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What are Conveyor Belts?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Conveyor belts are loops of material that move parts or other items from one location to another. They are often driven by variable speed electric motors or by other moving parts in a complex system. These belts are commonly found in factories, grocery stores, warehouses and public transportation centers.

Before the introduction of modern automation techniques, factory workers often had to travel from project to project. The cumulative effect of all this physical motion was additional stress and inefficient use of the worker's time. Conveyor belts bring the project to the worker, instead of the worker to the project. Parts could then be transported by other belts to additional workers, and eventually to the shipping docks for delivery.

Further refinement of the conveyor belt allowed factory managers to create automated or semi-automated production lines. Individual parts could be moved through automated machinery for routine processing, leaving workers free for quality control tasks or other higher responsibilities. These devices also proved useful for transporting heavy or hazardous products, reducing worker injuries.

Many conveyor belts work on the principle of variable speed control. If a particular belt moves too slowly, workers may find themselves waiting for parts. If one moves too quickly, parts may be damaged or workers may become overwhelmed. Much of a factory supervisor's time is spent adjusting the rate at which items move for maximum efficiency. This is especially important in food production factories, where belt speed and proper cooking time work hand in hand.

The use of conveyor belts is not restricted to factories. Bakeries and pizza shops often use a slow-moving wire conveyor belt to move their products through an oven. Grocery stores use them in their check-out lines to bring items to the clerk and bagger. Airports and other public transportation systems use belts to deliver checked baggage to customers, and warehouses use long ones to offload products from incoming trucks or to load outgoing ones. Escalators found in department stores could also be considered conveyor belts, as are "people movers" or moving sidewalks in larger airports.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By Kristee — On Nov 04, 2012

I think that working at a factory on a conveyor belt line would be incredibly stressful. What if I couldn't get finished with the item before it needed to move on? I don't think I could handle the pressure of that setup.

By kylee07drg — On Nov 03, 2012

@StarJo – Most conveyor belts at grocery stores will stop running automatically once your items reach the end. I don't know where you shop, but I haven't seen the kind that just keep running no matter what in decades.

I do remember being a kid and seeing some smaller items get stuck under the belt when the cashier would forget to turn it off, though. I'm glad that stores these days have the automatic shutoff feature on their conveyor belts.

There is often a long line of people with carts full of groceries where I shop. Having to wait for the cashier to stop the belt would be a big inconvenience.

By StarJo — On Nov 02, 2012

I get annoyed when the cashier at the grocery store leaves the conveyor belt running while checking out the person ahead of me. Doesn't she know that I want to go ahead and put my groceries down?

By wavy58 — On Nov 02, 2012

Escalators come to mind when I think of conveyor belts. This is probably because I have a fear of them.

Several times, I have tripped and almost fallen on escalators. I can't seem to get the timing right when it comes to stepping on and off of them, and it's especially scary when I get to the top and the sharp metal stair is being eaten by the gap.

I think that escalators are probably the most dangerous type of conveyor belt. What gets me is that people use these every day and never think twice about it! I have used these conveyor belts enough times to know that I want nothing to do with them anymore.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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