Assessing the lubrication requirements of food plants

The lack of humidity in winter and exposure to the sun in summer can dry out your lips, making them chapped and prone to infection. By regularly applying lip balm to moisturise your lips, you can overcome these problems all year round. The same is true when choosing lubricants for your machinery in the food processing industry, as Mark Burnett, VP of the Lubricants and Fuel Additives Innovation Platform at NCH Europe, explains.

The processing industry, particularly the food and beverage sector, is the fastest growing in the world. In Europe, the food and drink industry is the biggest manufacturing sector in terms of jobs and value added. This is because exports from this industry have doubled in the last ten years, reaching over €90 billion in revenue according to the European Commission.


Time means money
Meeting production demands is not easy. Managers must guarantee product consistency, keep labour costs down and maximise return on investment (ROI). This is in addition to the number of food safety laws and consumer protection regulations in place to guarantee high quality produce.

When calculating operating and maintenance costs, plant engineers, facility managers and business leaders also have to pay close attention to the equipment and machinery they are using.

With machinery in the food processing industry in constant use, it is susceptible to breakages that could result in costly downtime. One of the biggest causes of breakdowns — and something that most people overlook — is poor lubrication.

Lubricants are primarily used to reduce friction and protect equipment from corrosion. When choosing a lubricant, there are a number of factors that should be considered to ensure it meets the user's requirements. This includes everything from the temperature that the grease will have to withstand, the weight of the load and the speed at which the machinery operates.

What are the requirements?
During operation, it is very likely that processing machines will come into direct contact with food products. As a result, maintenance products must also adhere to food safety standards. This includes complying with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) rules. HACCP is a system that helps food manufacturers eliminate any biological, chemical and physical hazards in the production process, which can cause the finished item to be unsafe.

Although standards vary for each country, companies handling food within the EU are also required to use lubricants approved by the NSF or equivalent Food certified organisations.

NSF International is recognised globally for its certification of food grade lubricants and there are three main classifications suitable for machinery and equipment in the food industry, depending on their application and what ingredients are present in their formulations.

The first, H1 lubricants, contain carefully chosen ingredients that allow them to be used in applications where incidental contact may occur. Such incidental contact is limited to a trace amounts.

H2 lubricants can also be used in food-processing facilities, but only when the operation or equipment has no possibility of contact with food. Finally, H3 lubricants are typically used to clean and prevent rust on hooks, trolleys and other such equipment and again contain carefully selected food grade oils to avoid potential issues.

NCH Europe supplies a range of food-grade lubricants, including K Plex White. Designed to remain in place in extreme temperatures ranging from -20 to 140 degrees Celsius, the heat reversion characteristics of K Plex White means it can return to its normal consistency even after being heated and cooled repeatedly.

This means that it can be used in harsh industrial environments and will reduce subsequent wear over time. The grease has also been engineered to contain adhesive cohesive polymers, which keep the lubricant in place even under heavy loads and water spray.

Compliance
We all know that, without lubrication, we run the risk of machines wearing down, but by using the incorrect lubricant for an application, products can then also be subject to contamination.

Lubricants in the food processing industry are exposed to intense environmental contaminants because of fluctuating temperatures, which can cause food-borne illnesses.

Finding a product that provides effective lubrication under the elevated temperature conditions of processing machinery, as well as being safe for use around food, is a challenge many engineers face.

Not complying with food guidelines, including using NSF (or equivalent Food certified organisation) compliant products, can have significant consequences. It is critical that maintenance engineers ensure their lubricants meet legislative guidelines.

This can be achieved by consulting with a lubrication provider prior to purchase. Perhaps then we can keep our machinery just as well lubricated as our lips, come rain or shine.

For more information and advice on choosing lubricants and greases for your industrial machinery and equipment, contact NCH Europe on +44 (0) 1902 510 200.

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