How Mining Conveyors Have Developed Through the Years

November 20, 2022

Conveyors are critical in quarrying, mining, and mineral processing, although they are often overlooked. Did you realise these industrious devices were not always there in human history? Consider your surface or open-pit mining operation without conveyors: everything would move significantly slower and inefficiently, and the entire operation would be far riskier!

And, once you’ve finished reading this article, if you have any questions concerning conveyors or how our conveyor systems might help your business, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

The Initial Conveyors

If conveyors had a single inventor or original installation location, time has regrettably erased such information. What is known is that, while Henry Ford’s vehicle assembly product lines made conveyors famous in the early twentieth century, he did not develop them (as many people incorrectly believe). He just improved on previous technologies.

Conveyors originally emerged around 1795, according to several sources. These early conveyors were hand-operated and made of leather belts and wooden beds. They are most commonly seen at ports transporting agricultural supplies from land to sea.

Revolutionary Enhancements

As the Industrial Revolution gained root during the 18th century, the phasing out of human labour in many manufacturing contexts began to favour steam-powered machines. At the time, steam power was the “hot” new technology!

Some used the first steam-powered conveyor belt less than a decade after they were invented. While you may imagine this innovative, machine-driven conveyor would have weathered the difficult chore of loading ships, it functioned in a bakery that manufactured biscuits for sailors to enjoy! In any event, advances in steam technology meant that conveyors no longer needed to be hand-cranked, making them more suitable for a wider range of applications.

Machine-driven conveyors immediately gained popularity and began to emerge in various sectors. However, it would be over 100 years before they were used in mining operations. For most of the 1800s, railcars were the primary way of transporting gravel and coal from mines to surface activities. However, as new belt materials such as rubber and steel were available, this preference began to shift.

Materials for New Belts

According to some reports, early conveyor belts were made of rubber, which was far from ideal. It was prone to temperature changes, becoming stiff and unyielding in cold conditions and dissolving and becoming sticky in warm temperatures. These issues persisted until inventor Charles Goodyear created vulcanised rubber in 1844. Because of his invention, rubber became a far more stable material that did not respond negatively to temperature variations. However, the mining sector eventually switched to steel conveyor belts. Beginning in 1902, Sandvik was the first producer to create these belts.

The first subterranean conveyor belt, consisting of layered cotton and rubber, was introduced a few years later, in 1905, by mining engineer and inventor Richard Sutcliffe. Steel belts were frequently used in the food processing sector at the time. On the other hand, rubber-covered belts became the industry standard in mining, quarrying, and mineral processing due to their greater durability and flexibility.

Rails Have Been Removed, And Conveyors Have Been Installed

During the next several decades, mining and quarrying were transformed by Sutcliffe’s subterranean conveyor belt, which allowed vast amounts of material to be moved from the extraction site with considerably less work. It was no longer necessary to build and maintain costly train lines. When the life of min expired, a conveyor was considerably easier to pack up and remove, which was essentially permanent. However, because technical breakthroughs did not spread as rapidly as they do now, it took some positive PR to popularise conveyors.

Purchasing and installing conveyors was not as simple in the early days as it is now when all you need to do is contact us at Hawk Machinery for all your conveyor needs.

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