Rollers are used in a diverse range of manufacturing, engineering, construction and warehousing operations. You can find them whizzing away vertically or horizontally, in a multitude of dimensions. In fact, it’s hard to think of one trade sector that doesn’t rely on the humble roller in some form or another!
Those rotating cylinders – sometimes hidden beneath conveyor belts – can be carrying everything from heavy sheet metal, to soft toys. Or, they can be used in direct contact with everything from vital pharmaceuticals to pasta sheets.
If you want rollers that work efficiently and consistently, what sort of material works best? Is there a difference between polyurethane, plastic and rubber, when it comes to ‘getting ready to roll’ and replacing those essential parts?
Going around roller construction
There are, of course, other materials you can use to construct rollers to use in commercial applications. Metal has been a traditional option, particularly for bearing heavy loads. There are resin rollers that can serve their purpose and even ceramics can be used to produce some specialist categories of rollers.
However, for many industrial purposes, a lighter, more versatile option is preferred. Particularly as polyurethane, rubber and plastic offer substantially lower costs and greater structural variation. They all offer a greater ability to withstand friction and abrasion too.
So, which of the three is best for commissioning bespoke rollers for industrial and logistics applications?
Flex and bend
One of the common reasons to craft rollers from polyurethane, rubber or plastic is their weight values and elasticity. However, this is where plastic can lose out. It does not always hold its tensile strength in softer variations and can crack and break when it’s hard moulded.
Rubber and polyurethane can be produced with enough ‘give’ to make roller sets run smoothly, and stay structurally unaffected by pressure. Yet they can still hold heavy loads brilliantly.
Resist at all costs
Rollers need to be able to operate efficiently in a wide range of processes, but also across diverse environmental factors. Rubber, plastic and polyurethane rollers all offer a good level of resistance to pollutants, chemicals and moisture. Which is why in food manufacturing lines, plastic has largely replaced metal rollers, which can corrode and become unhygienic.
However, the choice that can truly ‘roll with the punches’ is polyurethane.
Its unique cell structure puts it into top position due to its ability to withstand an incredible amount of wear, tear and weathering. While rubber rollers could potentially warp in extreme heat, or crack and tear in extreme cold, polyurethane alternatives remain unaffected.
Rubber can also be affected by some chemicals, while polyurethane holds its integrity against many foes. By way of illustration, the simple application of some oils changes the textural properties and efficiency of rubber rollers. Polyurethane and plastic are both oil-resistant and shed its residue well.
Rubber also rots when exposed to moisture long term, which is not a fate shared by Polyurethane and plastic rollers.
Bonding and sealing factors
All three options for rollers can be used in conjunction with other materials, such as metal or glass. However, polyurethane is once more the top performer when comes to adhesive and sealing functionality. Due to its chemical composition, it bonds well with other substrates.
Hardness and durability
If you need specific shore hardness ratings for rollers, then you could find that polyurethane is your only choice. It comes in anything from 10 Shore “OO” to 70 Shore “D”.
Of course, plastic can be hard too. However, it tends to crack, chip or even powder when friction is applied. Hard rubber rollers can also distort.
The combination of strength and elasticity to be found in polyurethane make it a long-lasting option for rollers, even when they operate around the clock and under intense pressure. While the others can wear down, polyurethane ‘rolls on’.
Clean, lean rolling machines
What about the relative properties of rubber, plastic and polyurethane rollers when it comes to moving tricky things along?
This is also when polyurethane can prove the best option, as it can retain structural integrity even when moulded into thin strands, or when it is cut into. So, it can be moulded and finished to fit intricate or challenging production processes.
Rubber’s carbon element limits its ability to be used in rollers that come into contact with products. It can leave black smudges on packaging materials, for example.
What about cost differentials?
Plastic, rubber and polyurethane rollers can all be precision machined and moulded to match specific dimensions and to slot into place within any machine. Which option can be rated as the best value for money?
Well, for one thing, commissioning rubber rollers to fit can be more expensive than the other two alternatives. Also, the durability of polyurethane is a key point, as rollers made from this will last longer and will therefore not have to be replaced as often.
It all means that for many, diverse operations, companies ‘come around’ to specifying polyurethane rollers!