A caterpillar chain is an endless-drive chain without a definite end. This means the chain is linked together at each end, creating a circle. The chain is manufactured with arranged teeth, or “dogs,” that are used to properly align with and engage a continuous conveyor system.
These types of chains are often used in vehicles that are track-driven, which means the conveyor system acts as the wheels. This, in effect, allows for a greater surface-to-surface contact that increases control and stability for the vehicle. The caterpillar chain has a wide variety of uses in different types of conveyor systems, but is most commonly used in what are referred to as caterpillar drive chains.
Because caterpillar chains are often put to intensive and constant use, the material that one of these chains is manufactured from must be able to handle the numerous tasks required by the machine it drives. Such chains also must typically be resistant to rust, as many of them are used in the outdoor elements and exposed to moisture, air, heat, and cold. As a result of this, most caterpillar chains are forged from different types of treated steel or alloys, which, though it makes them expensive, also makes them very durable. Those used in conveyor systems that aid in the automated processing of food products must be made out of stainless steel to prevent rusting and allow for sanitary cleaning.
The caterpillar chain has so many heavy-use requirements that, in addition to being made out of durable materials, the chain itself must be crafted in a manner that enables it to meet, or in most cases exceed, designated work loads. As a result, the manner in which most caterpillar drive chains are fabricated excludes the use of rivets because rivets allow for wearing over time and lead to inconsistencies in the timing of the tooth-to-conveyor ratio. Rather, caterpillar drive chains typically utilize different styles of bushings, which are pinned by high-strength shotpeened steel pins, preventing any unwanted adjustments in the spacing of the chain links.
Most commonly, the apparatus that utilizes a caterpillar chain also uses toothed sprockets that are directly connected to the drive shaft of the motor that turns them. The sprockets are driven by the motor. This engages the caterpillar chain with the sprockets' teeth, which in turn engages the caterpillar chain, which utilizes teeth of its own to engage the conveyor belt it’s driving.