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A Brief History of Conveyor Belt Systems


There are many excellent conveyor systems and associated parts available through YB Components, with products such as Ave conveyor chains, Berges speed belts and the Continental Variflex belts all available for order. But while modern belt manufacturing might be the best it has ever been thanks to these high-quality belt manufacturers, that is only because of the long history of invention and innovation that precedes them.

Here is a brief glimpse into the history and evolution of conveyor belt systems.

The Origins of Conveyor Belt Systems

Conveyor belt systems have been in use as far back as the early 19th century. One of the earliest examples was a very crude steam-powered conveyor belt system employed by the British Navy who used it to transport special long-life biscuits from a bakery to the storage and packing area.

The technology greatly improved later in the nineteenth century thanks to an American inventor and manufacturer by the name of Thomas Robins. Robins invented a new conveyor belt system designed to transport coal and ore for Thomas Edison’s Ore-Milling Company. His invention was so successful that it won the Grand Prize at the Paris Exposition World Fair in 1900. Eventually Robins started his own companies off the back of his invention, firstly the Robins Conveying Belt Company and later the Robins New Conveyor Company.

Another major technological breakthrough came about in 1905 when the Irish engineer Richard Sutcliffe created the first conveyor system to be used underground, specifically within coal mines. In the process, the Tipperary-born inventor completely transformed the mining industry.

As well as revolutionising the way coal was transported by massively reducing the required amount of physical labour, Sutcliffe also invented the world’s first coal-cutting machine. Later he would pioneer the manufacture of conveyor belts used in assembly line industries.

Ford Popularise Mass Production with Conveyor Systems

Soon after the Robins and Sutcliffe innovations, the Ford motor car company started using a continuous conveyor belt assembly line which massively enhanced the efficiency of the company’s manufacturing process during the making of their famous ‘Model T’ car. This model was famous because it was generally considered to be the first affordable automobile.

This huge technological advancement in industrial mass production would inspire a great many other companies all around the world. Thus, the conveyor belt system had truly arrived as a mainstream manufacturing tool, ultimately leading to modern companies producing the likes of Berges speed belts, Ave conveyor chains and the Continental Variflex belts.

However, there were a few twist and turns – quite literally – before the conveyor system truly reached it modern form…

The Mobius Strip Conveyor Belt

The Turnover Conveyor Belt System as it was officially called was invented in 1957 with the intention of being more durable than previous conveyor belt systems. It was patented by the B. F. Goodrich Company and worked by incorporating a half-twist in the belt during operation, reminiscent of a Mobius Strip. This meant that the belt would last longer by being able to expose both sides of its surface to wear and tear.

As brilliant an idea as this was, it would soon be made redundant by conveyor belts that were constructed out of multiple layers of different materials which ensured they had a longer lifespan while operating in the usual fashion.

The Mobius Strip style conveyor belt is no longer in production, but it is still nice to remember that little bit of human ingenuity that briefly solved a long-standing problem in a particularly unconventional manner.

Modern Conveyor Belts

The conveyor belt systems would continue to evolve through the twentieth century, with them beginning to resemble conveyor systems of today around the 1970s. It was then that the first patent for a modular belt was filed, a conveyor type now used throughout much of modern manufacturing. That patent for an entirely plastic modular belting system was filed by a New Orleans-based company called Intralox, who are still going strong today.

Also notable from this era was the construction of the longest straight-belted conveyor system in the world. It was built by the French in 1972 on their island territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific and apparently measured 13.8 kilometres long.

If you require any belt system parts such as the Continental Variflex belt, Berges speed belts or Ave conveyor chains – then contact YB Components who are the UK’s leading conveyor parts suppliers.