Conveyors Increase Profitability and Volume

Enclosed 8-inch cable and disc systems can convey volumes comparable to belt or bucket systems with less power, product loss, damage, and downtime according to Cablevey Conveyors, a mechanical conveyor manufacturer that serves the specialty food, coffee, nut, powder, produce, and pet food markets.

Food processors and packagers have long sought a safer, more energy-efficient means to convey product. Although tubular drag conveyors have offered these desired attributes compared to belt, bucket, or pneumatic systems, many in the industry selected the more traditional options to move higher volumes or larger-sized products.

Now, however, 8-inch diameter tubular drag conveyors have become widely available that essentially double the volumes of smaller 6-inch units. This provides comparable volumes and pricing to conventional industrial systems and enables the transport of much larger product sizes than previously possible.

Eight-inch tubular drag cable conveyors can move up to 2,000 cubic feet and 80,000 pounds per hour depending on the bulk density of materials. The units can transport product as large as whole potatoes and midsized grapefruit, and are increasingly used to convey pet food, cereal, nuts, and whole fruit.

Tubular drag cable conveyors gently move product through a sealed tube using a coated, flexible stainless-steel drag cable pulled through on a loop. Solid circular discs (flights) are attached to the cable, which push the product through the tube without the use of air. These conveyors excel in transporting delicate, precise blends for a wide variety of food types in versatile layouts and configurations.

Today, food processing and packaging professionals are turning to the higher volume tubular drag cable conveyors to improve power use, safety, product preservation, product quality, and production uptime.

Power Consumption

As energy prices continue to rise, food packagers are paying more attention to reducing the power required to convey materials. Within plants, the motors needed to convey large volumes of food materials can vary greatly in power consumption. At the high end are pneumatic conveyors that utilize air to move product at high velocity through an enclosed line by creating air pressure above or below the atmospheric level. High-volume pneumatic conveyors generally require larger, power-hungry motors up to 20-50 HP or more that run fans, blowers, and rotary valves.

At the mid-range of power consumption are belt conveyors and bucket elevators. In a typical conveyor belt system, a belt forms a closed loop and stretches across two or more pulleys with a drive pulley that enables it to rotate continually. Bucket elevators move material using buckets attached to a rotating belt or chain. The buckets pick up material, move it to an endpoint, discharge material, and return to the starting point to pick up a new load. To convey a similar, high-volume amount of material, belt conveyors and bucket elevators would typically utilize approximately 25 HP motors.

At the low end of power consumption are 8-inch tubular drag cable conveyors, which would usually use a 7.5 HP motor to move a comparable, voluminous amount of material. The drag cable pulls solid circular discs (flights) attached to the cable at low speed through a loop, which requires less energy than conventional methods. The ample size and number of the discs on 8-inch units enable conveying a similar amount of material as traditional belt, bucket, or pneumatic units.


Closed systems like tubular drag cable conveyors and pneumatic units effectively seal off product from the outside environment and any potential contamination from that source. The enclosed nature of the systems ensures no dust escapes that could lead to an unsanitary and potentially dangerous coating of dust on the floor or process equipment. The result is a safer, cleaner, dust-free work environment and reduced risk of dust explosions if the product is in powdered form. The enclosed systems also eliminate the inherent risk of slip and fall incidents due to product discharge onto the processing area floor.

Product Preservation

Enclosed conveyors prevent the product loss. Once food product is in the enclosed tube, it cannot fall out, and no powdered product is lost in the form of escaped dust.

Preventing product loss can offer considerable benefits to the food processor’s profitability with surprisingly quick return on investment in some cases. For example,

an international pet food manufacturer processing dog kibble switched to an 8-inch tubular drag cable conveyor, they minimized product spillage and reported a 1-year ROI for the system.

Product Quality

Tubular cable conveyors offer a gentler alternative to move product and preserve product integrity for products such as cereal or nuts that are delicate, or present a higher value in undamaged form.

The system moves product through a sealed tube using a coated, flexible stainless-steel drag cable pulled through on a loop, and solid circular discs attached to the cable push the product at low speed through the tube without the use of air, preserving product integrity and minimizing waste.

For example, a cereal manufacturer turned to a high-volume tubular cable conveyor it was able to reduce product damage. And the premium for processing high-value products whole and unblemished can be even greater for some products like nuts.

For instance, a food processor that used almonds in its recipe was only able to sell its product for 40 cents a pound if the almonds were damaged. The same product sold for $4 a pound if the almonds were whole and undamaged. The processor chose to use a tubular cable conveyor to minimize product damage and optimize the sales price.

Production Uptime

To reduce production downtime, food processors also increasingly expect conveyor systems to be designed for easy cleaning and maintenance. If not cleaned properly, the food product conveyed must be discarded due to contamination, which equates to lost profit. Or worse, consumers could be harmed, resulting in costly recalls, damage to brand and reputation, or even potential litigation and liability.

Tubular drag cable conveyor systems generally offer more options for dry and wet tube conveyor cleaning. These include brush boxes, urethane wipers, air knives, inline sponges, inline bristle brushes, and multi-step, essentially automated Clean-In-Place (CIP) wet cleaning.

Using more automated forms of cleaning like inline wipers, sponges, and air knives or CIP wet cleaning can result in hours of additional production uptime after every product change, compared to conventional manual method.

Using 8-inch tubular drag cable units, food processors and packagers can basically match the high-volume output of traditional conveyor systems but with significant advantages in power consumption, safety, product preservation/quality, and production uptime.

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