Getting the right flexibility in conveyors

Being able to change production processes to deliver products faster, and at a cheaper and consistently high standard, not only for local customers, but also for growing export markets is the ultimate aim for manufacturers and companies operating within Australia's food and beverage industries.

The key to achieving this flexibility is production equipment, in particular well-designed conveyor systems which allow smooth processing and prevent bottlenecking. Customised or 'turn-key' solutions are becoming increasingly popular, and are often integrated into a plant's automation or robotics system to allow for greater control. 

Flexibility in demand 

Anthony Gustafson, Australis Engineering engineering manager, says flexibility of design, and development time and cost are factors companies should consider when choosing a conveyor system.

"Australia's small market means most production lines run multiple products so machinery has to cater for multiple sizes, shapes, speeds and be able to handle these differences with the shortest changeover time possible," Gustafson said. 

The Sydney-based Australis Engineering provides a range of conveyor systems for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) production, including slat chain, modular belt, roller and pallet conveyors, and also bucket elevators. 

One manufacturer that utilises a number of flexible conveyor systems in its production line of canned fruits, fruit juices and cordials is Golden Circle. 

The company's Northgate, Queensland cannery produces over 180,000 tonnes per year of product to cater for consumer demands. 

Craig Kent, Golden Circle Northgate project engineer, agrees that conveyor flexibility is the key to delivery. "Modular conveyor systems must have short lead times, and spare parts must be easily sourced and readily available," he said.

Kent's facility relies on a combination of slat chain conveyors with Rexnord-branded stainless steel chains, modular belt conveyors with Intralox-branded chains, belt conveyors with rubber belting, and low back pressure carton roller conveyors. "These were all manufactured by site contractors to site specification for cleaning and the surrounding environment," he said. 

Conveyors for food and beverage

Though conveyor systems for manufacturing facilities come in all shapes and sizes, those engineered for the food and beverage sector must be made of hygienic materials allow for easy cleaning, and prevent cross-contamination between products and operators. 

Robert Marguccio, Heat and Control business manager, packaging and inspection systems Australia, says it is essential in the food business that processing equipment is hygienic. 

"High levels of hygiene, easy-to-clean with a quick cleaning turn-around, and reduction in product breakage are important to food manufacturers," he said.

Marguccio recommends looking at sanitation, operator safety, cross-contamination, sustainability and product quality control when purchasing a new conveyor or upgrading an existing system. System layout, feed modulation and methods to divert product are also important.

Golden Circle's Kent agrees. "Conveyors must be cleanable to maintain a hygienic standard in the factory," he said. 

"Where possible inner surfaces should be visible and cleanable. Some products even require the use of food grade cleaning agents that run continuously on the conveyor during production.

"Safety is always important. Conveyor systems must be easily accessible and maintained. Construction methods must not leave sharp edges or produce nip points with moving parts."

Meeting Standards

There are a number of Australian standards food manufacturers must adhere to in order to sell their products both locally and overseas, including standards relating to production equipment.

Equipment that can be cleaned easily and quickly, and offers safety features for the operator can help companies avoid potentially-severe health hazards; not only for the purpose of passing export quality control checks, but also to meet local food safety standards, like those governed by FSANZ, and machine safety standards like those from the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA). 

"Easy cleaning is always on the top of the agenda when we speak with our food production clients. It is very important especially where AQIS requirements are involved," said Gustafson. 

"Equipment is normally in Stainless Steel and particular attention is paid during the design phase to ensure cleaning can be easily performed."