Food Conveyor Systems: When to Use Horizontal Motion vs Vibratory

Jul 19, 2023

Modern food conveyor systems keep your product clean, safe, and fresh while moving through your facility. Choosing just the right value-added handling technology to match your processing needs can help give your company the edge. 

Food-grade horizontal motion and vibratory conveyor systems offer very different solutions to the same problem: moving more products faster and smarter. 

Here’s how partnering with an experienced conveyor supplier like PFI can help you put more speed, flexibility, and in-motion processing power on your line and better quality products out on the shelf.


Horizontal motion and vibratory food conveyor systems each offer smart potential solutions to the challenge of transporting food products through your facility safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively. 

Turning that potential into real value for your product and bottom-line gains for your company depends on matching the advantages of the right process to your company’s product mix, value proposition, and budget.

Below, we’ll take a close look at the factors that determine which conveying process might work best for your product and company. We’ll consider:


Food-grade horizontal motion conveyors provide steady, gentle, forward movement that moves food in the desired direction by sliding it down one or more product pans. Horizontal conveyors are powered by advanced computer-controlled servo motors. These motors generate controlled, consistent forward movement while also allowing:

  • Infinitely variable speed control
  • Instant motion start/stop
  • Full motion reversibility

Horizontal motion conveyors combine steady movement with robust, durable construction and are capable of moving products up to 40 feet a minute. The equipment requires a flat or slightly inclined bed to move product. It can also move product at a decline and a slight incline, usually not more than a 1-degree upward slope.


Horizontal motion conveying is also well suited to extreme operating conditions, including freezer rooms and processes involving the harshest wash-down and sterilization procedures.

The higher-quality direct-drive horizontal motion conveyors built by PFI are limited in length to about 20 feet per unit.  Multiple units can convey material for distances of up to 60-80 feet, but the cost of moving material per line foot is higher. Some manufacturers can build longer units, but these require large mechanical drives, which adds to maintenance costs and downtime. 

Horizontal motion conveyors can also be run in reverse. This is very useful when slowing or reversing the line is required, allowing, for instance, the product to be held up without stopping the line so that bagging film can be replaced.

Horizontal conveyors offer quieter mechanical operation than other transfer or handling solutions, although this also depends on the material you are handling. 


The sealed direct drive servo motors used on leading units like PFI’s PURmotion horizontal conveyor equipment protect the most sensitive mechanical components while making more of the unit’s moving parts visible and accessible. Simple design and smooth, threadless construction reduce harborage points and allow easy cleaning and sanitization. And stainless steel pans are easy to wipe and wash down.


Smart design also makes maintenance easier, while drop-in or toolless replacement of more parts becomes possible. Horizontal motion conveyors can operate faultlessly for many years, although key parts like bushings need to be replaced every few years — or more often for conveyors operating in harsh applications.


Horizontal motion conveyors feature a more sophisticated design and offer greater control over production motion and speed. The up-front expense of design, customization, and installation of horizontal motion equipment tends to be higher than vibratory equipment, but maintenance costs over time are generally lower.


Food-grade vibratory conveyors are driven by mechanical or electromagnetic drives that generate side-to-side agitation along the line. Depending on the product you’re moving, these can be:

  • Long-stroke, lower-frequency mechanical drives for slower, more gentle agitation, or
  • Short-stroke high-frequency electromagnetic drives for faster, more aggressive motion.

This makes vibratory conveyors a flexible solution for a wide range of food-processing applications. Longer-cycling mechanical drives are used when a product can be moved more slowly or to protect fragile foodstuffs, while higher-frequency electromagnetic drives are used to provide aggressive agitation or to move lighter foodstuffs more quickly.


Leading equipment providers like PFI offer conveyors capable of moving at up to 55 feet a minute, although this depends on both the nature of the foodstuffs and the type of drives used by a vibratory conveyor. PFI’s vibratory equipment limits its vibratory conveyors to a maximum length of 22 feet per unit, with multiple units used to achieve longer lengths. Pan width varies based on product rates and density. 

Vibratory conveyors are a tried-and-true conveying solution that provides great flexibility in where and how they can be installed. Vibratory equipment also offers the ability to move product down relatively steep inclines and up slopes as steep as 7º.

Vibratory conveyors also adapt well to harsh environments, including hot and freezing conditions. Vibratory equipment tends to be noisier than horizontal motion equipment, but again, this is determined mainly by the material being handled.

Processing in Motion

Breaded chicken tenders on a vibratory conveyor

However, the real value of vibratory motion conveyors lies in their ability to add value by orienting and processing your product while in motion. By fine-tuning side-to-side agitation to the product being transported, vibratory conveyors can be designed to:

  • Orient product for packaging or further processing
  • Spread out loose material into a single layer
  • Grade product by size 
  • Screening product to remove material that is too small
  • “Scalp” product to take off material that is too big
  • Dewater product without drying it
  • Lane material for separation


PFI manufactures a range of food-grade vibratory conveyors with industry-leading features designed to maximize food safety and easy maintenance, including:

  • No lubrication design and no food-exposed moving parts
  • Sealed covers to protect sensitive equipment during wash-down
  • Open construction to allow easy maintenance and parts replacement
  • Pans that are easy to wipe and wash down


Vibratory conveyors are relatively easy, although equipment does need to be kept tuned and adjusted to reduce wear and ensure optimum performance. Springs exposed to extreme heat or cold must be replaced regularly. 


