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Optimizing Food Plant Efficiency & Safety

To improve safety initiatives and optimize plant efficiency, food processors need to focus on two main areas: processing equipment and lubricants. OEMs are helping food processors meet their business goals by redesigning equipment that is faster to clean and sanitize, and capable of operating at higher speeds in order to minimize production burdens. As a result lubricant manufacturers reformulated products to enhance operating speeds and raise sanitation levels.

Opportunities for Synthetic Food Grade Lubricants

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To improve safety initiatives and optimize plant efficiency, food processors need to focus on two main areas: processing equipment and lubricants. OEMs are helping food processors meet their business goals by redesigning equipment that is faster to clean and sanitize, and capable of operating at higher speeds in order to minimize production burdens. As a result lubricant manufacturers reformulated products to enhance operating speeds and raise sanitation levels. H-1 "incidental contact" synthetic food grade lubricants are at the forefront of these advancements. These lubricants offer food processors solutions to strengthen overall brand insurance through cleaner and safer formulations, improved anti-wear properties throughout a wide-range of temperatures, and extended service life for production equipment.


Meeting Regulatory and Equipment Needs

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 76 million people suffer from food-borne illnesses each year in the United States. Contaminated food is not only harmful to the consumer, but also to brand integrity and profits for food processors. To promote safe processing protocol, organizations such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and religious groups (Halal/Kosher) have established strict operating guidelines for the food processing industry to follow. Third party certifiers such as NSF International have also established approval programs for ingredients safety for products used in food processing. While compliance for these programs is not mandatory, a proactive food safety program can increase profitability for processors by streamlining cleaning procedures to strengthen the brand integrity and quality of their products.

During processing, food has the potential to get caught in various parts of the equipment creating bacteria. In response to evolving safety standards, OEMs have examined these breeding grounds of bacteria and redesigned equipment. In response to evolving safety standards, OEM's are now designing equipment to minimize or eliminate the potential for bacterial contamination. At the same time, they are designing for higher speeds, improved energy efficiency, and increased production capacity.

Specialty lubricant manufacturers have been challenged to engineer new formulations to meet the safety and operating guidelines for the new equipment. These new chemistries provide enhanced anti-wear properties to increase equipment performance and minimize maintenance for equipment used in extreme temperature applications. A fading trend has been the use of mineral oil-based lubricants for food processing applications, but as new technologies increase productivity and enhance food safety, processors are realizing better results with synthetic lubricants.


Why Synthetics?

H-1 "incidental contact" synthetics are specifically formulated to be FDA 21 CFR 178.3570 and HACCP compliant, registered by NSF International, and meet Kosher and Halal requirements to ensure processing safety. They are virtually non-toxic, colorless, odorless, and tasteless lubricants engineered with customized additive technology to increase food plant productivity. The enhanced chemical makeup of these lubricants maximizes equipment life, reduces maintenance expenditures, and lessens the frequency of lubrication for bearing and gear components. Synthetic lubricants are comparable to the performance of non-food grade premium lubricants and synthetic formulations are most commonly being manufactured with based stocks such as Polyalphaolefins (PAO) and Linear, Random Polyalkalene Glycols (PAG). When compared to mineral oil-based lubricants, synthetics exhibit superior characteristics such as lower pour points, higher flash points, and more stable viscosity.

Refrigerated and frozen food processors (as well as processors operating equipment in extreme ambient conditions) need to evaluate pour points when selecting a lubricant. The pour point indicates the lowest temperature at which a lubricant will retain its liquid qualities before freezing. The closer operating temperatures are to the pour point, the more the protective qualities of the lubricant are compromised.

Put FigureOne here Figure One evaluates the pour points of H-1 mineral oil, PAO synthetic hydrocarbon, and a PAG commercially available ISO 320 H1 gear lubricant tested in processing equipment operating in cold temperatures. Due to their extremely low pour points, the synthetic products exhibit properties that optimize equipment performance, extend lubrication life, and broaden temperature capabilities for gears and bearings for freezers, compressors, mixers, and transportation belts.

Similarly, food processors operating in extremely high temperature environments need to evaluate the flash point when selecting a lubricant. The flash point indicates the temperature at which it will vaporize and potentially ignite.

Put Figure Two here Figure Two shows the different flash points of PAG, PAO, and mineral oil-based lubricants. The enhanced chemistry of the synthetic products differentiates them as the ideal choice for steam-, oven-, and heater-based applications. By choosing synthetics over mineral oil-based lubricants, food processors from the baking to the meat industry have the advantage of being able to process at higher temperatures with prolonged equipment life for pumps, mixers, tanks, hoses, chain drives, and conveyor belts.

        Put Figure Three here The oxidative stability of a lubricant indicates that the integrity of its formulation will not be compromised in extreme temperature applications. The characteristics of the PAO-based lubricant in Figure Three allow it to optimize equipment operability through resistance to washouts, steam, and rust in high temperature applications. By comparison, the mineral oil lubricant experienced a significant change in viscosity over a 24-hour period, indicating a need for daily lubrication, increased maintenance, and production inefficiencies during high temperature applications. Choosing a high-performance lubricant with an extended life can also substantially minimize the amount of space needed for storage.

Synthetic products also demonstrate little to no sludge, clogging, worn components, or scaling. Figure Three indicates that mineral oil-based lubricants produced a higher rate of sludge in comparison to synthetics when testing commercially available ISO 46 H-1 compressor lubricants. Mineral oil-based products have also shown signs of wear and load-carrying characteristics on gear boxes, hydraulic systems, valves, pumps and other components. These properties ultimately lead to severe gear and bearing wear, increased downtime for cleaning and maintenance, and untimely change outs.


Real World Applications

Incorporating a synthetic lubricant into a food safety and brand insurance program has provided food processors with substantial cost-savings from reduced equipment failures and increased production. These savings allow companies to allocate more resources to other business areas to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

A leading baking processing facility was experiencing premature gear failure and excessive product loss amounting to over $300,000 in product contamination, labor, and parts. The company was using semi-synthetic gear oil for its oven drive worm gears that were operating under extreme temperature and pressure conditions. A full lubrication audit recommended that the plant switch to a PAO-based H1 ISO 460 gear oil. After implementation, the plant has not experienced a failure in over 12 months of operation, and it drastically reduced gear friction and significantly reduced operating temperatures, which resulted in no product loss due to contamination.

In another instance, a sugar processing facility was utilizing a mineral oil-based ISO 220 gear bearing oil and NLGI 2 grease on its rotary blower, operating at temperatures ranging from 210 to 285 degrees Celsius. Despite daily lubrication, the facility was still experiencing gear and bearing overheating, and grease leakage, which resulted in maintenance costs that exceeded $5,000 per month. In another process, after switching to PAO-based aluminum complex grease, the equipment has not experienced a bearing failure in 18 months, daily lubrication is no longer necessary, and has resulted in a cost-savings of $40,000 per year.

Several areas of the food processing industry are evolving to ensure a high level of food safety protocol and operational efficiency. Synthetic lubricants are being used as effective tools to help food processors meet their safety and production business goals. Partnering with a specialty synthetic lubricant provider will ensure compliance to food safety guidelines, extend equipment life, and substantially reduce maintenance costs.