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Impact Idlers vs. Impact Saddles vs. Elastic Bands

If you’re in an industry that involves using conveyor belts to move lots of potentially-hazardous stuff from one place to another, you’ve probably encountered that horrible moment where some piece of debris being dumped onto the belt hits just right and punctures a hole. If you’re unlucky, you’ve seen that debris, still stuck it its own hole, carried all the way to a pulley or crossbar, where it got stuck and proceeded to slice a long gash right down the middle of your conveyor belt.


There has to be something to keep that from happening, right? Of course there is. In fact, there are three common variations:

  • Impact Idlers: several sets of three large pulleys that sit below the site of impact. Each set has one pulley angled up on either side, with a third pulley flat and lower in the middle. The earliest attempt to reduce conveyor belt damage.
  • Impact Saddle: several sets of U-curved iron bars lined with dense polyurethane squares.
  • Elastic Bands: several sets of thick elastic bands with a few polyurethane pads riveted on.


The Problems with Impact Idlers

Impact idlers don’t sit snug with your conveyor belt; their three flat planes mean that significant gaps occur in the corners, where the belt pulls away from the idlers. A sharp piece of something that lands in that gap can still easily puncture the belt.


The Problems with Elastic Bands

Elastic bands do fit snug with the conveyor belt, so puncture points aren’t a problem. However, elastic bands don’t hold the shape of the belt; they adjust to it. That, in turn, means that in order to use elastic bands, you have to position them between two sets of idlers that force the belt into the desired shape, meaning you can’t use them in situations where space is limited. Also, when the bands do require repair or replacement, you have to shut down the entire operation. Both idler pulleys and saddle pads can be replaced on the fly.


The Problems with Impact Saddles

By and large, we believe impact saddles are the best solution for most situations, but they aren’t entirely without their problems. Unlike idlers and elastic bands, an impact saddle has one shape; it’s not adjustable. They’re available in any given shape, but once they’re installed, any on-the-fly changes you make are going to have to take their existing shape into account.




Extend Belt Life With Some Basic Maintenance and a Conveyor Belt Cleaner

Conveyor belt life can often be unfortunately shortened by something as simple as a failure to keep the belt clean — and while the people who manufacture the belts are profiting from your loss, it can really hit your bottom line hard. Not only do you have to buy and install a new belt, but your entire process is halted while that happens, costing you days of downtime in addition to the literal cost of the belt.

There are a few different problems that can happen when you don’t maintain your belts. First, small particles can attach themselves to the inside of the belt, getting crushed into it as it passes the pulleys. This causes the belt to get stretched every time that thicker area passes over the pulleys, eventually causing the belt to slip or split at the splice.

Second, larger sharper particles can get wedged into the belt and then catch on an impact saddle or other piece of machinery and begin making a long, continuous scratch in the belt that will eventually cause the belt to split lengthwise.

Finally, particles can get into the pulley mechanism itself and build up, slowly increasing friction and either heating up the pulley or slowing it down — either one of which can result in long-term problems.

Fortunately, all you need is a bit of basic maintenance and a decent conveyor belt cleaner setup to keep your belts lasting for their full lifetimes.

  • First, use a air compressor and blow off the inside edge of the belt a few times a day. It takes only a minute if you have everything set up and in place. Alternately, use a plough scraper or, if you have a grooved belt, a belt brush set up along the inside surface of the belt.
  • Suffice it to say, the outside of the belt deserves the same or better care than the inside; getting the appropriate kind of cleaner set up for the outside surface is critical.
  • Denatured alcohol is a good cleaner for most kinds of conveyor belt. Avoid solvents or harsh cleaners unless they’re specifically intended for your kind of belt: synthetic rubber, PVC, and polyurethane are common materials in conveyor belts and all of them react violently to different cleaners. Contact your belts’ manufacturer if you have any questions.

Aluminum Framing is the Sustainable Choice for Industrial Hydraulics

Aluminum is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust (after oxygen and silicon), immediately making it an obvious choice for a commercial metal. Aluminum doesn’t lose strength or corrode over time — nearly 75% of all of the aluminum ever used for commercial purposes is still in use today — making it an even more intelligent choice for any business that has an eye toward the long term.

The Right Shape, Sustainably
By mixing aluminum with small amounts of other elements, it’s trivial to produce an alloy that can be processed, cast, forged, rolled, or extruded into almost any imaginable form. These alloys are 95% as strong as steel at 33% of the weight, when, when you add in the corrosion-resistant nature of the metal, makes aluminum framing the perfect decision for many industrial applications where added weight and exposure to the elements can make steel a poor choice.

Furthermore, even if an accident or disaster occurs and a worksite’s aluminum framing is destroyed, aluminum can be recycled and the framing recreated for as little as 5%-10% of the energy cost of the original production.

More Benefits of Aluminum
Aluminum provides strength very similar to that of steel, but because it can be so perfectly shaped for any given job, many applications allow you to achieve that strength with as little as 70% as much aluminum as you would normally need steel. Furthermore, aluminum is more flexible than steel, allowing it to absorb significantly greater impacts without shattering.

