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Q&A: What You Need to Know About Customized Conveyors

January 19, 2021

For the past 50 years, UniTrak has offered a full range of conveying solutions from simple, “off-the-shelf” bucket elevators to complete custom designs. Emma Gorsline, Vice President of Sales at UniTrak, answers important questions about conveyor customization.

When it comes to selecting the right equipment for your operation, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options. Will an “off-the-shelf” solution work for you, or do you need something that is customized to your requirements? The range in conveyor price points, delivery timelines and technical functionality is vast, and one size seldom fits all.

No one knows this better than Emma Gorsline, Vice-President of Sales at UniTrak, who has spent the last 18 years working with a range of clients, to find conveying solutions for everything from chemicals to candies. Emma shares what you need to know about customized conveyors.

Do specific industries require more extensively customized equipment?

“The chemical industry frequently requires a more optioned solution to meet all the requirements of their specific applications, for many different reasons. Some products are abrasive, some are toxic, and some are explosive. And, many products are a combination of all three.

In many cases, these conveyors need to operate under negative pressure, including a nitrogen purge.

The food industry is another example of a segment that often requires custom solutions. It has requirements for both gentle handling and sanitary conveying solutions. That being said, like many industries, it is more application specific and less industry specific.”

Are some applications better suited to an “off-the-shelf” conveyor?

“Yes, there are some applications like prills, briquettes, dry pasta, confectionery, and snack food, where the needs are often pretty straight forward and less customization is required.

Budget-conscious customers often look for off-the-shelf options, but they still need to ensure that they are getting quality equipment to guarantee that their products are not damaged or lost during the conveying process.”

What are some of the more complex custom conveyors UniTrak has built?

“We recently received an order from a company that processes polyacrylamides (water-soluble polymers), which are used in many industries where water is present — agriculture, mining, drinking water, water treatment, etc. They needed to elevate Xanthate pellets from a screener to a bagging (packaging) machine. The product is abrasive, explosive and needed to be conveyed in an inert atmosphere (nitrogen purge). They required a conveyor that could hold 0.75 PSI / 50 mbar) pressure overnight (8 hours).

During our preliminary review and testing, we determined that our standard Monocoque TipTrak wouldn’t hold that much pressure for that long, so we redesigned the unit.

All facets of the frame construction were modified — from the spacing of the bolts, to the gauge of steel that was used. We needed to make adjustments to our sealing system between the conveyor sections, and even changed the elastomer gasketing material, because there was a chemical reaction between their product and the standard rubber we use. We also had to take into account how often they would be opening and closing doors for cleaning procedures, and our design was modified to suit.

Another highly customized order was for a contractor for the military, in 2019. This was the most explosive product we have handled since starting to work with the US military in 1971.  We used our experience with explosives to completely redesign an “open frame” to provide a conveyor able to withstand higher levels of explosion risk. The TipTrak could not have any ledges or internal pockets that the explosive powder could find its way into, so all tubing had to be eliminated and all welds needed to be x-rayed. This unit couldn’t have any exposed metal at all, so we even had to change the way the buckets attached to the rubber belting, and how the ends of the belting were joined. Although the buckets were plastic, the actual shrouding was metal, so we had to ensure none of the metal had any opportunity to ever come into contact with anything within the conveyor.”

What’s the biggest misconception people have about customized conveyors?

“There are a couple, but the biggest ones are that they take too long to design/build, and they cost too much.

There are challenging projects, like the ones I mentioned previously that involve extensive modifications, but in the majority of cases, we’ve got the in-house knowledge and expertise to quickly and cost effectively build a customized solution.

For example, we’re working on a project right now with a food ingredients manufacturer, and it’s quite complicated. It involves four bucket conveyors receiving product from bulk bag unloaders, feeding multiple storage silos and weigh belts, and finally feeding a packaging machine. Our sales and engineering teams are working directly with the customer to help them design and finalize their layout. Some customers hire engineering companies for their plant layouts and design, and while we are happy to work with them (and do so quite regularly), we never require their expertise. This is one way we are able to keep both cost and turnaround times down.

A simple TipTrak conveyor with horizontal distance of approximately 15 to 30 feet and a discharge elevation of 30 feet could be shipped within 3 to 4 weeks of purchase order and installed in as little 10 to 16 hours, including electrical wiring.”

How can UniTrak conveyors be turned around and shipped so quickly after receiving an order?

“There are a number of reasons. But one of the big ones is that while we may change the dimensions and offer various customization options, our equipment is built from a modular design that uses standardized components and conveyor frame sections. It is kind of like building with Lego®. Roughly 75 percent of all the TipTrak units we sell are not extensively customized.

Beyond the customization of the machines themselves, we also maintain an in-house supply of necessary components at all times. Over 85 percent of all components we require to build our standard conveyors are in stock, and we can quickly ship out our units as a result.  UniTrak fabricates and/or molds many of the key components right at our own manufacturing facility.

We have been ISO 9001 certified since 1996, with policies, procedures and work instructions that cover all our processes to ensure quality, continuous improvements and excellent customer service.  We are fortunate to have a dedicated team at UniTrak, many of whom have spent their whole career helping to solve our customers’ challenges.

Whether you’re looking for a simple, off-the-shelf conveyor or a fully customized solution, UniTrak experts are here to help. Click here to get in touch with our dedicated team to learn more.

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