The splice of life

Zero VOC for conveyor belt splicing. Image: Bridgestone

Australian Mining speaks to Will Smith of Bridgestone Mining Solutions Australia about how the company’s revolutionary new conveyor belt splicing procedure eliminates the need for hazardous rubber cement.

In response to demands from a customer base calling for a safer way to splice fabric belts, Bridgestone Mining Solutions Australia (BMSA) has worked in tandem with Bridgestone’s Japanese R&D team over the last five years to implement a splicing procedure for fabric conveyor belts that is both more environmentally sound and safer for workers.

The process is called Zero Volatile Organic Compounds, or Zero VOC. Currently a unique development of Bridgestone (with patents registered in Japan), Zero VOC incorporates a number of novel ways to improve on the traditional rubber cementing method.

When installing a new conveyor belt, it is important to make sure the two ends join correctly. With regards to fabric belts, this process — referred to as splicing — often utilises rubber cement in order to bond the ends of the belt during vulcanisation, a potentially hazardous job. Of three ingredients found in the cement, two pose a particular risk to workers: toluene and zinc oxide.

Toluene is toxic and highly flammable, while zinc oxide is environmentally hazardous, particularly when subsumed in water, presenting a potential risk of harm to aquatic life.

Also, humid environments —particularly tropical regions — can prove a potential quality control risk when dealing with rubber cement splices, something that has a negligible QC effect when using Zero VOC.

On top of that, rubber cement also requires numerous legislative controls with regards to safety, including transportation (in particular the Australian Dangerous Goods Code), storage and handling, and environmental control, all of which slows the working process.

Elimination of rubber cement from the splicing procedure via use of Bridgestone’s Zero VOC process has not only eliminated the requirement for toluene and replaced liquid zinc oxide with solid zinc oxide (which is much more environmentally friendly), but has also made things easier for workers.

As an additional benefit, belt installers are no longer required to wear safety gloves, safety eyewear and respirators when handling the Zero VOC.

“It eliminates all of that,” explained Bridgestone National Sales Manager Belt, Australia, Will Smith. “It removes the need for flammable protection, dehumidified zones, storage containers, and you don’t need spillage control onsite, either.”

Zero VOC technology for fabric belts has been a large enough development for Bridgestone that it secured its design team a People (Safety) Environmental award at the 2018 Bridgestone Group Awards.

It is also a technology with growing market admiration, something Bridgestone recognised during the previous year’s Awards when it awarded its subsidiary company Firestone Building Products (FSBP) an environmental award for its self-adhesive roofing product ‘Secure Bond’, which also utilises Zero VOC technology.

Having gone through a vigorous research and development period, Zero VOC recently launched in the marketplace to positive feedback.

Although the testing period has been focused on Bridgestone’s own fabric belts so far, there is eventual potential for compatibility with other companies’ belts in future as well. Given the relative ease of application when compared with the forebear, it’s easy to recognise how they might see the potential.

“Rather than coating on the cement with glue, it is functionally a bit more like double-sided sticky tape, it’s a lot easier,” said Smith. “I even had one customer tell me he couldn’t even see the splice.”

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