Extremely versatile and resistant, steel belts are the material to support food processing and will continue to be an essential part of future innovations, thanks to their enduring qualities. The benefits are numerous, ranging from hygiene to baking efficiency, to their durability that makes them a profitable investment, and ultimately the best support for product quality.
Most commonly used for biscuits, cakes and products containing butter or other fats that need to stay within the mix, steel belts can, however, be used to bake everything. Their incredible versatility explains why they are a constant in baking facilities. IPCO’s belts, solid or perforated, have been used in tunnel ovens since the 1920s, for example – an entire century supporting the baking process. There are tons of reasons for this; Staffan Karlsson, global marketing manager at IPCO, explains: “A steel belt with a hard and smooth surface enables easy removal of baked products. It’s easy to clean a steel belt surface; there is no place for dirt to hide. Steel belts have excellent heat transfer properties. Actually, the steel belt is so much more than transportation through ovens, it’s a part of the baking process itself.”
An Impressive Profile
Not many materials can amass such an impressive list of characteristics-turned-benefits, but steel definitely takes the cake (and bakes it, too). A bake oven belt made of solid or perforated steel last a very long time – 30 years is not an unusual life span. Production sites can often use the belt much longer than that when they have proper operation, maintenance and cleaning in place. Karlsson tells us: “Good housekeeping is the most important and cannot be avoided. This helps prevent the most dangerous thing there is for the baking line – fire!” The removal of any debris, fat, or dust should also be regularly done. For maximum lifespan, the steel belt should not be touched by something that can harm its surface nor the belt edges. He explains: “Some people think that cold water is a good method for releasing products when the belt exit the oven loaded with product. It’s not.” Heavy bending should also be avoided, at the most, three bending degrees angle over one roller is allowed.
Cleaning is another key aspect where steel is king; its smooth and hard surface is the easiest to clean and the best choice for avoiding the belt to get dirty in the first place. “Less downtime of bakery lines because of easy cleaning is a fact for many users,” IPCO’s specialist adds. This obviously means low water and detergent consumption for cleaning as well, compared to other belts. “My best cleaning recommendation,” he advises, “is to not allow the belt to become dirty. Easy to say, difficult to practice – but the only thing that works well. There are permanently mounted scrapers and brushes that work well for some production facilities, for example. But this is very much dependent on good housekeeping. Some cleaning methods are described in IPCO’s bake oven belts service folder and include: high-pressure washing (with the observation that everything must be dried afterward), dry ice (this can be used, but can be time-consuming and messy), corn starch and caustic soda (the traditionally effective cleaning method used with success over time, but may be difficult to perform as well).
A steel belt is also stable and will not elongate over time. “The mechanical character of a steel belt makes it extremely easy to move with a minimum of friction to worry about. The steel belt is welded endlessly on the line, so the belt has a smooth ride on the conveyor,” Karlsson says.
Energy usage is another advantage worth mentioning; it takes less energy to heat a solid steel belt than substitute bands, and, of course, even less to heat a perforated one – with up to 35% less steel to heat. “Let’s say that the difference in weight is 40%, you have 40% less steel to warm. With a perforated belt with 30% open area, you have an additional 30% less to heat. On top of that, a steel belt takes very little force to drive as well.
You can read the rest of this article in the July-August Issue of European Baker & Biscuit magazine, which you can access by clicking here.