Agriculture, Bulk Equipment, Conveyors

Aerobelt Australia’s American expansion

Aerobelt has gone global, installing its specialised air-based conveyors into agriculture operations in the US.

Aerobelt has installed its specialised air-based conveyors into agriculture operations in the US.

Farmers’ rice cooperative (FRC) is a grower-owned rice marketing cooperative. Since 1944, it has supplied domestic and international food manufacturers, brewers, private retailers, exporters, and distributors with premium-quality California rice.

FRC processes and markets approximately 25 per cent of all the rice grown in California, making it one of the state’s largest rice marketing firms.

FRC branded products can be found in Hawaii, Guam and the mid-Pacific Island region where per capita rice consumption is high. The company is also a principal supplier of medium grain rice for exports to Asia and the Middle East.

In 2016, Aerobelt was invited to visit FRC in West Sacramento to give a presentation about Aerobelt conveyors and their benefits. 

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The company makes use of an air cushion belt conveyor, which is where the belt is carried on a film of air instead of rollers. Air is blown under the conveyor by a small fan, with small holes along the trough to help set a certain air pressure and volume.

The belt only requires the use of return rollers and pulleys at the very ends of the system, significantly cutting down on the weight and maintenance.

Peter Mazzieri, manager at Aerobelt, said the air supported conveyors can be supplied in a range of sizes and capacities to transport a wide range of common and specialised products.

“Many different products are transported on Aerobelt conveyors across a range of industries including mining, food and industrial products,” he told ABHR.

“Aerobelt’s engineers have extensive experience across design, maintenance and installation plus extensive backgrounds in mining, design, and industrial engineering.

“There are many variations to the standard Aerobelt conveyors and rest assured if a project requires an unusual configuration, Aerobelt will give a rapid assessment of options.”

The meeting with FRC was a success, and Aerobelt provided the cooperative with a quote for a conveyor that could carry white rice from the mill to the packaging area, which would replace an old, existing roller conveyor.

In July 2020, Aerobelt received a request to quote a second reversible conveyor for them also. By September of that year, the company won the contract to deliver two 400mm-wide belt conveyors.

The first conveyor was reversible and approximately 60m long, it has a capacity of 50 tonnes per hour and belt velocity of 1.9 metres per second requiring only 2.43 kilowatts of calculated power. 

The second conveyor was approximately 136m long, it also has a capacity of 50 tonnes per hour and belt velocity of 1.9 metres per second requiring only 3.88 kilowatts of calculated power.

Both conveyors utilised the existing structural steelwork that supported the old roller conveyors. The longer conveyor had a tubular span that housed the old, exposed roller conveyor between the warehouses.

 In this tube section, Aerobelt replaced the carry idler frames with an air plenum and utilised the existing return rollers and mounts. This helped save FRC on the overall capital expenditure for the conveyors.

Mazzieri said that Aerobelt offers a range of services, from supply, delivery, steelwork, fabrication, electrical system design, installation, and commissioning.

“Aerobelt can customise the conveyors to fit the operation. We can use stainless steel construction, specialised bearings, high wear resistance chutes and inlet doors, and even reversing conveyors,” he said.

“Because less power is required to get the belt moving, we can use smaller drives and have an overall lighter conveyor construction. That also means there are fewer moving parts, resulting in less noise and maintenance requirements.

“Aerobelt conveyors can also achieve steeper inclines, due to the low product agitation on a continuously supported air belt.”

Aerobelt worked with its representative in the USA, Stephen Hartshorn. Hartshorn had a previous working relationship with Aerobelt before moving to the USA and is now the CEO of Dependable Conveyor Systems. Together they refined the designs that were required, and the conveyors were issued for manufacture in March 2021. 

Hartshorn said the enclosed conveyors were ideal for FRC, as they protected the rice from potential contamination.

“The old belts would also drop product and allowed dust to accumulate around the conveyor,” he said.

“It also had parts where employees could be caught in moving machinery. The Aerobelt conveyor removes the potential for people to get hurt.

“An added bonus is a reduction in maintenance costs. The old system was ageing and constantly needed readjustment. Due to how the Aerobelt conveyor works, the air forces the belt to remain centred.”

Aerobelt fabricated the conveyors in Sydney during the COVID lockdowns which was another hurdle their engineers had to overcome. The conveyors were completed, packed, and shipped to site on time and budget. The first reversible conveyor was installed and commissioned in January 2022 and the second in September 2023. 

Both conveyors are working as designed and have already saved FRC money on running costs and product losses due to inclement weather at site that would constantly affect the product on its old, exposed roller conveyors. 

Hartshorn said the companies plan to continue growing in North America, in the grain industry.

“The market responds to new things like it always does – people are wary about new technology,” he said.

“Building trust means developing strong relationships in the industry and showing what the conveyors can do.”  

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