What is a Modular Plastic Conveyor Chain & How Does it Work?

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In the 19th century, American inventor Thomas Robbins first introduced the conveyor design to the manufacturing world. As a continuous moving band of fabric, rubber or metal, a conveyor moves objects from one place to another. Initially, Robbins’ invention was primarily used for carrying things like coal and ores. Today, conveyors are used to transport a wide variety of objects, and they benefit manufacturing plants and warehouses all over the world. In this article, we take a closer look at Span Tech’s modular plastic conveyor chain and how our unique conveyor design can help your manufacturing process.

A Closer Look at The Span Tech Conveyor Design

Before we dive into talking about conveyors, it’s important to distinguish the difference between our modular plastic conveyor chain and the commonly used phrase “conveyor belt.” Often confused as one in the same, the two are quite different. Just as the name suggests, a conveyor “belt” is just that — a belt. It’s a continuous, flat loop of fabric or plastic that transports products in a straight line (with very few exceptions.) Our modular plastic conveyor chain is different than a belt in that it is built from individual interconnecting rows of chain. This type of design can be made to a wide variety of widths and lengths depending on the needs of the application. Additionally, because these rows can collapse with each other, our modular chain has the ability to make curved, twisting, inclining and declining conveyors.

Modular Conveyor Parts and Functions

To get a better understanding of how our modular plastic conveyor chains work, it’s important to know how their parts function together. Span Tech’s unique conveyor design is made up of the following pieces:


The chain on our modular conveyor is what carries the product from one end to another. Our plastic chain conveyor types are customized for each order and can be made in thousands of variations. They can travel through curves, twists, inclines, declines and more, and they are extremely strong yet flexible.

Drive Unit

The drive unit is what pulls the plastic chain to help keep it in motion. It contains the conveyor’s drive sprockets, drive shaft and gearmotor. Drive units can be located at either end of our modular conveyor or even in the middle.

Idler Unit

Similar to the drive unit in appearance, the idler unit is found at both ends of the modular plastic conveyor chain. Unlike the drive unit, it doesn’t provide power. Instead, it allows the chain to move from the top to the bottom of the conveyor.

Bed Section

Located between the drive and idler units, the bed section is made of a side frame and wear strips. These strips capture the modular plastic conveyor chain and provide a low-friction running surface for it. Bed sections can be straight, curved, angled up or down, twisted or custom-made for just about any special application.

How Does a Modular Conveyor Chain Work?

It’s time we let you in on a little secret: Not all conveyors are created equal. Compared to all the different types of conveyors out there, Span Tech’s modular conveyors offer many unique features that help them stand out. Along with a distinct conveyor design, our products prove to be a cut above the rest with the following qualities:

No Chain Take Up

Thanks to our conveyor design, there is no need for a “catenary,” or chain take up section, to maintain chain tension in the system. All conveyors expand over time, and the total chain length may need to be shortened as a result. While this can be a bit of a hassle with other types of conveyors on the market, Span Tech conveyors are fairly simple to accommodate. Simply remove one or two rows of chain from the system, and you’re good to go. It’s that easy!

Individual Links

Unlike many other types of conveyors, Span Tech’s use individual links to make up the chain. This makes maintenance fairly easy and stress free if you ever have an issue. Rather than replace the entire modular plastic conveyor chain, you can simply repair the necessary parts. You’ll ultimately save money and be spared the headache that comes with investing in a brand new conveyor.

No Tracking Issues

Traditional belts require a system to keep the belt aligned and prevent it from “walking” off of the pulley. In comparison, Span Tech modular plastic conveyor chains don’t need this set up. Why? Our chains are kept in place within the bed section along the entire path of travel. The chain’s sprockets also keep the chain from traveling off of the drive unit.

No Black Residue Buildup

Quite often, a black residue can form after stainless steel rubs against certain plastics. This can leave items passing through the belt looking dirty and unsightly. You’ll never have to worry about this with our modular plastic conveyor chains. Span Tech’s stainless steel rods use a proprietary coating which prevents rubbing and eliminates black residue buildup.

Get A Top-Quality, Customized Conveyor Design from Span Tech

Since 1988, we’ve made it our mission to provide premium-quality modular conveyors for manufacturers and distributors. At Span Tech, we’re proud to offer the tightest turning radius for modular chain conveyors in the industry. Beyond that, we’re committed to providing our customers with unparalleled service and 24/7 support. Reach out to our staff to learn more about our standard straight, standard curving and speciality conveyors!

