Modular conveyor belts are increasingly finding favour among manufacturers who appreciate their flexibility. Most systems consist of connecting rods that join individual modules together, giving processors far more options than a traditional flat belt system would. In addition, there are no tracking problems to deal with.
For Siegling modular belting product line manager Olaf van Heerikhuizen, there are other reasons to justify this mini revolution in food production. "Modular belts are clean, durable and deliver on time," he told www.FoodProductionDaily.com. "They have a long life compared to traditional flat belts, and repair work can often be done by customers."
Flat belts have the disadvantage that they are composed of layers of material on top of each other, which makes them difficult to clean and also more susceptible to bacteria.
Siegling came into this particular sector of the conveyor belt industry seven years ago, and is therefore a relatively small player in this particular market. To get noticed therefore, the company has tried to establish itself at the cutting edge of the industry.
For example, van Heerikhuizen claims that Siegling offers the food industry the only passive belt that adheres to the FDA's HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) principles. 'Passive' means that bacteria cannot grow on the belt.
"Some competitors have put additives on their belts to stop bacteria from growing," he said. "This means that the belt can be described as 'active'. "But we have invented a passive belt, because we felt there was a slight risk that if there are chemicals on the belt that kill bacteria, then this might affect the food."
The passive belt has been worked on for quite a while, but is a relatively new innovation in the modular belt sector. van Heerikhuizen hopes that the innovation will help Siegling to stand out.
"We got into this industry because we followed customer demand," he said. "We're still one of the smaller ones out there, so we need advantages. In the current economic climate, price is of course a factor, but I think HACCP is another.
"We have two choices - if we do not develop, then the only thing we can compete with is price, and we don't want to do this."
van Heerikhuizen also believes that the modular conveyor belt market still has significant capacity. Meat and fish processors are the two biggest food production markets at present, but other industries such as baking are also beginning to adopt the technology.
For example, manufacturers are turning to modular spiral technology as a means of achieving production efficiencies. Spiral systems are designed to bring significant advantages to demanding production environments. The concept is used to cool or freeze a product in a small amount of floor space, or to quickly move products from one floor level to another.
van Heerikhuizen estimates that about 95 per cent of the division's orders are to food manufacturers. These orders are often relatively small-scale, and require adapting the belts to fit a specific profile. An order for an automotive company, on the other hand, would usually be on a larger scale.
So the future looks good for the modular conveyor belt industry. Because of the extra cost, Siegling had to go out and sell the concept to food manufacturers before it could start selling its products, but these days the firm can concentrate on improving the technology.
"In the beginning the concept was not that popular," said van Heerikhuizen. "But now manufacturers are realising that they can help reduce downtime, are clean and are easy to repair. They are more expensive but they have advantages."