The flexibility, higher capacity, and wider availability of vibratory conveyors make them relatively cost-effective to install and run. Conveyors designed to sort and separate products cost more to set up but can add huge value to your operation over time.


The following table summarizes the main similarities and differences between horizontal motion and vibratory conveyors.

Horizontal Motion Conveyors Vibratory Conveyors


PurMotion horizontal motion conveyor VFII vibratory conveyor


Gentle forward motion Side-to-side agitation

Unit length

Up to 20 feet Up to 22 feet
Maximum line length  60-80 feet (multiple units) 60-80 feet (multiple units)
Pan width Fixed Can be built wider
Initial cost Higher Lower
Maintenance Lower Somewhat higher
Process integration Good Excellent
Noise Low (but depends on food) Higher (but depends on food)
Sanitary design and features
Food-grade materials
IP69K* components
Reversible motion
Uphill operation
Fragile foods  
Screening (removing crumbs)
Scalping (removing clumps)
Oil and sticky foods
Seasoned foods
Mixed foods
Frozen foods
High-temperature operation
Visual inspection
Portioning for packaging

*IP69K certified equipment meets strict standards to prevent water ingress during washdown.


Horizontal motion conveyors offer consistent, gentle motion and fine movement control. Models from PFI or other leading manufacturers feature robust construction and quality materials to deliver long-term performance. While equipment like PFI’s PURmotion conveyors may cost more, they also deliver industry-leading reliability sanitation performance when it matters.

Horizontal motion equipment offers some key capabilities that make it particularly well suited to handling fragile food products in the final stage of processing.

  • Gentle handling ensures seasoning is not knocked off ready-to-eat foods
  • Mixed foods are maintained in the correct proportions
  • Horizontal motion lines integrate well with proportion gates used for packaging
  • Food on the line can be visually inspected for quality control

Horizontal motion conveyors do not work as well with food that is processed in the middle of your value chain. This includes

  • Wet products
  • Sticky, waxy, or oily foods or products that leave a residue
  • Any materials that require separation, screening, or scalping

Instead, horizontal motion conveyor technology works best when well-matched to your product mix. It is particularly effective for dry, denser, and fine products, or products that mix materials of different sizes and consistencies. It’s also good for handling any fragile product including fresh and frozen produce. Ideal applications for horizontal motion equipment include:

  • Soft fruit and vegetables
  • High-value frozen seafood
  • Baked goods
  • Cereals, granola, trail mix
  • Ready-to-eat snacks from chips to Chex Mix


Vibratory conveyors are a cost-effective way to move and process many foodstuffs. The versatility, scalability, and value-added pre-processing ability of vibratory conveyors make them a go-to solution for many common processing challenges. 

That said, investing in higher-quality vibratory equipment will improve reliability and reduce maintenance down the line. Manufacturers like PFI produce equipment with minimal moving parts and rigid construction, as well as industry-leading sanitation compliance and protection.

The higher capacity and lower cost-per-foot of vibratory equipment make it a good choice for handling large volumes of material in the receiving and processing phases of your operation. It’s great for dewatering delicate foods to avoid harsh drying processes. It can also be designed to allow oily or fried foods to drain effectively and to prevent sticky foods from adhering to the line. 

Vibratory conveying equipment can add huge efficiency and value to your processing operation through these and other value-added applications:

  • Orientate product for packaging or further processing
  • Spread and pre-sort treated product before drying or compression
  • Remove crumbs or clumps from granular products to ensure product consistency
  • Separate mixed-grade materials into graded lanes

Vibratory equipment is not well suited to handling delicate or very fine products, or mixed components that need to be kept in specific proportions. It is also difficult to separate specific proportions from a vibrating line for packaging.

Instead, use versatile food-grade vibratory equipment to transfer, sort, and assemble bulk products and prepare wet, oil, or sticky foods for further processing and packing. Ideal applications for vibratory conveyors include:

  • Orientating candy or baked goods for individual packaging
  • Washing, dewatering, and grading fresh produce like potatoes
  • Removing both large clumps and small crumbs from dog kibble
  • Remove and reclaim excess water from frozen seafood without drying
  • Spreading nuts or grains before roasting or drying
  • Draining and cooling fried foods like chicken or donuts


PFI's VFII Sanitary Vibratory Conveyor

The most important factor in deciding whether horizontal motion or vibratory conveyor systems are best for your business is understanding the specific processing needs of your product. 

From critical sanitary safeguards and optimum line efficiency to managing environmental noise, the unique characteristics of your materials affect every part of your conveying process. 

Finding the right equipment match for your business can unlock immediate performance gains and deliver returns on your investment for years to come. Choosing poorly can increase food waste and equipment downtime and even compromise the safety of your product.

Whether you are considering our PURmotion horizontal motion conveyor to help get your premium finished product out the door, our versatile VFII workhorse, or the value-add potential of our customizable MAGNEflex vibratory conveyor, we’ll help you find the right mix of performance, safety, and efficiency.

Want to be sure we’ve got it exactly right? We’ll run a full-scale test of your process at our Algona, Iowa, FAT test facility.  Plus, after purchase, we can install your new equipment so that when start-up begins, you can rest assured that your line will perform at its best. 

Click below to learn more about our world-class food-grade horizontal motion conveyor and vibratory conveyor solutions.

See Our Vibratory Conveyors

See Our Horizontal Motion Conveyors

Share Story

Sanitary conveying, delivered.™

Contact us

300 Kofab Drive
Algona, IA 50511


© 2024 PFI. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. | Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions