Introduction: DIY Conveyor Belt

A cheap DIY conveyor for moving small loads with precision, all made from common hardware shop parts.

Motivation

I was doing a pick n place type machine, but became tired of the time needed in a xyz style of machine to travel back and forth. It seemed to make more sense for the part to move close to the dispenser.

Conveyors are a basic element of many production systems, and needed a simple open source hardware design. Commercially available conveyors of similar size (with much higher quality engineering) seem to cost around $1000 onto which you need to add $200+ for a variable speed controller! It seemed possible to make a sufficiently good one for less than about 80$ and control it properly from a stepper motor.

This is a small contribution toward a low-cost Open Conveyor.

Previous work

Similar designs have been used in the context of T-shirt dryers e.g.

These tend to use rotisserie motors for continuous motion, whereas I needed the precise control of a stepper motor.

Design your conveyor

The strength, length and width of your conveyor needs to be determined. I cut the steel bar down to 180cm so it would fit on my desk, and chose a width of 40 cm with rollers every 15 cm which required 12 rollers. If it needs to be stronger you could triple the density of rollers.

Step 1: Prepare Your Parts

Parts

  • 2 long pieces of steel bar or L-bar, preferably with 8 mm holes or slots. This should be wider than 30 mm - I used 38 mm L bar.
  • Lengths of 25 mm outer diameter PVC tube often sold in 2 meter lengths with a tulip end.
  • Roller skate bearings - cheap ones are fine
  • 8 mm nuts n bolts
  • 8 mm threaded rod. 1 m was enough for me.
  • 2 cable tighteners with 8 mm holes
  • Some 'waxed' table cloth cut to size
  • Some sandpaper or anti-slip sticky tape
  • Some wide sticky tape or a needle and thread
  • A 22 mm rubber bung with no hole, or a hole <8 mm
  • Some plywood
  • A stepper motor and suitable controller

Total cost without electronics ~ 70 euros

Some of these parts have special qualities that make the project possible.

PVC Tube

Cheap electrical tubing (IRL 25 mm) is used to make the rollers. Buy the cheapest quality with the 1.5 mm walls. Wise to take a bearing with you when buying this to make sure that it fits. It should push in with a gentle to medium push. You should not have to force.

Steel L-Bar

This is what is going to give most of the rigidity and allow you to attach it to a table or attach other tools to the conveyor. You need it to have a dimension that will allow a roller plus the belt to move freely. You'll also be attaching lots of 8 mm bolts, so it will help enormously if it has 8 mm slots in it.

Roller bearings

The classic 608 bearing has an outer diameter of 22 mm that corresponds with the inner diameter of the PVC tube. It also has an inner diameter of 8 mm which allows strong 8 mm bolts to be used. These can be picked up from sporty discount shops or ebay in packs of 8-10 for about 0.5 euros each.

22 mm Rubber Bung / washer

Somewhat rare but available in decent hardware shops, these allow you to grip to the inside of the plastic tube. They act as a coupler between a drive shaft and the tube. You probably can't find them with ~7 mm inner diameter, so you'll have to drill out the middle a little

Anti-slip sticky tape

This is an expensive luxury but works very well. It is like sandpaper on one side and very sticky on the other side. This is what grips the underneath of the table cloth. You may be able to just stick sandpaper onto one of your rollers, or use paint/varnish/glue and some sand.

'Waxed' Table cloth

These days they are made of a soft plastic coating with a fabric underside. They are generally sold in 1.5m widths which is far too large. The fabric side helps grip the grippy roller. The plastic top is flexible and relatively durable. This was the cheapest material I could find that had the right properties.

Stepper motor and controller

Typically this might be a NEMA 17 motor + Arduino + Motor shield. I won't go into this side of things.

Step 2: Construction

Construction is pretty easy, no special tools needed except for the drive part: I needed a 22 mm drill bit to make a hole for a bearing.

The rigidity of the conveyor comes from the steel bars plus at least 2 lengths of 8 mm threaded rod that pass through the middle of the tubes. For longer lengths, additional pieces of threaded rod would increase rigidity. I used threaded rod at the two ends: 1 all the way through the roller that acts as a belt tightener, and 1 all the way through the drive roller.

Cut your pvc tube to length with a saw. Measure well or make a jig, as it helps to have them all the same length.

Prepare an 8 mm slot at one end of each steel bar to allow the tightener to work. The bar I bought only had 6 mm slots, so I needed to drill 8 mm holes for each roller and create an 8 mm slot for the tightener.

Attach a roller bearing assembly to your metal bars at each roller position.

