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Sparks Belting, since 1946, has been inventing the means through which companies, particularly those in the food industry, move products through plants and warehouses. Lorie Greenspan discovers how the company grew into an internationally recognized conveyor belt manufacturer, fabricator and distributor.

Sparks Belting Company is an internationally recognized conveyor belt manufacturer, fabricator and distributor, offering customized conveyor belting and motorized pulleys.
The company was started in 1946 by Art Sparks, coinciding with the post-war rise in industrial automation, as the conveyance of products was beginning to take hold. At the age of 59, Sparks decided he wanted to help manufacturers efficiently move their products. In 1982, Sparks was purchased by JSJ Corporation in Grand Haven, Mich. “JSJ sees Sparks as a means to round out its diversified portfolio,” says Bruce Dieleman, vice president of sales and marketing. JSJ wants its businesses to grow and expand. “We currently have nine facilities that exist to help to get product to market.”

Today, Sparks services a wide range of companies in the food industry, from meat to seafood, as well as other industries such as building materials, steel, boxes, luggage, plastics, parcels, packages, and assorted hardware. The company’s business grew steadily through the years, leading in a variety of industry trends; among these the use of fabric technology in the 1980s, woven from European innovation to take advantage of textiles that were lighter and stronger. Another company milestone involved a product line expansion into internally driven motorized pulleys, which saves on space and makes the workplace safer and more energy efficient, explains Dieleman. “We have great solutions for efficiently moving food and industrial products.”

Current industry trends also reflect the latest wave toward food safety. “Food safety is becoming a large issue for many manufacturers in the U.S. and around the globe,” adds Dieleman, “because of contamination and product recall. There’s a renewed wave for food safety and pressure on companies to build components, such as belts, with no or less exposed fabric because of the potential for it to fray or string. Our company is very aware of these issues and we continue to develop improved solutions.”

Many food products are in direct contact with the conveyor belts – “many things can happen that will damage a belt and cause something to come off. The ability to detect that is crucial,” adds Dieleman. “We still use fabrics for many food solutions; it’s a necessity to provide strength. While the edges of those belts would have been exposed in the past, the current trend is to seal or cap the edges.”

DURABLE DRIVES
One popular Sparks product is the DURA-DRIVE™ PLUS motorized pulley, which has no chains or V-belts to tighten or replace, no sprockets to align, clean or lubricate, no bearings to grease, and doesn’t require chain guards that need replacing. It’s a simple one-piece motorized pulley that’s guaranteed to power a belt conveyor for years without breakdown. All gearing is made of high alloy steel, not plastic. All that is needed is an in-place oil change after 20,000 hours. The result is near zero maintenance or downtime, translating to lower costs and higher productivity.

A motorized pulley is a drum motor in which the body rotates around a stationary shaft. The rotating outer “drum” becomes the traction surface that powers the conveyor belt.

Electric power leads pass through the stationary shaft to motor terminals inside the pulley housing. Since the end shaft does not rotate, there is no need for slip rings to deliver electrical power to the motor windings.

The entire internal mechanism, including the motor, gears and bearings, are completely sealed and protected by the outer metal drum. Oil inside the drum continuously lubricates bearings and gears, and removes heat from motor windings.

Unlike bulky conventional drive systems that fit externally on a belt conveyor, DURA-DRIVE™ PLUS is actually part of the conveyor and much more compact. This means that more conveyors can be placed into less floor or overhead space.

Also, all moving parts are enclosed in the steel pulley shell. This eliminates hazardous moving parts and pinch points, along with the potential for electric shock from water on motors. Also, DURA-DRIVE™ PLUS is much cleaner because there’s no external grease or oil from chains, bearings or couplings, further improving worker safety and enabling a company to more readily comply with OSHA standards.

Sparks stocks more than 150 varieties of conveyor belts as well as several diameters of DURA-DRIVE™ PLUS pulleys. The company’s nine facilities are located in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Fairfield, N.J.; Cleveland, Ohio, Chicago, Ill; Charlotte, N.C.: Ontario, Calif..; Kent, Wash..; York, Pa:, and Monterrey, Mexico.

Sparks also provides the following services:

  • Custom belting and fabrications
  • Field service belt installations
  • Belt tracking and alignment services
  • Belt trouble shooting
  • Cost savings documentation
  • Torque and feed analysis
  • Inventory management analysis
  • Plant surveys
  • Modifications and retrofits

POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS
New product solutions from Sparks include a low tension positive drive conveyor belt. Driven by sprockets, which reduces the tension on the belt, makes the belt less vulnerable to stress and wandering. The company also offers polyurethane belting that is able to bend and flex over tight transfer points. This durable product range gives good release for many sticky products. The company’s rubber belt can handle a wider temperature range with better cushion. Sparks also produces modular belting, in brick laid form, which provides strength and long wear. The company’s variety of solutions encompasses 155 different styles of belting.

Sparks’ strategy for the future is on capturing a larger share of the markets in which it has been successful – in this economic environment, Dieleman stresses, “it’s to our advantage to focus more on food processing plants and businesses that are thriving, offering cost saving solutions that adapt to the economic climate. During tough times, it’s important to shift focus, and look to the flourishing parts of industry instead of relying on traditional manufacturing markets.”

With sales near $30 million, the company has become reputable, trustworthy and credible in its industry and is known for its ability to help customers in selecting the right product and in offering a variety of solutions. As Dieleman stresses, “People don’t buy our products. They buy what our products do for their business.”

Volume:
12
Issue:
3
Year:
2009


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