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Tips to Reduce Total Cost of Ownership of Food Processing Equipment

Total cost of ownership is a concern cutting across many job functions in food processing. Management tries to restrain operating costs while growing the business. Purchasing is tasked with making sound investments in equipment and supplies.

Total cost of ownership is a concern cutting across many job functions in food processing. Management tries to restrain operating costs while growing the business. Purchasing is tasked with making sound investments in equipment and supplies. Maintenance managers/engineers need to keep equipment operating daily.

An often-overlooked area that can satisfy a number of these needs is lubrication. A sound lubrication strategy can optimize equipment investment and keep food production at its peak.

To help food manufacturers stay on track and maximize returns, there are six key steps they should implement to reduce TCO and increase profitability.

1. Don’t Over-Lubricate

More is not always better. One of the most common maintenance pitfalls within food processing is over-lubrication, which forces companies to allocate more money than necessary to one area of maintenance.

Second, too much lubricant can deteriorate or generate excess friction among critical application components such as hydraulic pistons and actuator rods. Components of automatic lubricators also feel the weight of over-utilization. As a consequence, downtime for replacing or repairing these parts hinders a company’s ability to reach profitable production levels.

Over-lubrication also drives up labor costs. Maintenance professionals who spend too much time lubricating components are unable to focus on troubleshooting – which may lead to longer periods of downtime.

Each of these monetary drawbacks has a negative effect when calculating TCO. Working with a lubricant manufacturer to learn the most effective approach to maintaining equipment will reduce the need to lubricate, optimize performance, and ultimately drive down lubricant expenditure.

2. Enhance Food Safety Initiatives

Food quality is key to the success of any food processor. Purchasing the proper equipment and lubricants is integral to help processors meet production goals. It is estimated that 60 percent of US food processors utilize unsafe mineral oil-based lubricants putting them at risk of food contamination, leading to product recall and lower sales revenue. 1

The best way to minimize the TCO of food processing equipment is through the use of synthetic, food-grade lubricants. H1 “incidental contact” synthetics are specifically formulated to be compliant to FDA 21 CFR 178.3570 and HACCP requirements. Most products are also registered by NSF International and meet Kosher and Halal requirements to ensure processing safety. These virtually non-toxic, colorless, odorless, and tasteless lubricants are engineered with an enhanced chemical makeup that increases productivity and maximizes the value of equipment.

3. Minimize Waste Removal

Removing waste is an expense that needs to be considered when calculating the TCO of food processing equipment. Synthetics generally help extend equipment drain life three to four times over that of a mineral oil and the right synthetic can drastically reduce oil disposal. So if the average piece of processing equipment lasts 10–15 years, processors using a synthetic can generate a substantial cost savings and benefit from lower equipment TCO.

4. Reduce Power Consumption

Energy efficiency is achieved when machines operate at optimal levels. This occurs when heat and friction of critical application components are minimized. Common energy inefficiencies arise when equipment becomes worn, rusted, or corroded due to increased operating speeds. Deteriorating equipment creates more operational friction and in turn requires more energy to maintain production levels. One of the main functions of a lubricant is to mitigate component friction and heat. While using the proper synthetic is an effective strategy for reducing power consumption, food processors cannot maximize its return on investment until proper lubricant products are employed throughout the plant.

Synthetic lubricants promote energy efficiency by eliminating friction, preventing rust, and requiring fewer change outs. These products ultimately increase efficiency and equipment life while maintaining consistent processing. For example, a baking facility generated a considerable energy savings by going from 85 amps. to 75 amps. in 40 of its positive displacement blowers after switching to an NSF H2 diester-based synthetic lubricant.

Compressors are one of the largest contributors of power consumption in a food processing plant. Most compressor energy inefficiencies arise from leaks or not using proper receivers. Additional energy inefficiencies are generated from improperly sized compressors. While lubrication does not influence any of these production hindrances, conducting a full machinery analysis, with the aid of lubrication experts, provides insight for troubleshooting these inefficiencies.

5. Perform Lubrication Audits

Lubrication Audits provide food processors detailed maintenance strategies for optimizing equipment performance. A personalized consultation from an experienced lubrication professional will enhance operation by analyzing maintenance records and equipment components to determine whether there is an abnormal frequency of maintenance and repair.

The next step is to monitor the equipment by identifying critical application areas and checking for problems that could lead to unscheduled downtime. Operating and storage environments are also examined for potential areas where the formulation of the lubricant could become compromised with water, airborne particles, dust, dirt, or chemicals. The audit professional will also review the company's handling and pumping practices to identify any equipment functions that may cause cross contamination of lubricants.

Finally the lubricant expert provides a list of recommendations such as lubricant type, amount, and change out frequency for each piece of equipment. The survey becomes part of permanent maintenance record for the plant and a primary tool for personnel to reach an appropriate TCO level.

6. Decrease Component Replacement

Purchasing replacement parts is a large annual expense for food processors. The life and performance of critical application components can be enhanced through the use of synthetic lubricants, which are engineered to promote properties such as quick adherence, rust prevention, and water oxidation. These properties are vital for enhancing component mobility, extending life and ultimately reducing TCO. In general, synthetics are formulated with base stocks of esters, polyalkalene glycols (PAG), and polyalphaolefins (PAO)—each has properties for specific applications.

Esters are known for their high thermal stability, low temperature properties and inherent detergency, ideal characteristics for use in compressors. They also are known for stabilizing heavy load equipment and promoting proper lubrication flow – properties for mitigating equipment wear and decreasing downtime or expensive maintenance. In the case of a baking facility that was using the wrong synthetic compressor oil, the company experienced extreme sludge build-up after only 5,000 operating hours. To remedy the situation, an NSF H2 ester-based synthetic lubricant was selected and soon after the company realized a $40,000 annual maintenance cost savings.

Polyalkalene glycols (PAG) are formulated to have excellent cling properties, protecting gears from the negative impact of extreme load processing that often leads to loss. As such, polyakalene glycols are often used for worm gears or equipment undergoing extensive sliding contact.

Due to their excellent extreme temperature properties, polyalphaolefins (PAO) have long been the synthetic ingredient of choice for many applications in food processing facilities. PAO formulations promote excellent oxidative stability, low volatility, and a high compatibility rate with other lubricants. The wax-free formulations promote fluidity at extreme temperatures, ensuring that critical machinery components consistently get the lubrication needed for stable processing.


The success of a food processor lies directly in the performance of their equipment. The use of synthetic lubricants is vital for enhancing food processing equipment and minimizing TCO. By employing the tips detailed in this article, management, purchasing, and maintenance can all take part in promoting the profitability of the company and meeting customer demand.

1Opportunities in Lubricants Volume III Industrial Oils & Fluids 2001, United States Continuing Business Analysis, Kline & Company Inc, Copyright 2003