Material Testing Gives Insights for Conveyor Selection and Performance

The information derived from these tests is proving invaluable to address product-specific challenges with powder, such as compaction, abrasiveness, stickiness, and insufficient flowability. These factors can even play a critical role in selecting the type of conveyor system—whether aeromechanical, flexible screw, or tubular cable drag.

“Laboratory analysis is a quick and simple way to assess product conveyability,” says Ricohermoso. “Instead of testing a bulk of sample, 150 kg or more, lab analysis will only require a kilo of the sample to measure the densities (bulk and tapped); moisture content; particle size distribution; friability; and flowability indices such as Hausner ratio, Carr’s Index, angle of repose, and slip angle. We also consider qualitative analysis such as the tendency of the sample to be static, to form ratholes, to bridge, or to compact.”

In the food industry, it’s common for processors to test—and even retest—their products on the conveyor systems they are considering purchasing. After all, every food product or raw ingredient has distinct characteristics that will determine how it behaves under the stresses and pressures of conveyance. This testing offers crucial insights into flow characteristics, throughput, breakage potential, safety measures, cleaning requirements, and maintenance protocols. It also plays a vital role in enabling accurate equipment evaluation and sizing.

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If preventing product damage is less of a concern to processors, other options can include a range of conveyor types. Aeromechanical conveyors such as Aeroflow can be used for rapid product transport. These conveyors have a tubular design where a cable assembly, with evenly spaced polyurethane discs, moves at high speed. Enclosed aeromechanical conveyors are a good choice for conveying large volumes of products such as powdered and granulated sugar.

For those unable to visit the test facility in person, Cablevey now offers the ability to view and respond to product testing live during a virtual visit via a link to real-time video. With this technology, the tubular cable conveyor manufacturer can host both in-person and virtual visits simultaneously, which is helpful when larger work groups such as quality assurance teams have an interest in evaluating a conveyor.

Because the test center is part of a network of international test sites available to food processors within AHS’s family of companies, it’s a simple matter to perform a required test at one site and transfer the results to the needed location around the world.

In this regard, the test center offers an extensive array of conveyor types to food processors for testing purposes. The facility also provides testing on a full range of other associated equipment necessary for material handling and production, including bag conditioning, bulk bag discharging and filling, dewatering, sieving, mixing, and drying.

If the tests indicate the product is prone to breakage or damage, for example, an enclosed tubular conveyor system from Cablevey Conveyors is often recommended. Tubular drag cable conveyors excel at reducing product damage because the units gently move product through a sealed tube using a coated, flexible, stainless-steel drag cable pulled through on a loop. Solid circular discs (flights) are attached to the cable, which pushes the product through the tube without using air. These conveyors can transport delicate, precise blends for a wide variety of food types, and up to 2,000 cu ft per hour of materials in versatile layouts and configurations.

“With material testing, the main concern is usually conveyability. Through laboratory analysis, we can assess the flowability of the material to determine the throughput (a conveyor) will be able to deliver,” says Emmanuel Ricohermoso III, operations and testing manager of Automated Handling Solutions Germany GmbH Test Center in Friedrichsdorf, Germany.

For instance, material testing could be done at the Germany GmbH Test Center and the results shared with Cablevey Conveyors’ stateside test facility in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where bulk testing could be performed for a U.S.-based processor. Cablevey has tested more than 1,900 products, including beans, rice, grains, cereals, coffee, chocolate, and caramel corn peanut snacks, for some of the largest global brands. All products are run through a tubular disc and cable conveying system to observe the effects and fine-tune the results.

After identifying the optimal conveyor style, the food processor should conduct bulk tests on the actual equipment at the site. During conveyor testing, the facility’s technicians and engineers can diagnose and prescribe solutions to concerns about breakage, temperature, stickiness, or other issues. Food processors are provided with full documentation of the results, including a detailed report with video and recommendations.

As an example, AHS’s test center is a 645 sq-m (6,942 sq-ft) testing facility centered around a test workshop equipped with product transfer systems from brands that fall under the AHS and Advanced Material Processing (AMP) umbrella, including Cablevey Conveyors, Spiroflow, Kason, and Marion.

Leading OEMs have invested in facilities equipped with advanced capabilities to offer comprehensive material characterization and conveyor testing services to food processors. These services are conveniently located near major international airport hubs and are often provided at minimal or no cost.

The test facility includes a state-of-the-art in-house laboratory dedicated to material characterization.


Leading OEMs have invested in facilities equipped with advanced capabilities to offer comprehensive material characterization and conveyor testing services to food processors.

He adds that lab analysis requires less work but offers a lot of data about the material itself. “This process helps us come up with a suitable device that is tailored to the product,” says Ricohermoso.

Comprehensive testing helps food processors make well-informed decisions regarding conveyor type and brand selection based on known material properties. This approach also allows equipment engineers to create customized solutions that align with processors’ specific requirements, which leads to improved product quality, conveyor reliability, productivity, and uptime.

More assessable and comprehensive testing

However, many in the industry are now seeking a deeper understanding of the material characteristics of their product prior to this step. In a fully equipped laboratory, powders can be evaluated to determine bulk density, moisture content, and angle of repose to determine flowability.

Automated Handling Solutions (AHS) offers a comprehensive suite of material handling equipment and industrial automation, including Cablevey Conveyors, a market-leading OEM of tubular cable drag conveyors for food and high-value industrial applications; and Spiroflow, a global manufacturer of material handling equipment and provider of control systems integration.

“If the material test is something that is already part of our portfolio and it is already set up in the lab, we often offer it at no cost to food processors,” says Ricohermoso. “Typically, we only charge if there is some special setup that we must do for the testing itself.”

Although food processors are familiar with testing products on conveyors before purchase, the availability of both material testing and bulk testing at international facilities enables greater optimization of material flowability, product quality, and other desired characteristics than previously possible. With sufficient testing and conveyor selection prior to purchase, processors can significantly improve their production and performance.

For less sensitive products, flexible screw conveyors are designed to transport materials in any direction, from horizontal to vertical. The flexible screw conveyor’s only moving part, the spiral, continuously mixes as it conveys, making it an ideal choice for products like flour. The simplicity of the design makes these conveyors a cost-effective, low-maintenance option.