Food and beverage packaging facilities can improve production efficiency and sanitation by upgrading processing conveyors and machines used in packing, sealing and cartoning.
Factory-automated machines and conveyors have two modes of operation: running efficiently and earning money versus down and unproductive, losing money. Equipment downtime costs factories from five to 20 percent of capacity each year, according to Intech magazine.
Several components are culprits for maintenance and down time that is so expensive to packaging factories: bearings, belts, chains, wiring, electric motors, and gearboxes.
Gearboxes are high wear items, transforming power from electric motors (high speed, low torque) to the requirements of the load application (lower speed and higher torque). There is a general assumption in power transmission: "Speed is cheap, torque is expensive." Using motors to generate high torques required by many loads (direct drive technology) is typically much more expensive than generating torque with a motor/gear reducer combination.
Gearboxes can be used creatively to eliminate other mechanical components, such as bearings, belts, chains and pulleys. Possibilities are limited only by designer imagination and various gear reducer geometries.
Any time we convert power from one state to another, losses occur in the process, generating unwanted heat and wasting energy. "Power out" is always lower than "power in." In the case of a gear reducer, rotational power is converted from high speed/low torque to low speed/high torque. Energy losses are primarily from friction in the gearing, bearings and between the seals and shaft surfaces. Oil turbulence also causes losses.
Superior gear reducer efficiency is achieved by high efficiency gearing, such as helical, bevel, and spur gearing. Premium lubrication reduces friction in all internal moving parts. Premium quality bearings-- roller, ball, or cylindrical—also limit friction losses.
High-efficiency gear reducers have many benefits: they reduce heat generation, prolonging a gear reducer's life. This increases application reliability and reduced cooled space cost. Superior gear reducer efficiency also decreases total machine cost by allowing the use of smaller motors, which reduces energy consumption. Environmentally, efficiency means a reduced carbon footprint and lower electrical power consumption.
Excessive heat generation in inefficient gear reducers can be a safety issue, too-- hot gear reducers can burn employees.
Additionally, maintenance and replacement costs of wear items add up. So, what makes gear reducers last as long as the machines on which they are assembled? The answer is in the details—doing hundreds of things at the highest possible quality and precision level.
Everything in a gear reducer that contributes to high efficiency contributes to durability and the life of the gear reducer. Machine surfaces and internal moving parts need to be precise and aligned.
Gear teeth must be perfectly shaped, hardened, then ground or honed in order to reach a quality grade that ensures minimal wear once inside the sealed gear reducer environment.
Seals must be compatible with oil, as well as any environments, chemicals and contaminants they may be exposed to from the outside.
Housings should be manufactured with the minimum number of joints possible, as each joint represents a potential premature failure caused by internal component misalignment or a leak path.
Handling and assembly of components also need to be perfect. Ensuring components are corrosion-free and contamination-free before assembly is critical.
Using outdated technology and engaging in poor washdown practices can have deadly consequences, as well as ruin a business. Unsanitary conditions caused the 2011 listeria outbreak at a Colorado cantaloupe-packing facility in Holly, CO. The outbreak was the deadliest since 1924, claiming 29 lives and causing 139 illnesses across the nation.
About 800 laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis and three or four outbreaks are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year.
To make equipment as sanitary as possible, make sure equipment and components stand up to washdown from high pressure, high temperature chemical solutions. Severe cleaning procedures can compromise gearbox paint if it is not of excellent quality, contaminating the product and gearbox.
Also, water or washdown solutions must drain easily from components, preventing liquids from puddling or creating harborage points for bacteria to multiply. This requires smooth, clean surfaces with no nooks or crannies for water to accumulate.
Stainless steel is perfect for the reducer exterior. Although cast stainless steel housings are expensive, they are required in many "ready to eat" areas and other areas where painted surfaces cannot be tolerated. Also, because stainless is a poorer conductor of heat than cast iron, the inefficiency of worm gearing is especially detrimental when combined with stainless steel housings, increasing the potential for burns and premature gear reducer failure. High-efficiency helical gearing is a great advantage in stainless steel gear reducers.
No manufacturer wants customers or employees exposed to unhealthy or dangerous situations due to outdated technology or unsafe machinery. We all benefit from cleaner, safer and more productive factories.
Mike Mitchell is the business development manager at STOBER Drives, Inc. in Maysville, KY. He has more than ten years of experience in the food and beverage industry and ten years experience as a sales manager. He is dedicated to implementing STOBER's commitment to provide excellent customer support, extended warranties, fast shipping, and exceptional products.