A Closer Look at Conveyor Safety


When it comes to your warehouse, safety truly is key. Conveyor operation is no exception. One wrong move, and your team members are at risk of injury or even fatality. Practicing conveyor safety is a crucial way to ensure your staff stays out of harm’s way and works efficiently. Continue reading to discover Span Tech’s conveyor safety rules and how to incorporate them into your manufacturing plant.


Span Tech’s Conveyor Safety Rules

According to the United States Department of Labor, conveyors are the primary source of more than 50 workplace fatalities each year. In the unfortunate event that your staff members get injured (or worse) on the job, your company can face legal issues, worker’s comp and other liabilities. Not to mention, your plant can lose out on valuable production time. The best way to keep your team free from harm is by practicing conveyor safety. The Span Tech experts are here to help keep your staff injury-free with the following conveyor safety tips for manufacturing plants.

1. Don’t Sit, Stand or Walk on Conveyors

While this first conveyor safety rule may seem like common sense, it can lead to serious injury if it isn’t followed. People ride conveyors because they don’t realize just how grave the danger can be. Whether they’ve seen it in action movies or they just think it sounds fun, the reality of riding a conveyor is quite unsafe. The main reasoning behind this is because conveyors aren’t designed to hold a human’s weight. They also have pinch points which can catch onto people and cause injuries. Additionally, when people ride conveyors, they can cause the belts to un-track or damage the system. As a result, it’s imperative that your staff never climbs, sits, stands, walks, rides or touches the conveyor line.

2. Refrain from Modifying or Misusing Conveyor Controls

Unqualified personnel should never attempt to modify or disconnect conveyor controls. When this happens, it can create a less safe working environment and put your team at risk. Conveyor controls are part of a larger system, so any changes should be approved by management. Be sure to monitor your controls to ensure no staff member has misused, modified or disconnected them.

3. Follow Lock Out, Tag Out (LOTO) Procedures

LOTO is a very important procedure used in manufacturing settings. It involves making sure dangerous machines like conveyors are properly shut off and not able to be started up again before maintenance is completed. If you fail to do this, your employees are subject to life-threatening injuries. To help your team follow this conveyor safety rule, we recommend appropriately training them and explaining its importance.

4. Keep Loose Items Away From Conveyors

From watches and rings to baggy clothing, it’s crucial for your team to avoid wearing loose items on the job. Pinch points can catch loose items if they’re worn near a conveyor, resulting in serious injury. A great way to implement this conveyor safety rule is to inspect staff members before allowing them near the conveyor line.

5. Alert Management of Any Potential Safety Concerns

If your employees notice a potential hazard on the job, it’s crucial for them to inform management so the issue can be resolved. The main goal should always be to spot and deal with unsafe practices, equipment or people as soon as possible. Employees will be more likely to come forward if you allow them to provide anonymous or non-consequential information submissions.

6. Utilize OSHA Emergency Stops

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), emergency stop requirements for safe conveyor operations are as follows:

  1. Means for stopping the motor or engine shall be provided at the operator’s station. Conveyor systems shall be equipped with an audible warning signal to be sounded immediately before starting up the conveyor.
  2. If the operator’s station is at a remote point, similar provisions for stopping the motor or engine shall be provided at the motor or engine location.
  3. Emergency stop switches shall be arranged so that the conveyor cannot be started again until the actuating stop switch has been reset to running or “on” position.

7. Make Conveyor Safety Training a Priority

Reviewing our conveyor safety rules with your team will help them avoid injuries on the job and keep your plant running smoothly. Provide frequent updates and refresher courses to ensure your employees know the latest on conveyor safety. Whenever your plant has visitors, they should always be informed of conveyor safety standards, as well. Above all, make the notion of preventing unsafe acts part of your company culture.

Learn More About Conveyor Safety Rules with Span Tech

One of the most important goals for any warehouse is to keep your workers safe. Conveyor use is vital, but it shouldn’t put them at risk of getting injured. Since our founding in 1988, Span Tech has been committed to helping your team work efficiently and stay out of harm’s way. We’re proud to offer a variety of premium conveyors designed with your staff’s safety in mind. To discover more about conveyor safety or our selection, contact us today!

We’re proud to bring you the best possible products to help you implement good manufacturing practices and ensure pharmaceutical quality. Reach out to our staff today to learn about our custom conveyors and start your estimate!