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Keeping things moving

09 July 2017

Dominic Ellison discusses how oils and greases can be used to facilitate ongoing production demands while meeting stringent food safety standards as manufacturers strive to increase output. 

The spotlight is firmly on the safety and quality of the final product when it comes to the production of food and drink. This subsequently places a focus on production equipment. Lubrication in particular plays a critical role in the efficient operation of machinery. However it is something that is often overlooked. 

Appropriate lubrication of moving equipment is crucial to optimising efficiency and performance, reducing damage to vital components and ultimately minimising the risk of downtime and its associated costs. Components such as pumps and gearboxes through to chains and conveyor belts will all require regular lubrication to continue running effectively, particularly when production facilities are operating at high capacities.

Lubricants used in food and beverage production facilities must also meet stringent standards to ensure products are fit for human consumption. This includes being tasteless and odourless should it come into contact with food along the line, as well as having a neutral behaviour towards materials, including plastics, which are heavily employed within the food production process.

Correct specification
Beyond this, different oils and greases may be required at different stages of the production line to suit the particular environment in which they operate. Contending with various operating conditions – from the high temperatures of baking and lows of refrigeration and freezing, through to the presence of dust from ingredients like flour – choosing the correct lubricant is crucial to ensure it performs appropriately in its environment. Where temperatures exceed 100°C, for example, bearings are subject to considerable strain and regular relubrication will need to be undertaken, while environments above 150 oC will require specialised lubricants so as not to compromise performance.

An important factor which also cannot be overlooked is the damage which could potentially be caused by the food ingredients themselves. Sharp granules of sugar and salt, for example, can cause physical damage to equipment, as well as chemical damage to surfaces, particularly those which have been poorly lubricated. By using the correct lubrication, however, these problems can be effectively managed to minimise any disruption and long-term damage to the production facility.

And just as importantly, as food passing along the production line may come into contact with these components, it is vital that the lubrication which keeps them moving meets food-grade standards such as those included within NSF ISO 21469. For example, the standards H1 and 3H certify that the lubrication has been manufactured in a hygienic environment, ensuring it is free from foreign bodies so as not to contaminate food along the production line.

All of this means that, while a one-size-fits-all approach may be suitable in many industries, when it comes to food and beverage production, only specialist lubrications will do to maintain the high levels of safety required.

Maintaining performance
As well as coping with the different aspects of the production process, equipment will likely be subject to regular cleaning. While this high level of maintenance ensures the final products are safe for customers to consume, it dramatically increases the chances of any lubricant being washed away, introducing the need for regular relubrication.

Due to the nature of modern production facilities, which often utilise longer running periods to improve efficiency and increase output, lubricants are also required to be suitable for continuous use, without compromising effectiveness.

Given these requirements implementing an effective lubrication management programme is just as important as selecting the correct lubricant. With more than one-third of bearing failures being as a result of inadequate application of lubricant, such practice can vastly reduce the rate of component failure, keeping production and output on track. Solutions, such as the NSK Life-Lube series, can offer a solution. Its combines the corrosion resistant properties of the company’s Silver-Lube housings with the sealing and lubricating properties of its Molded Oil inserts, to deliver corrosion and contamination resistance. The need for relubrication is also reduced due to the component’s ability to resist water and chemical washout from regular cleaning.

Dominic Ellison is category manager, lubrication and adhesives at Brammer.

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