Driven by the increasing popularity of its HabasitLINK plastic modular belts in sectors ranging from packaging and food processing to car assembly, Swiss conveyor, processing and power transmission belt manufacturer Habasit has opened a CHF2m (€1.21m) Modular Belt Innovation Centre at its Reinach headquarters near Basel.
With last Autumn’s acquisition of US belt manufacturer KVP, Habasit now claims to be the world’s number two manufacturer of plastic modular belts, and of conveyor, transmission and processing belts generally. Speaking at the Centre’s inauguration, chairman Giovanni Volpi said the group had seen sustained growth in sales of its modular plastic belts, particularly in the past five years, having first moved into the field shortly after acquiring Italian plastic injection moulding specialist Plastomeccanica in 1999.
Plastic modular belt sales now account for “a significant share” of the company’s (CHF711m – €430.3m in 2006) turnover. Corrugated sheet plants and, to a slightly lesser extent -“due to the fact that metal chain belts are especially well-established in such facilities” – canning and bottling plants, are a regular destination.
The plastic belts’ claimed advantages over “traditional” fabric and metal belts include ease of cleaning and maintenance, excellent load-bearing capacity, immunity from corrosion, and, particularly, superior “tracking”; slippage and disengagement is “eliminated” via a positive drive system where belts are driven by precisely engineered plastic sprockets for minimal friction, ultra-smooth running and a long life.
Belts can also be supplied for high temperature operation – with a number offering the ability to withstand long-term use within shrink tunnels used for shrinkwrapping cans and bottles where internal belt temperatures may reach up to 240 degs C.
Each belt is assembled to the application’s specific requirements from individually moulded pieces put together in a pattern and held together with plastic or (depending on the application) metal rods. Assembly is usually undertaken by the Habasit affiliate closest to the customer, with the rod and belt module material carefully chosen to meet the application’s requirements. The simple connecting rods are installable and removable from one edge without tools.
Habasit also supplies sophisticated clean-in-place equipment, which ensures ultra-thorough cleaning, assisted by the plastic modular belts’ open hinge design, the use of oblong holes for the connecting rods and special water channels. The systems are excellently showcased at one of seven special testing stations within the Centre.
“In the packaging sphere – and in our applications to date we are often talking about moving large stacks of corrugated sheets – the plastic belts’ smooth surface also creates a more stable platform than the still widely used live roller systems,” explained product manager Alex Schöpf. “A big advantage for sheet plants is elimination of the well-known “elephant’s foot” profile at the bottom of the stack caused by sheet slippage which can occur with other conveyors. Alongside rendering a significant number of sheets unsaleable, the phenomenon can compromise operator safety.”
One of Habasit’s greatest packaging sector successes with plastic modular belts has seen it recently supply 9,700 sq m of plastic modular belt to “one of Europe’s largest corrugated sheet plants”, in Spain. Its plastic belts are also increasingly specified by bottling and canning plants; one of the Centre’s testing stations, a “bottle testing loop”, evaluates the performance of HabasitLINK modular belts on can and bottle conveyors, and can also accurately predict the customer’s energy consumption.
Habasit’s management told visitors at the opening the technology shown represented “only a fraction of the countless solutions which can be achieved using HabasitLINK and KVP plastic modular belts”. Volpi concluded: “Habasit is sparing neither trouble nor expense in using the latest technologies and in setting up this modern test centre to cerate the optimum environment for researching and developing plastic modular belts.”
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