Prepare the drive roller. This needs to have high friction. You could paint the pvc with something sticky and cover it in coarse sand, or just cheat and stick on some anti-slip tape. Once grippy, you need a way to drive it from the stepper motor.

A 22 mm bung, with the center drilled out to 7 mm can be stretched onto an 8 mm threaded rod. When this is pushed into the inside of a pvc pipe, it provides enough friction to turn the pipe. You then need to find a way to drive this rod. I happened to have the luxury of some timing belt and cogs left over from a previous machine, so I hacked up some plywood to support this.

A neater design would be to use a small length of some hollow metal 8mm tube as a support guide with the shaft of a NEMA 17 though the middle to a rubber bung. This would avoid the use of other cogs and belts.

Your stepper can probably drive your belt way faster than you need, so using a large drive cog from a small stepper cog is an advantage.

Once all your bearings are in place, and you have prepared the drive roller and the tightener roller, you can install the plastic pipes on one side, then push the assembly together. This can take a little patience.

Cut your table cloth with a sharpie a little less wide than the rollers, and leave 5-10 cm extra length for attaching. Slip the cloth into place and sow or use wide tape to secure it. Tighten the tensioner and you should be ready.

Tune your motor controller

Once assembled, you should tune your motor controller for low acceleration, as there may be much weight on the conveyor.

Areas for improvement

  • Find a common steel L bar which has 8 mm slots
  • Avoid the stepper motor being above the belt (not below either, nor should it be higher than the L bar )
  • Avoid the use of cogs and drive belts (hollow 8 mm tube with stepper shaft through the middle?)
  • Find a way to attach an 8mm threaded rod via a bearing directly to the steel bar without the need for plywood adapter

Enjoy!

Comments

author
MehdiC7 (author)2017-03-22

i didn't find the irl25 ... in place of what should i use ?? thanks

author
ChrisK13 (author)MehdiC72017-07-26

Being in France, I haven't tried, but 1" outside diameter is similar to the european 25mm outside diameter.

Each brand might have a different wall thickness. Choose the cheap thin walls.

e.g. http://www.pipeflowcalculations.com/tables/schedule-10.php

author
Aaronsworld (author)ChrisK132017-07-26

thanks for the reply, so far I have seen 3\4" to be too small and 1" too big for the 608 bearings. I am almost able to sand or use a special drill bit on the 3 \4" ... Havent tried a different size of bearing yet.... Metric is much nicer.

Maybe use a 22mm drill bit on some endcaps....

author
Aaronsworld (author)MehdiC72017-07-26

I couldn't find the 22mm inner diameter conduit either... At least not any local hardware,plumbing or electrical supply places. Where can one find them in the U.S.?

Am I out of luck?

author
thefirstyearmusical (author)2017-03-06

Hi, Chris!

Having never built something like this before, I was wondering if you would be able to clarify a bit on your instructions. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! (I also plan to use a rotisserie motor, to avoid tech stuff, and since I don't need variable speeds).

author

To clarify the unclarity, please clarify the perceived unclarity.

author

Yes, sorry about that!

1. How does one set up the cable tighteners?
2. How do you set up the drive roller to attach to the motor?
3. Does the threaded rod go through the whole tube, or does it just fill a little part of it? i.e. how long should it be?
4. Is any lubrication needed?

Thanks so much!

author
Chinapuxiong1 (author)2017-02-21

China Puxiong specializes in High frequency conveyor welding machines, you can make customize the conveyor by yourself with the mold provided by us .

contact with us if you have any question E-mail: sale004@chinapuxiong.com

You can also check our website for more information: www.chinapuxiong.cn

author
GabrielA185 (author)2017-02-09

can I do this without a controller? if not, where can I find instructions to use it with an arduino? otherwise is only for people with experience with controllers

author
ChrisK13 (author)GabrielA1852017-02-10

There are many shields that can let an arduino control a beefy stepper motror. The web abounds with samples.

author
paulb122002 (author)2016-10-17

are you serious??!!

I cant download unless i have premium??

author
jeroenb4 made it! (author)2016-08-26

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the amazing instructable. I just finished mine. However, it needs some inprovements like the cable tightners.

Thanks for

tmp_11525-20160826_175211377270078.jpg
author
ChrisK13 (author)jeroenb42016-08-27

Great. Love the choice of farmhouse belt. Moving jam?

author
LahiruP3 (author)2016-03-08

HI,

Thanks for sharing this. I started doing this and most of it is done now. But i have on problem regarding the drive roller. Did you put ribber bungs on both sides of the pvc tube or only one side ?

And How to prevent the roller from wobbling while rotating. Did you use any bearing?

