Organizations will always look for new solutions that minimize business expenses and increase their bottom lines, which is why it’s no surprise that manufacturers are turning to new, innovative technology to automate important manufacturing and material handling processes. With this wave of adoption comes an increased concern in regards to rising energy costs — after all, industrial manufacturing is in the in the top five largest energy consumption sectors in the U.S.

When it comes down to it, a large portion of the energy consumed within the manufacturing process comes from the electric power sources that drive production equipment. One particular area that organizations should consider taking a closer look at is their conveying process — and identify areas for energy savings.

Conveying systems will typically either use electric motors to directly move products via belts, chains or cables or will rely on a motive force from pneumatic or hydraulic systems which will also have used electricity as the original power source. Either way, these systems can account for a significant amount of the facility’s electrical load and, in turn, a high percentage of the production floor’s energy costs. Because of that, it is important to consider areas for efficiency improvements and upgrades to conveyor systems over time, to continually find new ways to cut down on energy consumption — and save money in the process.

Here are five simple ways to reduce a conveying process’s overall energy consumption, making for a more efficient and cost-effective solution with long term benefits.

(Learn about industrial conveyors on GlobalSpec.)

Selecting the most efficient conveyor type

Efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to selecting the best conveyor type to integrate into the production process. After all, greater efficiency will increase production, productivity, and profitability rates across the board, all while decreasing wasted time, energy, and materials.

Selecting the best conveyor for batch or continuous processing applications isn’t as easy as it might seem. It requires a variety of careful considerations, such as its rate, layout and safety requirements, material characteristics, installation speed or mobile requirements, and hygienic or sanitary conditions. Each of these conditions help to clarify the most effective piece of machinery for a specific application and avoid an excessive amount of connected horsepower in situations where it’s unnecessary.

An aero mechanical conveyor (AMC) is a tubular conveyor that utilizes a cable and disc assembly and moves so rapidly that the product is entrained in “air pockets” that are created inside the conveying tubes. As a result, the AMC is one of the most efficient conveyor methods, and can typically convey material at rates anywhere from 9 ft3/min (11.8 m3/hour) to 36 ft3/min (51.9 m3/hour) depending on the diameter of its tube. These conveying rates can be achieved while using drive motors between 2-5 hp. For a pneumatic conveying system to achieve comparable conveying rates, it may require a blower motor in the 20-40 hp range, making it a significantly less efficient option in comparison.

Fully enclosed mechanical conveyors eliminate dust collectors

Another indirect energy savings that comes with selecting the right conveying system is avoiding the need for an additional dust collection system.

Dust collection systems often use compressed air or expensive blowers in order to filter and remove particulate matter from the air and production environment.

By selecting a fully enclosed mechanical conveyor rather than a pneumatic system, many external dust collector systems can be completely eliminated, saving significant power, reducing maintenance, and eliminating some of the safety concerns that are typically associated with combustible dusts and the use of dust collection systems.

Swap in a premium-efficiency motor

Maximizing the efficiency of your electric motors is another great way to save energy and reduce overall plant operating costs.

Many manufacturers offer what they claim to be high efficiency motors, however, the real savings can be found by switching over to a premium efficiency motor that will significantly reduce the systems overall energy consumption levels. These motors are created to deliver the same amount of power to the conveying system, all while utilizing less overall energy, resulting in reduced energy costs. This higher level of efficiency is achieved through the use of superior construction materials, windings, and an improved tolerances — all elements which can help to reduce losses.

And while premium efficiency motors obviously come with a higher initial cost, ROI calculations show the investment can often be recovered in under two years.

(Learn about AC motors and DC motors on GlobalSpec.)

Consider a variable frequency drive

Another energy and cost saving solution comes from running a motor using smart equipment controls, which take and interpret the information that comes from the motors and allows the controls to regulate the motors based on the real time production requirements. Many traditional conveyor systems have only two options: on and off. When the conveyor is powered up it will run at full speed, regardless of the current production status.

A solution for this comes in the form of a variable frequency drive (VFD), which is used to regulate the speed of the conveyor and adjust it to meet production needs in real-time. Variable frequency drives internally vary the voltage and frequency of the alternating current driving their motors, which helps to save energy over time.

By enabling dynamic matching of motor speed to varying load requirements, VFDs can substantially reduce a motor system’s energy consumption. VFDs can also improve a system’s power factor (PF) and provide other benefits such as soft-starting and overspeed capability.

VFD’s allow electric motors to operate at lower speeds, thus saving on energy consumption. For example, a conveyor running on a VFD that reduces motor speed by 50% could result in a decrease in energy consumption of up to 90%. This can extend the motor’s overall life span and deliver even greater long-term return on investment — justifying the higher upfront costs.

(Learn more about VFDs on GlobalSpec.)

Replace old conveyor systems at regular intervals

Without realizing it, using older, outdated conveyor technologies could be costing an organization far more than it appears at first glance. Just because a conveyor system may have have lasted more than thirty years it doesn’t always equal value or cost-savings. In fact, it’s more than likely inadvertently costing the organization a significant amount of money in not only excess energy consumption, but also with continual repairs that result in production downtime and inefficiency due to recurring maintenance.

For most companies, completely replacing multiple pieces of equipment all at once is often not a possibility financially. However, incremental updates to individual systems over time is just as effective. Replacing motor-driven conveyor systems with a more energy efficient model can positively impact other parts of the production process, leading to faster return on investment for these upgrades.

Continuously integrating new technologies and improvements into the production process is an important part of any business model. Increased efficiency of a manufacturer’s conveying process, which traditionally accounts for a large percentage of a production floor’s energy costs, will affect an organization’s overall bottom line and competitive edge in the marketplace, two elements that are foundational to its continued success.

About the Author

Andy Forrester, a former Royal Air Force officer, has over 20 years of experience in senior-level roles across the powder and bulk solids, manufacturing, and construction industries. Today, he serves as the Vice President of Sales for the Americas for Spiroflow Systems, Inc. ( Spiroflow is a global leader in the field of powder handling and dry solids processing and an emerging leader in control systems integration.You may reach him at or at (704) 246-0953.