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Automation: How the Conveyor Belt Has Changed Our Lives

What is a Conveyor Belt?

Simply defined, a conveyor belt is a system that allows the movement of an object from one point to another without a manual transport of said object. A simple conveyor belt consists of two pulleys with a loop of material-the conveyor belt that rotates continuously around them.

How a conveyor belt works:

As an example of a manually functioning conveyor belt think of a flag on a flagpole: the flag is hoisted up to the top via the pulleys and brought back down in the same way. Now, if you add the continuous movement, through an automated system such as a motor, you have a conveyor belt, like what is used in a factory: parts move down a conveyor belt for inspection or packaging.

Why conveyor belts are important:

This very simple structure of pulley and looped material has enhanced the lives of laborers and corporations worldwide and its usefulness should not be underestimated. Time, energy, and health factors are three of the ways in which conveyor belts have improved the lives of man. Time, due to the speed in which objects can be moved; energy, because when machines are utilized man saves his individual energy; and health benefits due to the many ways that conveyor belts can enhance the safety of the employee. For instance, the ability to move heavy parts saves a person from physical strain or injury, or in the transferring of toxic chemicals from one area to another without having to handle them.

A brief time line of the development of the conveyor belt

Research indicates that references are made to the use of primitive conveyor belts dating back to the late 17th century. These mechanisms were made primarily of the natural material available, such as wood.

When the industrial age introduced mass production people manually moved objects from one person or place to another. When objects were too large or heavy for the average laborer to move pulley devices were utilized. Before automation hand cranks moved the first conveyors.

A conveyor belt system for farming has been around since at least the 18th century. The earliest publication referencing the use of a conveyor belt is in Oliver Evans’ Millers Guide, published in 1795, describing the mechanism of a simple grain belt. Between the dates of 1859 and 1863 Merrick & Sons, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, completed the Washington Avenue grain elevator.

At this same time, England was using conveyor belts primarily in abattoirs and bakeries. Records indicate that the British Navy employed this method to produce the ship’s biscuits in 1804.

Thomas Robins, an American inventor in the manufacturing field, developed a conveyor belt for the use of moving coal and ore in 1892. His innovative system won him the grand prize at the Paris Exposition in 1900. He went on to form his own conveying company five years later: Robins Conveyor Belt Company.

Early 1900’s-construction workers used a conveyor system to move shingles, and other building supplies, from the ground to areas of work.

In 1901, Sandvik, a Swedish engineering company founded in 1862 by Goran Frederick Goransson, invented and produced steel conveyor belts. This influenced a young, Irish born inventor, Richard Sutcliffe to utilize this concept for his field of work: mining.

1905 brought the invention of a conveyor belt system for coal mines by Richard Sutcliffe, a British mining engineer. This revolutionized the industry allowing the coal to be moved quickly and efficiently from shaft to truck.

In 1907 a German coffee company in Bremen utilized the conveyor belt system in its factory.

Hymle Goddard is credited with getting the first ‘roller conveyor’ patent in 1908.

In 1913 Henry Ford implemented the use of the conveyor belt in the assembly line, in his Highland Park, Michigan plant. It increased production and efficiency in the automobile manufacturing industry.

1957 came the paten by the B.F. Goodrich Co. for a high quality, longer lasting conveyor belt that had a half twist in it. This was advantageous because of the ability to expose more surfaces to wear and tear. The invention was called the Turnover Conveyor Belt System.

Types of Conveyor Belts

Not all conveyor belts are built the same. The most primitive system was built with wood rollers with leather or canvas covering it. As inventors began fine tuning their designs the introduction of a sophisticated system made of various material such as cotton, mesh or plastic. This is covered with a layer of rubber. Other conveyor belts are made of steel rods. The variety of belt material depends on the specific job it is designed to aid. All conveyor belts use a type of roller that the belt moves over.

Primitive conveyor belts were manually operated with the use of a hand crank, however, modern technology created electronic circuit boards and pneumatic systems to operate the system. In the 20th and 21st century many companies have implemented a digital control system.

Conveyor belt systems are built differently for weight bearing and flexibility needs. Some belts are a modular type, which allows them to curve. The improvement of belt quality has increased their durability and allowed longevity of wear and tear.

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Modern use of conveyor belts:

Conveyor belts have been utilized in all areas of work and home environments. Productivity has increased in all areas of manufacturing, including packaging. In the agricultural realm grains, eggs, fruit and other farm products are moved with the use of the conveyor belt system. The mining industry utilized the conveyor belt in the early 1900’s to conveniently transport the coal or iron ore from bucket to truck. Airports use a wide conveyor belt to move baggage from the building to the airplane and vice versa. And, grocery stores were modernized with the implementation of food conveyor belts.

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Many homes have a simple conveyor belt system that most people do not even realize: the exercise treadmill. This sophisticated piece of equipment incorporates the same methodology as other corporations-moving the product, the exerciser, from point A to point B.

The conveyor belt system is also used to transport people from one end of a long hall, such as in an airport, to the far end. We refer to this as a moving walkway.

Theme parks, such as Chocolate World, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, or Disneyland, (California), and Disney World, (Florida), use a method of moving people called the Carveyor system. Essentially, it is a large conveyor belt system with cubicles that allow people to sit in and move from one destination to another throughout the park grounds.

Conveyor Belt World Records:

Interesting facts about conveyor belt systems:

The longest conveyor belt in the world today is located in the Western Sahara. It transports phosphate from the mines in Bu Craa to the coast near El-Aaiun. It is 98 km long, or almost 61 miles long.

The longest single-belt conveyor in the world was created to move limestone and shale from its quarry in Meghalaya, India, to the cement factory in Sylhet, Bangladesh. It is 17 km, or ten and a half miles long, and produces approximately 960 tons of limestone per hour. The conveyor stands 5 meters above ground across the distance to prevent floodwater damage during monsoon season.

The longest conveyor belt system is located in Dubai at the Dubai International Airport. Stretching to 92 km, (t consists of both belt and tray type conveyors).

The fastest conveyor belt is located at the lignite mines in Germany. They operate at an amazing 15 meters per second.

The strongest conveyor belt is one that is used in the Los Pelanbres mines in Chile. It consists of 78,740 feet, (approximately 15 miles long), of conveyor belt with strength of 48,500 piw. A piw is a measurement of strength that stands for pounds per inch per width.

Did you know...?

Durometer scales measure the ‘hardness’ and ‘depth of indentation’ of a material, such as rubber. It was developed by Albert F. Shore in 1920. It measures a material’s resistance to permanent indentation.

The piw of a coil is determined by dividing the coil weight by its width.

The first moving walkway appeared at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, in Chicago, Illinois.

How an airport baggage conveyor system inspired this author:

Watching the luggage move around the airport baggage conveyor belt brought to my mind the realization that this was something that we often take for granted. Before conveyor belts were developed and implemented into our modern day living, people had to transport the luggage from ticket office to airplane, and vice versa, via hand pulled carts. I became curious about all of the other conveyor belts that I see throughout my day, such as at the grocery store, and wondered how and when this little convenience was invented. This inspired me to investigate this subject and the research has been fascinating.

Where to find additional 'Conveyor Belt' information:

While each of these resources contributed to the making of this article, and all were very interesting because it was new information for me, the most fascinating resource I came across was through the scribd article. This was the information through the book written by Frederic V. Hetzel, and published in 1922. His diagrams and tables, along with his well organized and thorough information was amazing. If you would like to read in more detail information about conveyor belts and their history, be sure to check out this resource.

Here is a list of additional resources I’ve used to complete the information in this hub: by Dominic Donaldson by Shaun Parker by Frederic V. Hetzel

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Myka Zhou from Zhangjiagang on October 14, 2020:

You are definitly right and this is my profession. I'm a manufacturer in China for decades and I hope the conveyor system will be more popular in different industries. It will help to save cost and improce efficiency.

alhaqtraders on February 08, 2017:

Hi Denise..

I am running conveyor belt business in Pakistan from many years. Your post is really awesome and you truly thumbs up..

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on January 31, 2013:

Hi Starlin Messi-Thanks for your comments. I'm glad that you liked it.

Starlin Messi on January 31, 2013:

Very informative hub article on conveyor belts. I really like this hub as after reading it I come to know about what exactly are conveyor belt and what are the different types conveyor belts are available. Thanks for wonderful hub article. Here I have another source of information. Check this out.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on December 03, 2012:

Hello Heather, thank you for visiting this site and offering some feedback about your experience with industrial conveyor belts. I hope you were able to gather some useful information from this article. Best wishes to you and your school project.

Heather on December 03, 2012:

I've been studying the industrial conveyor for my school project. It is fascinating how versatile and effective they really are. It is fair to say they have changed the way the materials industry works, with less reliance on human labour requirements.

beltpower from Smyrna, GA on November 06, 2012:

Nice article, a lot of good information!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on October 22, 2012:

Thanks! I just read your article as well, and left a comment. I'm linking yours to this one.

beltpower from Smyrna, GA on October 22, 2012:

Nice article!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on August 28, 2012:

Hi Nell-it was one of the more fascinating hubs I wrote about b/c of all the info I learned. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

Nell Rose from England on August 28, 2012:

Wow! all those facts about the common conveyor belt! I never knew that, or that, in fact I didn't know anything about it at all. Seriously its one of those things we take for granted and never give a thought too. I like the idea of the seats taking your round the Park, pity they don't make them for the streets outside how easy would shopping be? lol! voted up! cheers nell

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on August 09, 2012:

Thanks for reading, Vellur. Yes, it is amazing. Like many other things in our lives, we take much for granted...the convenience of the conveyor belt is one of them. :)

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on August 09, 2012:

So many interesting facts on a conveyor belt, got to learn so much more. Enjoyed your hub and it is really amazing when I think about the role of a conveyor belt in our lives. Fantastic and voted up.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on August 02, 2012:

Hi B-an overenthusiastic researcher, here, haha. When I get my teeth into a subject that intrigues me I can't seem to let go! Glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for stopping by.

b. Malin on August 01, 2012:

It is truly amazing how Conveyor Belts have changed our lives. A very Interesting Hub Denise, lots of useful Information, that I certainly was not aware of. Thanks for taking the time to research this topic so thoroughly, to make it such an Enjoyable read!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on July 31, 2012:

Hi Stephanie, it is amazing what one can dig up in research on any topic. I think I missed my calling, haha. Thanks for reading-keep your eyes peeled for those 'hidden' conveyor belts.

Stephanie Henkel from USA on July 31, 2012:

You've certainly made the topic of conveyor belts interesting, and even thought provoking. Now I'm going to be looking around me to see if I can find more examples of conveyor belts! :)

Great research with so many interesting facts and trivia about conveyor belts!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on July 31, 2012:

Hi Danette, yes, I really never connected that an exercise treadmill was a form of a conveyor belt either. Thanks for you comments. :)

Danette Watt from Illinois on July 27, 2012:

Hey, I didn't know that the hub topic automation was your idea! Cool! Thought this was a very well researched and written hub. It makes you wonder how many conveyor belts are around us that we just don't notice, like the treadmill. I think we all know about the grocery store belt. Voted up and interesting.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on July 26, 2012:

Hi Gail, thanks for your feedback. I enjoyed the research time spent on this hub. I did read that hub you mentioned and it was very interesting. The trip to Michigan was very relaxing. It was so fun to see everyone for a week and we did a lot of things together with the kids. I miss them already! :) (((Hugs back))) Hope you and Hubby are enjoying the summer.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on July 24, 2012:

This is a very cool hub that's filled with lots of interesting information and facts about conveyor belts.

I thought that your suggestion to Simone to make automation into a weekly topic was excellent and you certainly did a great job on this hub.

I also see that today's HOD was on the topic of automation, but as it effects airline pilots.

Hope you enjoyed your visit with Cara and the grandkids.

Hub Hugs,


Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on July 24, 2012:

Hello Denise, Interesting topic. It brought back the memory of Lucille Ball trying to keep candy on the conveyor belt. Ha..

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on July 24, 2012:

Hi dulcegaede-thanks for your feedback-much appreciated. I actually had a lot of fun researching this hub. :)

dulcegaede from Saint Louis, MO on July 23, 2012:

Great Job! I can tell from reading your hub (and your list of resources) that you put a lot of work into writing this hub - and it shows! It was interesting and I learned a lot - I too was amazed by the world-record conveyor belts!

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on July 23, 2012:

Frank...only if those ants had been riding on some type of pulley system, haha. Oh, who knows...maybe in the ant world they have constructed something like that. Thanks for your feedback, LOL

Hi CyberShelley...niche choice? What's that? Hahaha oh, don't mind me, I'm still grappling with 'keywords' and SEO! :) Thanks for finding it fascinating-I did too.

RedElf-I'm with you, who would have known? So, it just goes to show-where there is a human there will be a competition of some sort! Thanks for your comments.

Hi Randomcreative-thanks for your feedback-I appreciate it. :) Glad you enjoyed it.

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 23, 2012:

Great topic for an article! Well researched and laid out. I enjoyed this.

RedElf from Canada on July 23, 2012:

I had not idea there were world-record conveyor belts! Thanks for an interesting and entertaining hub!

Shelley Watson on July 23, 2012:

This was absolutely fascinating, from the longest in the Sahara, to the fastest in Germany. Well done an excellent niche choice! Up and interesting.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on July 23, 2012:

I enjoyed the little touch of conveyor belt history.. you know the idea really came from watching ants carrying loads back to the nest right? LOL I just made that up LOL a great interesting.. thanks for sharing.. ants? hmm that could have happened though.. right?

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on July 23, 2012:

Alan-my gosh, I wish now I had added the YoSushi to this hub, and may actually go back to do so. I read about that and was intrigued! I left it out because I thought I already had so much info. Thanks so much for visiting and leaving that personal comment. I appreciate it. Thanks for the vote.

AlanRimmer from Southwest UK on July 23, 2012:

I wouldn't have thought reading about conveyor belts could be so interesting. I'll be thinking about your hub the next time I'm eating in Yo Sushi. Just goes to show how much we take for granted. Voted up and interesting.

Denise Handlon (author) from North Carolina on July 23, 2012:

Wow! that is interesting, freecampingaussie. I was just reading some of the others and realizing that a major inconvenience of 'modern day' technology is when it stops working! haha. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

freecampingaussie from Southern Spain on July 23, 2012:

Hi - I enjoyed your hub as I work in a supermarket & recently the power went off so the belt wasn't working . It really makes a diference trying to work without it . Will vote this up.

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