Monday, February 18, 2013

A Brief History of Conveyor Belts and the World They Ushered in

Conveyor belts have a long history as an integral part of
production from the coal to the automotive industry.

No history of the last century, or of the current one, would be complete without a history of the industrial conveyor belt. While conveyor belts have been in service since at least the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in England (the first such belts were made from leather or canvas and served as flimsy, short-distance transportation systems for sacks of grain), the scale and scope of their application continued to expand. By the turn of the 20th century, conveyor belts were being used to unload materials of significant weight – things like lumber and wooden shingles – from out of railcars in Northern cities such as Minneapolis. With the discovery of electric energy and the consequent automation of production that electricity enabled, it was only a matter of time (1919) before the first automated “roller” conveyor was used for automotive production by none other than Henry Ford.

By the mid 1920s, conveyor belts were a “boomtown” industry. The developed nations in Europe and North America all strove to produce goods at a faster and more accurate rate than their competitors. Those who dwelt in the realm of hand-crafted or conventionally assembled products were caught off-guard and left in the wake of the Modern Era. During the Second World War, assembly lines became something of a national icon in America, in that they were used to churn out seemingly endless numbers of tanks, trucks, jeeps, fighters, and bombers for the Allied war effort against the Axis powers. The city of Detroit, birthplace of the Ford Motor Co. and the automotive assembly line, earned itself the new distinction as the “Arsenal of Democracy” on account of the sheer quantities of armaments it produced for American and Allied armies.

The basic science was already well in place by 1945, but improvements throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s left conveyor systems with better means of control over their own operation. Utilizing a series of internally powered rollers and pulleys, these new generations of conveyor belts paved the way for the megalithic, high-efficiency conveyance systems we see in operation today. As it stands, the longest conveyor belt in the world is located in Western Sahara, where it is used in phosphate mining.

Even as the basic operating principals continue to hold, there are continuous tweaks, fine-tunings, and upgrades being made to conveyor systems and conveyor belt weaves alike by companies far and wide. We at Furnace Belt are a proud, long-standing player in an industrial sector that has become an iconic symbol of capital-I “Industry” itself. As the 21st century rolls along, so shall we.

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