A Well-Oiled Machine

by Richard Mitchell
Providers of food-grade lubricants are finding beverage companies to be challenging customers. While the lubricants — which are formulated so they do not contaminate liquids during incidental contact — are essential tools for reducing health risks, many manufacturers still are not using the food-grade oils and greases on critical contact points. And those that are leveraging the products require lubes that can withstand the harsh demands of the industry, such as supporting machines that operate around the clock and safeguarding equipment from such highly corrosive elements as sugar and acids.
“Companies that manufacture beer and soft drinks are going full-tilt 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so their choice of lubricants becomes critical since they require constant protection,” says Jim Girard, vice president and general manager of the Lubriplate Lubricants unit of Newark, N.J.-based Fiske Brothers Refining Co. “And because beverages contain abrasive compounds, the liquids are a strong threat to displace the grease.”
Lubricants also must withstand frequent high-pressure machine cleansings. Beverage plants require constant sanitizing because spillage can quickly cause steel to deteriorate, says Andy Kromer, national accounts manager, food/beverage, for Lincoln Industrial, a St. Louis-based manufacturer of lubrication equipment.
“Without the proper lubricants, manufacturers must reapply oils and greases after each wash-down because the cleanings can easily dilute or push the materials out of the bearings,” he notes.
Food-grade lubricants typically are used on fillers, seamers and capping apparatus in beverage facilities. Such machines often contain automatic oil and greasing systems that apply lubes at predetermined intervals. The procedure enhances plant efficiencies by enabling machines to operate during lubrication, while also providing a more uniform distribution of oils and greases inside the bearings.
Though most major beverage manufacturers are leveraging the increasingly sophisticated food-grade lubricants and systems, many smaller companies — which do not fully understand the safety issues — still are risking contamination by relying on non-food grade products, vendors say.
“A large number of beverage companies are not aware that they should be using food-grade lubes. But that will change as plant inspection processes get better over the next several years, and the need for those products is pounded into them,” notes Lance Landgraf, manager of market development for Linden, N.J.-based Total Lubricants USA. Total’s Keystone Lubricants division produces 80 food-grade products.
All lubricants in Keystone’s Nevastane line, which are used on closers, fillers, conveyors, carbonators and labelers in beverage plants, are registered as H1 with Ann Arbor, Mich.-based NSF International. The designation indicates that the greases and oils are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for use in all federally inspected plants where there is the possibility of incidental food contact.
Most lubricants are applied to machinery to prevent or soften the metal-to-metal contact that causes wear-and-tear on an apparatus. While the majority of plants use food-grade lubes with a mineral oil base, the stronger and more costly synthetic-based products are becoming increasingly popular. Synthetics often are more than four times as expensive as mineral oils, but are much longer lasting.
Diana Judge, global brand and sector manager, food and beverage, for Houston-based Shell Lubricants, says plants that employ synthetic lubricants on seamer roll bearings often can extend the life of the equipment to two and a half or three years. The bearings usually must be changed every two to three weeks when mineral-based food-grade greases are used, she notes.
Shell offers 56 products in its line of Cassida synthetic lubricants, including two designed specifically for the beverage industry — Cassida RLS1 and Cassida GLE. The greases, which have been marketed in the United States for the past 18 months, have additives that enable the products to cling longer to machinery during cleanings.
Synthetic formulations, meanwhile, enable Keystone’s lubes to function under a wide range of temperatures. Plant operators, thus, can use a single lubricant for all machinery, decreasing the chance that inappropriate grease would mistakenly be applied to a device, Landgraf notes.
“The whole food and beverage industry is moving to synthetics because people are catching onto the fact that they’re more durable and last longer,” he adds. “And because one product can be used for both high and low temperatures, it is less confusing for operators and requires fewer products to be kept on hand.”
The overall market for both synthetic and mineral-oil-based food-grade lubricants, meanwhile, remains strong. Shell, for instance, found during inspections of its customers’ facilities that up to 18 percent of potential lubrication points in machinery are not being greased.
And with bio-terrorism issues and the threat of product recalls putting the spotlight on contamination-prevention tools, vendors are strengthening their offerings to meet an expected surge in demand. Tulsa, Okla.-based Citgo Petroleum Corp., for instance, offers more than 30 food-grade lubricants under its Clarion and Duoprime brands, and is planning to release a new line of synthetic products, says Monroe Copeland, product specialist.
Keystone is targeting the beverage sector by thickening its lubricants to better enable greases to adhere to surfaces. Lubriplate is marketing its high-viscosity SFGO Ultra 100 and SFGO Ultra 150 synthetic products, and petroleum-based FMO500AW lubricant, to the beverage market. And Haynes Manfacturing Co, a Westlake, Ohio-based food-grade lubricant manufacturer, is positioning its Haynes Lubri-Film and Haynes Spray syn-thetic lube for the industry.
“Beverage plants that often operate with higher temperatures and more water want these types of products that won’t easily wash off,” says Beth Kloos, Haynes president.
Yet, in addition to upgrading their lubricants, vendors also are working to educate beverage manufacturers on the importance of using advanced food-grade oils and greases. Judge says operators need to be shown the financial benefits of investing in such products, including the consequences from machine downtime.
“The decision for selecting lubricants is often made by the purchasing manager, who is primarily interested in getting the lowest unit cost,” she notes. “Some are not educated about the quality of the lubricant and what it can actually do, and others say they have used a particular lubricant for a long time and are satisfied with it. But they don’t realize they may get more benefits out of moving to a synthetic.”
While more beverage plants are embracing food-grade lubricants, many operators still must be shown the advantages of incorporating synthetic and mineral-based oils and greases in their facilities. But as companies increasingly focus on ways to further safeguard their products while cutting manufacturing expenses, their demand for lubes is expected to escalate. BI