An elevator conveyor is a continuous belt that can move materials from one height or elevation to another. These conveyors can be powered by electricity, gasoline engines, or even by hand cranking. They are useful whenever materials need to be moved vertically up or down in storage or processing without carrying them.
Many materials can be transported on an elevator conveyor, and the many designs of systems reflect that. Small parts can be moved in metal or plastic buckets attached to the belt. The buckets will automatically dump parts into other belts or storage bins as they reach the top of the conveyor. These belts run continuously over cylinders located at each end. This movement causes the belt to roll over at the top and return to the bottom inverted, or upside-down.
The conveyor can be a belt with vertical separators to capture materials and move them up or down. For heavier materials that may damage buckets or separators, however, the belt may be manufactured with ridges or bumps that add friction and prevent material from sliding. The belt may be smooth and inclined or tilted at a lesser angle to prevent material from sliding backward.
Mining and ore processing is a common use of an elevator conveyor. The raw ore can be moved from the mine over long distances and different elevations to processing facilities. Processing normally includes several crushing or grinding steps, and belt systems are used to move ore through the dry parts of the process to the extraction step. Waste rock can also be moved by conveyors to landfill areas.
Warehouse shipping operations use these systems to move packages in and out of storage, and to prepare parts or products for shipment. Electronic controls can be installed to remotely bring products to shipping via automatic selection equipment. A computer can tell a robot to pick up a product from storage and place it on the elevator conveyor. Sorting equipment can read codes or embedded chips on the boxes or parts, and automatically transfer the part to different belts running to designated shipping zones.
Grain storage and shipping use elevator systems to transport the product to and from storage silos, through sizing or inspection equipment, and on to shipping. Shipping ports typically use large conveyors to load grain cargo directly into ships. Grain processing factories can move grain directly into rail hopper cars with conveyors, with scales and computers to automatically weigh, load and unload grain.
Until the mid-1800s, an elevator conveyor was often used to move people. Vertical lifts ran between factory floors with a footpad and handrail at regular intervals. Employees could step on the footpad, hold the handrail and be transported up or down as needed. The invention of the electric safety elevator car by Elisha Otis in the 1850s eventually made people lifts obsolete. A descendent of the conveyor remains into the 21st century as an escalator, which is an inclined moving stair with metal treads running on a continuous loop.