The History of the Conveyor Belt
We are big fans of the many different inventions that have allowed us to mass produce items in the way we do today. Anyone shopping at a local Wal-Mart for anything from strainers to rifles can count on discounted prices and availability due to the invention of processes which aid manufacturing.
One of the most important industrial inventions of any age has got to be the conveyor belt. You can find these important mechanisms in industries of all sorts, from pulp mills to auto manufacturing plants. They are an important piece of sheet metal fabricating equipment, plastic molding, and space age projects including the assembly of powerful pieces of equipment like the Hubble Space Telescope. If one were to guess at how the conveyor belt came to be invented, it would be fairly natural to assume they were just a progression on the concept of the assembly line. After all, the basic idea of any conveyor belt is to move a product on down the line to the next stop, where the product may be sorted or added to depending upon the operation.
In fact, though, the conveyor belt was actually invented before the assembly line was conceived. Remember, conveyor belts are just as much a method of transporting items from one spot to another as they are anything else. This meant that as early as the 19th century, various industries were using conveyor belts operated by hand cranks to take some of the labor out of moving pieces from one spot to another. The early 20th century would see this primitive form of conveyor belt evolve and become the intrinsic part of industry that it is today. This progression came in 1901, when the first conveyor belts which included the steel pulley and belt, were invented by Swedish company Sandvik. This innovation was followed up by the conveyor belts introduction into coal mines in 1905, which is seen as a revolutionizing step within the history of the mining sector. The belts allowed massive quantities of materials to be moved out of shafts and onto trucks without additional labor.
It was Henry Ford who married the concept of the assembly line and the conveyor belt in 1913. With the system in place to transport pieces from one station to the next, overhead costs fell and production rose accordingly. Detroit became the epicenter for the exploitation of this “new” industrial innovation.
Today, of course, conveyor belts are found in many industries from airplanes to laundry baskets, and thousands of other goods are produced with the aid of these inventions. Conveyor belts have continued their evolution as well. Today, the days of hand cranked belts are long gone. Instead, expect to find state of the art conveyors complete with electronic circuit design boards.
All in all, the conveyor belt can definitely be ranked as one of the most important industrial innovations of all time. They help speed up processes in virtually every industry, and are still one of the most cost effective pieces of equipment humans have ever employed.