That makes aluminum an excellent choice for hydraulics, pneumatics, and bulk material handling applications. Each of these, be it a powerful hydraulic winch or a series of impact saddles under a fast-running conveyor belt, requires a framework to hold the machinery in place. The most common choice for these frameworks is steel, because it’s more readily available and costs less per pound.

That cost is deceptive, however, because by volume, which is actually the important metric, aluminum is less expensive. Combine that with the aforementioned reduction in total material necessary for a given job, and aluminum delivers the finishing blow by being significantly less expensive than steel for any given job.

Aluminum framing — it’s less expensive, more durable, and more sustainable. Choose it for your next industrial project and reap the rewards.

How an Impact Saddle Works

The conveyor belt revolutionized the mining industry, replacing much more labor-intensive methods of hauling and drastically reducing the cost-per-ton of handling mine output. But everything was not bread and roses at first – quite often, belts were damaged by the tons of jagged debris that fell onto them at whichever spot the belt was being loaded. The material would perforate, slice, and abrade the belt. Occasionally, foreign material – anything from soda cans to roofing nails – would manage to find its way into the output stream, and they could cause serious damage to conveyor belts.

Enter the impact saddle. An impact saddle is a piece of heavy machinery that sits underneath the conveyor belt right where the oncoming mass hits. At first, a different technology called an impact idler was used – but impact idlers had a fatal flaw: they consisted of only three rotating bars, and in the narrow areas where the bars met but the belt flexed into a curve, enough of the belt’s surface area was left unprotected that serious damage occasionally occurred in the idler’s ‘weak zone’.

An impact saddle, on the other hand, is a curved line of rubber-like squares that much more closely – as in, within a quarter-inch of clearance – matches the curve of the conveyor belt itself. Furthermore, the rubber-like squares are set loosely enough in their frame that they can bend and flex to more appropriately support odd impacts or load angles. The Richwood Combi-Pact Saddle, as perhaps the top-of-the-line example, can be bolted into the same anchors that held an impact idler, providing 100% protection for the width of the entire belt without having to strip out the old settings and replace them.

Built on a single-unit steel frame and girded with Ultra-High Molecular Weight polyethylene ‘impact segments’ (rubber-like squares), the Combi-Pact impact saddle is designed to be both mechanically simplistic and utterly effective. Combined with a high-quality conveyor belt cleaner, the impact saddle forms half of a conveyor belt’s best defense against rips, holes, and abrasions. With the impact saddle absorbing potential damage at the impact site and the conveyor belt cleaner insuring that no damaging material ‘rides’ the belt around and gets into the interior belt machinery, your conveyor belts can last decades longer.

Keep Things Moving Along with a Conveyor Belt Cleaner and Impact Saddles

Conveyor belts — serious conveyor belts, not the ones you use at the grocery store — can take a heck of a beating over a pretty short period of time. When you’re pulling cubic tons of ore or coal out of the earth — or “just” moving several hundred thousand pounds of freshly-minted roofing nails out of the foundry and into some cargo trucks — you’ve got belts that have Stonehenge’s weight in sharp, viciously pointy rock and metal dropped on them every hour.

Needless to say, there are some problems that can arise…but for every problem, human ingenuity eventually produces a solution. For conveyor belts, we have the impact saddle and the conveyor belt cleaner.

The Conveyor Belt Cleaner
Conveyor belts all operate the same basic way: you’ve got a long series of rollers with a belt of some usually-rubberlike material running along it. At the end of the series, the belt rolls around the final roller and starts coming back the other way. Usually, this is exactly what you want, but when you get something stuck into the belt, that roll-around sometimes isn’t enough to get the sharp item dislodged from the belt. If it continues along back the way it came, it can get jammed in the machinery along the underside of the belt and — worst case — act like a knife, cutting the belt as the belt continues to rotate past.

Enter the conveyor belt cleaner. These clever contraptions come in a variety of forms, from a simple bulldozer-like blade that scrapes away anything stuck in the belt to a brush or set of rubber ‘wipers’ that spin in the direction opposite the way the conveyor belt is moving. With a conveyor belt cleaner, even if something does get stuck in your belt, you can be assured it’s not going to end up destroying the entire thing.

The Impact Saddle
As you might imagine, the most dangerous place for any conveyor belt is the place where the tons of sharp, pointy material land on it. Typical rollers — generally a set of three bars, one horizontal in the middle and one diagonal on either side — leave gaps where the bars meet that don’t actually support the belt. If a sharp object hits that spot just right (and they will), it’ll pierce the belt and become a problem.

Impact saddles replace the traditional rollers with a U-shaped arrangement of solid rubber ‘bricks’ that the conveyor belt will slide right along. Because they support the entire conveyor belt equally, there are no weak spots where material can break through — saving an extraordinary amount of wear and tear on your belt.

No conveyor belt will last forever — there will always be maintenance costs in the budget — but with some proper prior planning, a conveyor belt cleaner, and impact saddles, you can slash a big chunk off of that maintenance budget and keep your margins high. All it takes is a bit of that human ingenuity.