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How Do Conveyor Belts Work?

Posted: 04 November 2020

Although there are obvious visual differences, the phrase ‘conveyor belt’ is often used as a generic term for all conveyor types but all are integral parts of many conveyor systems. Conveyor Belts work differently depending upon the tasks they carry out. Various types of “conveyor belts” can include: -

Slider bed belt conveyors and Roller bed belt conveyors

These are material handling conveyors that use continuous belts to convey products. The belt is extended in an endless loop between two end rollers.  

The conveyor belt is pulled along by an electric motor/gearbox mounted at either the discharge end or centrally along its length when either handling heavier loads or needs to be reversable.

The motor is connected to the end roller so when the motor turns it also turns the roller which pulls the conveyor belt carrying the products. The motor can either run at a variable speed or at a constant speed depending upon the design requirements.

Powered Roller conveyors

These are material handling conveyors that use rollers which are powered to convey products which run directly on top of them.

The rollers are driven by various methods including a 3-phase electric motor/gearbox mounted centrally along the length of the conveyor driving a Lineshaft type system or underbelt driven system which is in contact with the underside of the rollers, or by multiple 24-volt driven rollers which have an integral motor encased within the roller.

Both are used when either handling heavier loads, need to change direction via a roller bend or 90-degree transfer, or need to be reversable.

When the motor turns it also turns the rollers which move the products and can either run at a variable speed or at a constant speed depending upon the design requirements.

Slat and Modular plastic mat conveyors

These Conveyors have a visual appearance similar to a caterpillar track which are in fact endless chains with flat tops which can be either plastic or stainless steel thus creating a tabletop surface platform to convey small products at high speed.

Slat conveyors can be designed with tight radius bends and can bothaccumulate and be used for sortation especially in the material handling of bottles, plastic containers, and jars.

Plastic Mat conveyors come ingreater widths and thicknesses so they can handle larger/heavier packages and are more robust than standard belt conveyors and can also be fitted with rubber inserts to enable products to be inclined.

These conveyors are pulled along by a 3-phase electric motor/gearbox mounted at the discharge end. The motor is connected to the end drive shaft which has an integral sprocket so when the motor turns it also turns the sprocket which pulls the conveyor slat carrying the products. The motor can either run at a variable speed or at a constant speed depending upon the design requirements.



Conveyor Belts are material handling systems that use various types and designs of conveyors to convey products either continually or by indexing/accumulating between zones, machines, or work/packing stations.

Conveyor systems are principally designed to work automatically without human intervention so can distribute items around an operation either in a production or warehouse environment and convey products to the correct destinations around the building keeping the number of personnel to a minimum.

Spiral conveyors or vertical elevators can continually move products between floors, rather than using forklifts, goods lifts, or stairs.



Conveyor belts reduce manual handling so can lower the running costs of an operation by decreasing numbers of people as well as reducing products being carried by personnel or on trolleys.

Manual handling instead of using a conveyor belt normally means products being handled more than once which can increase the risk of mistakes or product damage.

Conveyor belts can be designed to automatically transport products to different destinations in a building by reading a product identification such as bar code or by size/weight

A conveyor belt system allows for movement of objects that are too heavy or too bulky for people to carry by hand. 

An advantage of using a Conveyor belt is that it can carry products up to a higher level above head height to allow access underneath or up to an upper floor level to avoid safety issues with people climbing stairs with packages.



Conveyor belts can be used in almost any industry where products need moving either from one area to another or to connect various processes.

Most manufacturing plants such as in food, drinks, pharma, assembly/production lines together with distribution centres and warehouses benefit from using conveyor systems.

There is a very large number of conveyor types which vary in design according to the type of product being handled. For example, a small lightweight padded envelope or polybag could not be conveyed on a conveyor system designed to handled 3 tonne pallets.

One of the main uses of a conveyor system is that it moves products around a factory/warehouse etc without the need for manual labour.


Conveyors and automation are a worthwhile investment with a multitude of benefits and often realise prompt return on investment. 

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