Someone once defined a food processing plant as “a collection of conveyors where things occasionally happen.” But before anything can happen, the conveyors have to deliver the goods – literally. That’s sometimes easier said than done.

Material handling often isn’t as straightforward as building a conveyor from point A to point B. Some products are just hard to handle, for various reasons. In other cases, there are a lot of points A and B to take into account, and sometimes they’re not always the same ones, nor in the most convenient places.

Arguably the most universal of challenges when it comes to designing and running a conveyor system is space. A properly configured system will maximize the use of every available square foot. In cases where production has to be increased to meet demand but there is no budget for a new or expanded building, extra conveyor footage is the only practical option.

John Kuhnz, vice president of engineered solutions for Dorner Manufacturing, says he’s seeing more designs like conveyors elevated high above the floor to conserve space. “Hats off to the end users in the food space, because they’ve really become experts in how to maximize that space,” he says.

Tony Maniscalco, business unit leader at SideDrive Conveyor Co., recalled a customer who needed more room for his frozen pizza operation. The freezer’s output point was high off the floor; from there, the conveyor dropped it down a series of transfer points to get it to floor level. This not only took a lot of space, but sometimes damaged the product by jarring the pizza toppings loose. SideDrive installed a spiral conveyor with a diameter of only about 13 ft.

“We actually were able to use the spiral and get a tight fit, descending the product down in one location, which essentially opens up more floor space for the customer,” Maniscalco says. “It eliminates all the transfers and turns in the declining conveyor, thereby saving product loss, because it’s not dropping and bumping and shaking product free.”

Read more: Common Challenges with Food & Beverage Conveyors