Pneumatic vs. Mechanical Conveying Systems: Key Differences

Pneumatic vs. Mechanical Conveying Systems: Key Differences

In industries such as food production, business owners require a way of transporting bulk materials throughout their work environments. Unfortunately, you can’t just toss your ingredients in a box and hand them off to your client—bulk material handling is a bit more technical than that. For example, not everyone realizes how many different types of conveying systems are on the market. Instead of simply buying the cheapest belt conveyor you can find, take some time to really understand how conveyors work and what makes some better than others.

Don’t worry; if you’re still a novice in the field of conveyor systems, we can help you learn the basics. Specifically, this guide will help you make a key decision—when to buy pneumatic vs. mechanical conveying systems. Key differences are present in each one, and luckily, these differences are very straightforward.

What Is Pneumatic and Mechanical Conveying?

If you’re unfamiliar with one of the titular conveyor systems, we’ll break down exactly how each one functions before getting into the key differences. Mechanical systems include belt conveyors—your traditional, motorized conveyor unit. Although even those who don’t work with them every day are familiar with this type of system, these aren’t the only option businesses have to choose from.

A mechanical system will carry your materials in a straight line, with slight direction changes being available. To fit unique workplace needs, business owners can utilize various types of belt conveyors to accommodate certain obstacles, including maneuverability. Curved, cleated, and flat are just a few of the belt conveyors helping workplaces function each and every day.

Pneumatic systems don’t transport materials with the help of a constantly moving belt. Instead, these systems transport materials via air pressure. Pneumatic conveyors are made from a series of pipes, in which grains, powders, and other materials are pulled from one end to the other with a designated air pressure level. The right settings will vary depending on the material you’re transporting, so be sure you know exactly what travel speed your materials need to safely move through the system. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with damaged goods when it’s all said and done.

Space Optimization

Whether you’re easing into a parking spot or practicing social distancing, space is something we all think about throughout the day. In the business world, how much space you have in the workplace dictates a bevy of factors—ergonomics, efficiency, and expansion are just a few. If your client base grows immensely and you have to invest in new equipment to meet the demand, making adjustments to your current facility is obviously more straightforward than finding an entirely new warehouse, factory, and so forth.

When it comes to the size of mechanical conveying systems, these machines are bulky and take up quite a bit of floor space. Although pneumatic systems consist of mainly pipes, some components will take up floor space, but far less than a mechanical system will. As a result, installing a pneumatic conveyor is less obtrusive and far smoother than installing a mechanical conveyor.

The space optimization of pneumatic conveyors doesn’t just relate to the floor space it covers, but also its flexibility. Because the pipes in a pneumatic system can function at horizontal and vertical angles, installing them around existing materials in the work environment is far easier than it would be with a mechanical system. We don’t say this to paint mechanical conveyors as some obtrusive, annoying object, but the fact of the matter is the transition is usually much easier with pneumatic systems.

System Cleanliness

Another key difference between both of the titular systems is the potential for messes to occur. Because mechanical conveyors don’t transport material through an enclosed system, those materials can spill from the machinery. Obviously, when you’re transporting bulk materials, you don’t want to lose too much of that bulk before the material reaches your client. Plus, allowing bulk materials to spill all over the workflow simply looks unprofessional and presents potential tripping and slipping hazards for your employees.

That’s why pneumatic systems are typically considered a much cleaner method of product transportation. Thanks to the pipeline structure of pneumatic systems, your materials remain inside at all times. However, improper use of pneumatic conveyors can result in the system sustaining damage, further resulting in material spillage.

As mentioned earlier, you can adjust the speed of pneumatic conveyors to accommodate materials that are particularly abrasive or fragile. If you’re sending particularly abrasive material through your pneumatic system at intense speeds, your system can eventually fall victim to “pipeline degradation,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Preventing careless behavior such as using the wrong air pressure settings can help you make the most out of a pneumatic conveyor.

Maintenance Requirements

Possibly the biggest difference between mechanical and pneumatic conveyors is how many moving parts are present. Thanks to their functionality relying on a series of pipes, pneumatic systems don’t feature very many moving parts. On the other hand, mechanical conveyors rely on quite a few moving parts, including belts and rollers, to complete workplace tasks. Unfortunately, those moving parts aren’t maintenance-free—they require consistent, thorough upkeep to remain reliable workplace tools.

This isn’t an area where you can cut corners, though some facilities will neglect maintenance regardless. Following a maintenance schedule is essential when it comes to workplace equipment. Without the proper upkeep, a conveyor’s performance will diminish greatly over time. In fact, neglecting maintenance can cut years off of your system’s overall lifespan.

By understanding the discussion surrounding pneumatic vs. mechanical conveying systems, key differences in each one can help you determine which system is best for your workflow. As you can see, installing a pneumatic conveying system is preferable to its mechanical counterparts when applicable.

That said, as we discussed throughout the list above, there are problems that can arise in both types of conveyors. At the end of the day, a lack of knowledge or care regarding conveyor use can cause problems in the workplace, from damaged products to broken machinery. By partnering with DoverMEI for your pneumatic conveying needs, we can help you design and install a system that suits your specific needs.