Bucket elevator moving pet food through a processing line

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Incline Belt Conveyors vs. Bucket Elevators

Jan 8, 2024

Both incline belt conveyors and bucket elevators help food producers maximize their production, efficiency, and footprint by elevating their products within a processing line. These machines share benefits such as optimal product handling, flexible configurations, easy integration, and sanitary design. Though incline belt conveyors and bucket elevators serve a similar purpose, these machines have numerous differences. This article will discuss what makes each machine unique and provide insight into which machine would be more effective for various applications. This article will cover:

 

 

HOW DOES AN INCLINE BELT CONVEYOR WORK?

Incline belt conveyors are driven by a pulley, belt, and drive lugs. In effect, an inclined belt moves continuously, transporting materials along the conveying path.

COMPONENTS OF AN INCLINE BELT CONVEYOR

The four primary components of an incline belt conveyor are a conveyor belt, rollers, drive system, and head and tail pulleys.

  • Conveyor Belt: A continuous loop of material that rotates around two or more pulleys.
  • Rollers: Support the conveyor belt and allow it to move smoothly.
  • Drive System: A motor, gearbox, and pulleys drive the conveyor belt.
  • Head and Tail Pulleys: Redirect the conveyor belt and maintain tension.

 

OPERATION STEPS OF AN INCLINE BELT CONVEYOR

The three fundamental steps in an incline belt conveyor’s operation are as follows:

  1. Loading: Material is placed on the conveyor belt at the loading point.
  2. Inclined Transport: The conveyor belt moves the material on an incline.
  3. Discharge: Material is unloaded from the conveyor belt at the desired location.

BENEFITS OF AN INCLINE BELT CONVEYOR

The top three benefits of incline belt conveyors are as follows:

  • Reliable operation with simple washdowns and maintenance
  • More sanitary design with fewer moving parts and open-frame construction
  • More flexible designs with multiple shapes and belt options

HOW DOES A BUCKET ELEVATOR WORK?

Unlike an incline belt conveyor, a bucket elevator is driven by a chain and sprocket. Its buckets are attached to the chain and move vertically to elevate bulk materials.

COMPONENTS OF A BUCKET ELEVATOR

The four primary components of a bucket elevator are buckets, a chain, a drive system, and head and tail pulleys.

  • Buckets: Attached to a chain, the buckets transport the materials.
  • Chain: Driven by a motor, the chain facilitates the vertical movement of the buckets.
  • Drive System: A motor and gearbox provide the necessary power for vertical lifting.
  • Head and Tail Pulleys: Guide the chain, changing the direction of material flow.

OPERATION STEPS OF A BUCKET ELEVATOR

The three fundamental steps in a bucket elevator’s operation are as follows:

  1. Loading: Material is fed into the buckets at the bottom of the elevator.
  2. Vertical Transport: The buckets move vertically, lifting the material to the desired height.
  3. Discharge: At the top, the buckets tip over, and the material is discharged into one or multiple discharge points.

BENEFITS OF A BUCKET ELEVATOR

The top three benefits of bucket elevators are as follows:

  • 90-degree elevation in a small footprint
  • Large processing volume
  • Gentle handling of dry and wrapped bulk products eliminates degradation, yield loss, and breakage

INCLINE BELT CONVEYORS VS. BUCKET ELEVATORS

As discussed above, though these two machines serve a similar purpose, they differ in how they operate and how they handle materials. The table below summarizes the similarities and differences between the two machines.

Incline Belt Conveyors Bucket Elevators
Design an Incline Belt Conveyor, the Eleveyor, by PFI A Bucket Elevator from PFI
Drive System Pulleys, belt, and drive lugs Chain and sprocket
Material Handling Mechanism Belt Buckets
Incline Angle Varies 90 degrees
Maximum Width 72” 48”
Infeed Options 1 1
Discharge Options 1 Can have multiple discharge points
Sanitary/Food-Grade Design
Stainless Steel
CIP Available
Fragile Foods
Raw/Sticky/Wet Foods
Bakery Items
Fruits & Vegetables
Bulk Dry or Wrapped Food
Nuts
Pet Food
Candy
Pasta & Rice
Cereal

WHEN TO USE AN INCLINE BELT CONVEYOR

A primary advantage of incline belt conveyors is that they are easier to clean. A smoother surface and more open frame provide easier access for cleaning and fewer places for bacteria to build up and hide. This makes them the ideal conveyance solution for raw or sticky products, bakery products like cookies or bars, and fruits and vegetables. If the product you need to convey requires a full washdown sanitation, we recommend an incline belt conveyor.

As compared to bucket elevators, incline belt conveyors require less maintenance. This allows you to spend less time training employees on maintaining the machine and less money on labor and other maintenance costs. If you have a smaller or less experienced staff, an incline belt conveyor may allow you to more effectively use your resources by saving time and money on machine maintenance.

Another benefit of choosing an incline belt conveyor is the additional customization opportunities. Although both machines can be custom-configured for your application and facility requirements, incline belt conveyors are a bit easier to customize. If your process and/or application constantly evolves, an incline belt conveyor may allow you to be more nimble and update the necessary machine features as your application changes.

WHEN TO USE A BUCKET ELEVATOR

A significant advantage of bucket elevators is that they allow for more space savings in your facility. By elevating your products vertically at no angle, a bucket elevator is the easy choice if you have horizontal space restrictions in your building’s layout. Also worth noting is that the maximum width of a bucket elevator is 48” while an Incline Belt Conveyor can be as wide as 72”, allowing for a smaller footprint.

Bucket elevators are the ideal solution for producers of bulk-wrapped or dry foods such as nuts, candy, pet food, pasta, rice, and cereal. These products need gentle handling to avoid breakage and degradation, move in large volumes, and often have fewer sanitary requirements.

A bucket elevator is also the preferred option for food producers with significantly high throughput requirements. For example, an 18” wide Incline Belt Conveyor at a 90° angle has a throughput capacity of 0.2 Cu/FT, while an 18” wide bucket elevator has a throughput capacity of up to 0.525 Cu/FT; in this example, a bucket elevator has over double the throughput capacity as compared to an incline belt conveyor of equal proportions.

Another notable advantage of bucket elevators is that they can be customized to have several discharge points on the same unit. This allows food producers to keep their products flowing into several different processes from a single machine, providing a more streamlined operation.

ADDITIONAL PURCHASE CONSIDERATIONS

Two additional considerations regarding these machines are their total cost of ownership and machine lifespan. For the same application, the initial prices of these machines are very similar, with Incline Belt Conveyors, on average, being slightly more expensive. As for machine lifespan, bucket elevators tend to last much longer if properly maintained. Though they require a bit more maintenance, they can operate successfully longer.

TRUST PFI WITH YOUR FOOD CONVEYANCE NEEDS

Whether you’re still unsure which machine would work best for your application or you’re certain which machine is the right choice, PFI is here to help. Contact us to speak with one of our food conveyance experts to ensure you’re food processing line runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible or click the link below to explore our incline belt conveyors and bucket elevators.

See our Incline Belt Conveyors & Bucket Elevators

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