Time doesn’t stand still. Neither should conveyor belts. But when unexpected maintenance or repairs bring belts to a standstill, only the clock moves forward, and the time lost can result in significantly reduced production and profit.
Recent product and tool innovations offer new solutions that can save time without sacrificing the strength, consistency and quality of the repair. Having the right tools on hand and applying basic belt repair safety guidelines can help make belt maintenance faster and easier, and help keep periods of downtime to the absolute minimum.
For the sake of convenience and effective on-site repair, here are the tools and procedures that all maintenance personnel should regard as indispensable to efficient operation, and always have on hand and ready for use.
Safety isn’t generally regarded as a product innovation. However, maintenance people should approach every repair with knowledge ofand training inrecommended safety procedures. These procedures include lockout-tagout, proper belt squaring, skiving and cutting measures, and fastener installation. Proper safety training, as well as regular reminders of safe operating procedures, should be an essential part of every repair operation.
Manufacturers offer a variety of materials and programs to assist in this effort. FLEXCO, for example, has developed a comprehensive online training tool called the Safety Task Training Programs. With the Flexco website (www.flexco.com) serving as the portal, maintenance personnel can download materials that describe four essential tasks. These include: Lockout-tagout measures that help reduce the hazards associated with accidental belt start-up; belt clamping procedures that draw belt ends together and hold them in place for mechanical splice installation; belt cutting guidelines to help ensure a straight, square belt end for optimum splice performance; and skiving procedures that simplify the removal of the conveyor belt top cover for countersinking mechanical splicing flush with the belt surface.
Each of the Safety Task Training Programs ends with a test that will help test-takers identify the level of proficiency they have achieved. Program materials are appropriate for group presentations. The information, also available on CD, provides instruction and guidance for field personnel. Plus, the downloaded information can be printed and used at the job site for quick reference.
STRAIGHT, SQUARE CUTS
Effective belt repairs start with straight, square cuts. Doing the job with a knife is both inexact and potentially unsafe. What’s more, the wider the belt, the greater the margin for imprecision and error.
Portable, lightweight belt cutters make it easier to achieve straighter, squarer cuts, and to do so with more uniformity and safety. Their use helps maximize mechanical fastener splice life and minimize downtime because a properly squared belt distributes tension evenly across the splice. With belt ends properly squared, the problems associated with mistracking, such as premature belt and splice wear, load spillage and fastener pullouts, are less likely to occur.
Belt cutters are designed for belt thicknesses ranging up to 25 mm, and for belt widths up to 2.1 m. By itself, the belt-cutting procedure is not appreciably faster than alternate methods. Preliminary steps to properly measure and square belt ends still need to be undertaken, regardless of the cutting method. Instead, savings associated with a belt-cutter stem from avoiding the time-consuming complications associated with imprecise cuts and the need to repeat the process.
Compact and fully portable belt skivers are another essential tool in the belt repairman’s arsenal. Belt skivers remove the conveyor belt’s top cover in order to prepare a belt for countersunk fasteners. The skiver is specially designed to help ensure quick, safe and accurate top cover removal at various depths. It eliminates the danger and imprecise cuts that can result from hand-knife skiving. It is also a cleaner and faster alternative to a router, since the skiver removes the top cover as one continuous strip, and does so in only a few minutes.
Skiving helps ensure proper fastener installation, which in turn helps prolong the life of the splice and prevent downtime.
A skived belt also works more effectively with belt cleaners. When fasteners are countersunk, fastener top plates are positioned flush to the conveyor belt’s top cover. Impact between cleaner blades and fasteners is virtually eliminated, enabling cleaners to operate more effectively, while adding to the operating life of both the cleaner blades and the fasteners. Routine maintenance is reduced because there is less material dropping from the belt, necessitating cleanup. The operation is quieter, too, because fastener contact with the cleaner is minimized.
Some skivers, such as Flexco’s FSK, are very compact, weigh less than 9.1 kg, and are completely portable. The tool doesn’t require electrical power, so it’s easy to use throughout the entire job site. The self-contained design does not require a separate guide track and winch.
Other tools have been specifically developed to increase the speed and precision of fastener installation. Many of these tools are fully portable and easy to operate, resulting in faster repairs and less wear and tear on the operator.
Portable power-driven belt repair tools are also available. Air-operated rivet drivers function like a drill or impact wrench, and are designed for easy one-hand operation. They eliminate the potential dangers associated with manual hammering and also simplify repairs in locations with tight clearances.
Collated rivet sets, designed for use with specific air-operated rivet drivers, further speed splice installations. Tests have shown that some of these rivet strips, carrying as many as 40 rivets, can be loaded and ready for use in just five seconds. When rivets are loaded individually the process takes approximately 35 seconds.
Keeping instruments like these readily available at the job site will help maintenance personnel safely respond to unanticipated belt downtime efficiently from a time standpoint, and effectively in terms of lasting repairs. Whether purchased individually or as a repair set, they quickly pay for themselves with decreases in both the number of repairs and the length of time taken to perform them. Furthermore, reducing potential risks found in routine belt conveyor maintenance can add up to long-term savings.
(Kevin Finnegan is market manager, heavy duty, at the FLEXIBLE STEEL LACING CO. of Downers Grove, Illinois.)