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The typical chain is one of the most low-tech items widely used in industry today. It’s basic design hasn’t substantially changed since Leonardo daVinci drew a sketch of the first steel chain in the 16th Century.
But while the ordinary chain may remain low-tech, there are now some specialty chains used in various industries that are definitely high-tech.
Tough Conditions Require Tougher Chains
For example, chains that are used in extremely tough and hazardous working conditions need to be super heavy duty. These include chains that are exposed to frequent wash downs, extreme weather conditions or are perhaps exposed in salt or fresh water over and over again. These types of chains need to be extremely resistant to corrosion so that they can last a long time before needing to be replaced.
Typically, for these types of applications, a stainless steel chain will be used. Although they cost more than ordinary steel chains, stainless steel is resistant to corrosion, most chemicals and extreme heat. They are widely found in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Some are even used inside blast furnaces.
Chains for Clean Operations
Stainless steel is also the material of choice for packaging machinery, semiconductor and electrical equipment production industries, all of which require extremely clean operations.
In addition to stainless steel, there also hybrid chain designs that combine stainless steel with engineered plastic parts. These types of “polysteel” chains are used in applications where they have to operate with little or no lubrication, such as in the pharmaceutical, medical device, printing and paper-making industries. Because they operate more quietly than traditional chains, polysteel is also the material of choice for most office equipment.
When Lubrication Can’t Be Used
In some industries, chains that produce little friction and are wear resistant are required. For example, in beverage production lines, large quantities of lubricant are used to ensure the smooth transport of beverage containers, while in other areas – such as case lines — lubricant can’t be used.
One solution is to use plastic chains. Tsubaki, the Japanese chain company, currently makes low-friction, wear-resistant plastic chains for the beverage industry, among others.
“To meet the need for reduced use of lubicant and reduced generation of wear debris in lubricant-free applications, we have developed a low-friction and wear resistant HG specification,” states a company news release. “This product offers improved wear resistance compared with conventional low-friction and wear-resistant products.”
Then there are chains that are used in the steel and non-ferrous industries. For these, traditional steel chains can be manufactured with special coatings to hep them withstand harsh environmental conditions and tough working requirements. Coated steel chains also are widely used in car washes, outdoor installations and in the materials handling industries.
There are even highly specialized, custom made chains that are used for very narrow applications. These include chains that are made of titanium or that are highly cold resistant. Some the industries that might use these types of chains include those that involve battery manufacture, chemical cleaning, freezing, extreme cold weather applications, and processes that involve exposure to strong acidic or alkaline conditions.
While chains may have remained substantially the same for the past several hundred years, high tech variations make them an essential part of 21st Century industry.