Modular portable conveyor belt

When teaching Industrial Automation to students, you need to give them access to the things they will encounter in industry. Most subjects can be taught using computer programs or simulators — for example topics covering PLC, DCS, SCADA or HMI. But to teach many other concepts, you  need to have the actual hardware on hand to be able to understand the basics. For example, machine vision, conveyor belts, motor speed control, safety and interlock systems, sensors and peripherals all interface with the mentioned control systems and can be better understood by having hardware to play with. The team at [Absolutelyautomation] have published several projects that aim to help with this. One of these is the DIY conveyor belt with a motor speed control and display.

This is more of an initial, proof of concept project, and there is a lot of room for improvement. The build itself is straightforward. All the parts are standard, off the shelf items — stuff you can find in any store selling 3D printer parts. A few simple tools is all that’s required to put it together. The only tricky part of the build would likely be the conveyor belt itself. [Absolutelyautomation] offers a few suggestions, mentioning old car or truck tyres and elastic resistance bands used for therapy / exercise as options.

If you plan to replicate this, a few changes would be recommended. The 8 mm rollers could do with larger “drums” over them — about an inch or two in diameter. That helps prevent belt slippage and improves tension adjustment. It ought to be easy to 3D print the add-on drums. The belt might also need support plates between the rollers to prevent sag. The speed display needs to be in linear units — feet per minute or meters per minute, rather than motor rpm. And while the electronics includes a RS-485 interface, it would help to add RS-232, RS-422 and Ethernet in the mix.

While this is a simple build, it can form the basis for a series of add-ons and extensions to help students learn more about automation and control systems. Or maybe you want a conveyor belt in your basement, for some reason.

11 thoughts on “Modular portable conveyor belt

  1. Sure i’d like one in the basement and maybe even in the living room. I just don’t really have a reason to do it. I do have some belts though.

    Did not know about absolutely automation. I have to check it out.

  2. I teach Mechatronics, and we use the FESTO MPS systems.
    Less of a DIY approach, but really great for teaching, because you can teach the PLC systems, and also the hardware systems (all industry standard hardware / equipment, unlike arduinos)
    We also persuade students to enter the WorldSkills Mechatronics Competitions.

    1. Hmm… I gues this isn’t really a problem when using bicycle tires, the strain they see here is not to be compared with the strain they get on a bicycle.

      As a suggestion for supporting the belt on a budget, use paint rollers, they costs next to nothing and are available in all sorts and sizes and in trendy colors.

  3. Given the cost of commercial automation training gear, this would be a lot more effective for the price. Especially with a more open design, then we could just use a DC or SC motor and standard controls and give some education in PLC speed control, VFDs, conversion to linear speeds, and more.

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