Thanks a lot again

author
ChrisK13 (author)LahiruP32016-03-08

Hi Lahiru,

I used a bearing on the rod at each end outside the tube to support the rod, and one bearing inside the tube on the opposite end from the motor to support the tube (this could have been a bung).

Hope this helps, and good luck!

author
duchere (author)2015-04-24

Hi,

Thanks for this great post, I'm going to use it for an artistic project, and I will post what I did with your help.

I have two questions.

First, is the tightener on each side of the assembly really necessary ? I don't really understand why.

Second, I don't really understand how you use the rubber bung for coupling. Can you explain the coupling between the timing belt and the rubber bung ?

Thanks a lot for this great work.

author
ChrisK13 (author)duchere2015-04-24

Hi Duchere,

The tighteners push the end bar out giving tension to the belt. When you pull your belt tight by hand to tape it / glue it / sew it, you probably won't get enough tension and over time the belt might stretch. I haven't tried without them, but I know that by using them I can pull out a couple of centimeters of slack and adjust the belt so it runs straight. If your belt is very short you may be able to skip them. If your belt is very long there are other techniques to take up slack. e.g. http://www.rrfloody.com/Downloads/Belt_Tensioning_...

The rubber bung has 22mm outer diameter and a ~7mm hole. This is on the 8mm threaded rod, inside of the drive tube. It is what couples the spinning rod to the inside of the tube by friction. It has no direct connection to the timing belt. The timing belt is just a way of taking the rotation of the stepper to the threaded rod. If you have very low tension on your belt, you could consider just putting the bung on the stepper drive shaft and jamming this into the tube. This would result in a sideways force on the stepper shaft, which may be OK, but seems as though it could damage the stepper. If you can't find a rubber bung, then plywood and glue would work, but your are then stuck if you need to change something.

Look forward to seeing your results.

author
duchere (author)ChrisK132015-04-28

Thanks a lot for your reply.
Just to be sure, what is the coupling between the threaded rod and the rubber bung ? Is it just friction, or, is it pressed between two bolts for example ?

Thanks

author
ChrisK13 (author)duchere2015-04-28

Hi,

Yes, if the rubber bung is drilled too small for the rod, once pushed onto the rod it should expand slightly and be tight against the PVC tube. I've noticed that the quality (wall thickness, hence inner diameter) of the PVC tube changes between batches and manufacturers. If your bung slips, you can add tape around it to make it tighter, or just squeeze a ton of glue until it holds ;)

author
duchere (author)ChrisK132015-09-14

Hi,

As promised, I share with you what I did, starting with your design.

I'm currently making an instructable for this lentils jet printer.

Best,

Jean

author
duchere (author)duchere2015-09-14

And the link... https://jeangregoire.carbonmade.com/projects/5766163

author
ChrisK13 (author)duchere2015-09-15

Great work Jean - makes me hungry for lentil soup... I replied direct to your email.

author
duchere (author)duchere2015-04-28

An additional question: it looks like PVC tube of the driving axle rubs against the plywood bearing. Is it right ? There is not too much friction ?

author
ChrisK13 (author)duchere2015-04-28

You should be able to arrange it so there is a nut that sticks out of the PVC tube by a millimeter or so. This will make contact with the inner ring of the bearing and stop the tube from rubbing against the bearing or plywood.

author
duchere (author)ChrisK132015-05-13

Thanks. I keep you updated as soon as my project is working.

author
tomatoskins (author)2015-03-29

Great looking conveyor belt! What are things that you've moved on this?

author
ChrisK13 (author)tomatoskins2015-03-29

Hi tomatoskins,

I'm actually moving seed trays as part of a seeding machine. The subject of a future post.

author
tomatoskins (author)ChrisK132015-03-29

I'm excited to see how it all plays out and works together!

author
ChrisK13 (author)tomatoskins2015-04-05

I posted a video of the seeder machine here:

Enjoy!

author
tomatoskins (author)ChrisK132015-04-06

Ok yeah, that's pretty cool! My degree in Mechatronics specialized in high speed automation so I find things like this really cool! Thanks for sharing!

author
elhobe (author)2015-03-31

Great instructable! Seems very cheap and easy to contruct.

So great job :)

author
fil_ip_ (author)2015-03-30

Nice work! How did you splice the waxed table cloth?

author
ChrisK13 (author)fil_ip_2015-03-30

Hi fil_ip_,

I worried about this for some time, and failed miserably with silicon glue. In the end, wide transparent sticky tape seems to work fine. There is no tearing force, so it will hold so long as the tape remains flexible and sticky. A sewing machine would probably do a better, more permanent job.

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