The Evolution of the Conveyor and the Production Line

Regardless of the type of business or even the industry, modern conveyor systems bring with them a host of unique benefits, all at the exact same time.

For starters, they’re hard to top in terms of speed of transportation alone. If you need a reliable way to consistently take materials from one step of the production process to another, conveyor systems are how you do it. Likewise, they’re incredibly efficient in terms of space – customized convey systems still allow you to have all the tools, materials and other equipment you need on your factory floor, all while taking up the smallest possible footprint as well.

Damage reduction, human error reduction, you name it – conveyor systems offer all of this and more. But they’ve become so commonplace in warehouses and other environments across the globe that a lot of people have started to take them for granted. In reality, conveyor systems have gone through quite a fascinating evolution over the years – and one that is absolutely worth a closer look.

The Power of Continuous Production

To get a better idea of why conveyor systems are so important, it’s first necessary to understand the major benefit they bring with them: one of continuous production. That term refers to a situation where all the machines in an environment like a factory are arranged in a logical order, moving materials from one end of the production sequence to the other in the most efficient way possible. Prior to the invention of conveyor systems, this was done manually – which often caused a significant number of delays as a result.

With conveyor belts and similar systems, material is transported from one phase of production to the next in a much more automated fashion – allowing employees to focus less on the actual transportation of materials and more on the quality of the work that they’re accomplishing. Within the specific example of a conveyor belt, the speed of that system has to be timed perfectly as materials move from one station to the next. If materials move from Station A to Station B, and it will take X number of seconds for an employee to complete their work before those materials can move onto Station C, that system has to be timed perfectly to avoid disruption.

This is also commonly known as the “cycle time” of a conveyor system, and it’s something that obviously changes depending on the industry and even the application you’re talking about.

The Journey of the Conveyor: The Story So Far

Believe it or not, the earliest examples of conveyor systems actually date all the way back to the 19th century. It was then that a man named Thomas Robins developed what could arguably be called the first example of a conveyor, something he used to carry coal, ores and other materials across a production line.

Primitive conveyor systems that were developed during this time were used for a wide range of different reasons – like for transporting grain and flour over short distances. They also began to appear in places like shipping ports, where they helped employees load cargo onto ships.

Flash forward a few years, and a Swedish engineering company named Sandvik took that idea and ran with it – beginning production on the types of steel conveyor belts that actually have a lot in common with the systems we now use today.

Maybe the biggest step towards what we now think of as a modern day conveyor system appeared in 1901, when a man named Ransom Eli Olds patented a continuous assembly line. Olds was quickly becoming prominent in the automobile industry, and if his name sounds familiar there is a good reason for that – he was the founder of the Oldsmobile brand.

Olds used his continuous conveyor system to launch the first series-production of cars capable of very high volumes anywhere on the market. He didn’t use traditional conveyor belts, however. Instead, his unique conveyor system transported materials on wooden pallets from one part of the production line to the next.

But it was in 1913 that may be the most famous example of a conveyor system hit the market. It was then that Henry Ford became the first automobile manufacturer to use traditional conveyor belts as he mass-produced the Model-T – something typically regarded as the first affordable car in the world. Using little more than this conveyor belt system (along with a lot of ingenuity and skill, to be fair), Henry Ford was able to dramatically reduce the amount of time it took to produce each car from 12.5 hours down to just 1.5 hours.

Of course, Henry Ford was never one to stop innovating. Just a year later, he developed a new mechanized conveyor belt that moved at approximately six feet per minute – a new record at that time. Over the next few years, these types of conveyor systems became a standard inclusion on production lines in the automobile industry – and they’re still in use on factory floors today, too.

Flash forward to today, and automated conveyor systems have become the new norm for production lines across the world. They’re ideal because they allow employees to focus less on manually transporting items from one place to another and more on those tasks that truly need them. They do so in a way that not only creates the most effective working environment but the safest one as well.

Conveyor systems have also made a dramatic impact on production lines thanks to how they consistently move products from one place to another. Because everything is moving so efficiently, bumps, scratches and scrapes are dramatically reduced – thus improving the quality of work that employees are able to accomplish.

Yes, it’s been a long time since the conveyor system first made its debut. But when you consider how far the technology has come in even just the last five years, it’s truly exciting what the next five (and beyond) years may have in store for us all.

Let’s Get Started

To find out how you can implement a state-of-the-art conveyor system in your manufacturing operations, contact JHFOSTER today. Our automation experts can help you find the best way to improve your company’s worker safety.