In an increasingly competitive global market, operational efficiency is essential for the success of many industrial companies. Conveyor systems are pivotal in this efficiency, driving speed, safety, cost-effectiveness, and overall productivity improvements. It is critical that the parts that make up these systems are durable and dependable. Injection molding is an increasingly used method to manufacture high-quality components for conveyor systems.

The use of conveyor systems dates to the late 19th century, initially serving as tools to transport coal without the need for human interaction. Since then, these systems have undergone substantial advancements, evolving with the growth of industries and the advent of modern technology. Today, they are considered indispensable for any process involving the mass movement of goods, underscoring the critical importance of efficiency and durability.

Injection molding has proven to be integral in developing intricate, high-quality components for conveyor systems. Parts can range from simple items made from commodity plastics for non-critical elements to sophisticated components made from engineering plastics, such as spur gears and conveyor chains. High-performance plastics play a pivotal role in keeping conveyors moving.

The Importance of Proper Design, Manufacture, and Quality

A well-designed and high-quality injection-molded part can significantly impact the efficiency and longevity of a conveyor system. Proper design ensures that the component fits seamlessly within the system and performs its function effectively. Designing a conveyor part requires understanding how it will function as well as the stresses it will endure during operation.

Manufacturing high-performance plastic parts requires advanced knowledge of the materials. Consistent process controls are essential to maintain the integrity and precision of the part. The injection molding process must be precisely calibrated to prevent defects that could compromise the part’s functionality and lifespan. Therefore,  it is critical that the manufacturer producing the parts has experience with conveyor parts and high-performance resins.

Quality assurance is equally crucial to ensure each part meets the necessary standards or requirements before it becomes part of a conveyor system. This helps to reduce system downtime due to part failure and keeps maintenance costs low.

From Metal to High-Performance Plastics

The evolution of industrial practices has brought about a shift in the choice of materials for manufacturing conveyor components. Many industries are transitioning from traditional metal components to plastic or a combination (e.g., thermoplastic links with stainless steel pins), driven by many associated benefits.

  • Weight Reduction – Plastic parts are significantly lighter than their metal counterparts, which can reduce the overall weight of the conveyor system. This can lead to decreased energy consumption and increased efficiency.
  • Corrosion Resistance – Unlike metal, plastic is resistant to many chemicals and does not rust or corrode, making it a suitable choice for environments where the conveyor system is exposed to corrosive substances. When metal chains, for example, get wet or go through heated vapor, they often see an increase in wear due to improper or insufficient lubrication and decreased strength from corrosion, leading to a shorter life. Some acid exposure will also corrode metal parts. Abrasive materials are also a concern as they can affect the wear life of metal components. Choosing a suitable high-performance plastic for the conditions is vital to increased performance and longevity.
  • Design Flexibility – The injection molding process allows for greater design freedom than many metal fabrication techniques, making producing complex or custom shapes easier.
  • Noise Reduction – Plastic parts typically operate more quietly than metal ones, contributing to a quieter and more pleasant working environment.

High-Performance Plastics Used for Conveyor Components

Several high-performance plastics are used to create components for conveyor systems. These materials are selected for their unique properties that meet the demanding requirements of industrial applications. Here are some widely used plastics and their properties:

Acetal – Acetal, known to many by the tradename Delrin®, is renowned for its high strength, stiffness, and dimensional stability. It also possesses excellent wear and low friction properties. The material is resistant to a wide range of solvents and has a good temperature range (approximately -40°C to 120°C). There are different grades of acetal, including low wear / low friction grades that help to further increase the load and speed of components. In conveyor systems, acetal is often used in gears, bearings, roller chain sprockets, timing belt pulleys, and other wear parts.

Nylon (Polyamide) – Nylon is well-known for its high mechanical strength, toughness, wear resistance, lubricity, and stable dimensional properties, making it a good choice for conveyor parts. It also has a very high melting point (approximately 220°C), making it suitable for high-temperature applications. Filled nylon is also used for its enhanced properties. A common family is MoS2-filled nylon, also called Nylatron. Nylatron GS provides improved strength, rigidity, and a lower coefficient of linear thermal expansion than other nylons. Reinforcement delivers molded parts with smoother surfaces. When coupled with the internal lubricity of nylon, it creates an ideal material for applications where lubrication is undesirable, as in food processing. Nylon and filled nylon are used in rollers, bearings, gears, chains, and chain sprockets.

Polypropylene – Polypropylene offers good resistance to most chemicals, including organic solvents, degreasing agents, and electrolytic attacks. It’s a lightweight material with excellent strength and toughness, offering a temperature range of up to 100°C. Additives can be added to improve its properties. Polypropylene is often used in parts such as spacers, wear strips, and roller chains.

Polyvinylidene Fluoride – Polyvinylidene fluoride, also called Kynar PVDF, offers durability, strength, and excellent abrasion and chemical resistance. It is used to make roller chains and sprockets for conveyor systems.

Polycarbonate – On its own, polycarbonate offers many valuable traits, including impact resistance, toughness, low moisture absorption, and flame retardance. When glass fibers are added to polycarbonate, the tensile strength, stiffness, compressive strength, and dimensional stability increase, and the thermal expansion coefficient is lower. Polycarbonate and glass-filled polycarbonate are used for machine guards, gears, and timing belt pulleys.

The high-performance polymers used for conveyor components are not restricted to these. Each offers unique properties that make them suitable for different conveyor system components. The choice of material depends on the specific requirements for the application, including mechanical stress, operating temperature, chemical exposure, and regulatory standards (food applications must comply with FDA requirements)

Trust Ensinger For Conveyor Components

Ensinger Precision Components has the experience and expertise to deliver exactly what you need to keep your conveyor systems running smoothly. We understand conveyor systems because we are the sole manufacturer of the Plastock line of mechanical drive and conveyor components. Whether you are converting from metal or have a custom part, we will design and manufacture the ideal solutions. Contact us to get started or to learn more.