Stainless Steel Powertrains Provide Peace of Mind

Stainless Steel Powertrains Provide Peace of Mind

Hardly a day passes without a new FDA recall of some food product as the number of Americans falling ill from food contamination infections continues to rise.

While there are many causes of food poisoning, food processing equipment design plays a part. Motor and speed reducer drivetrains are found on all types of conveyors and equipment in food processing plants producing everything from beef and poultry to processed ready-to-eat products – in fact anything that people or their pets consume for nutrition or pleasure.

The photo above, for example, shows where Boston Gear Stainless Steel 700 Series speed reducers were mounted to 3/4 hp stainless steel motors on conveyor drives in the system (Photo courtesy of Coastal Manufacturing).

So, food processing equipment design, engineering and materials can play a big part in a plant’s drive for food safety excellence. Anything that can be done to minimize contamination and reduce the costs of sanitizing these units is a worthy investment.

Many drivetrains on food processing equipment feature belts, chains and external gears enclosed in a cover for safety. All of these provide very attractive homes for all types of bacteria and other contaminants. One solution is to utilize hollow shaft reducers, which allow conveyor drive rollers to mount directly to the reducer, eliminating the need for these bacteria harboring components.

Cast iron and aluminum speed reducers and motors are widely used in the food processing industry. Their lower initial cost compared to stainless steel models makes them attractive. However, if the life cycle cost is considered, that picture can change drastically. If the use of stainless steel reducers and motors helps to avoid a single line shutdown due to coating failure that could cause a contamination risk, the cost of the lost production may pay for the stainless steel several times over. Because of this, many manufacturers are moving to all stainless steel speed reducers and drive motors.

Besides the consequences and cost of a coating failure shutting down a production line, there is also the cost of keeping the line running. In one case, a poultry processor had laborers come in each weekend to paint and repaint gearboxes that had chipped paint or rust. This was done for each gear reducer at least once a year depending on the frequency of washdown. The cost of two of these re-coatings would have more than covered the cost differential between the gear reducers they were using and stainless steel gear reducers.

Coastal Manufacturing, a recognized industry leader, supplies custom designed equipment for food processing applications. According to Mark Hoffseth, a Coastal sales engineer, “Many of our customers face food safety audits that inspect every inch of their facilities and equipment, inside and out. Issues such as paint flaking or rust dripping in close proximity to a food contact area are unacceptable.”

This equipment is typically used in production 16 to 20 hours/ day with the remaining hours used to sanitize with a combination of high-pressure water, acids, and sanitizing agents. Hoffseth says, “In our experience, no carbon steel products, regardless of how robust or cutting-edge the coating or plating, have ever held up in this environment over time. There is no easy way on this one, we have tried virtually every ‘corrosion-resistant’ surface available, and stainless steel is the only long-term solution.”

For decades, the food processing and packaging industries have relied on Boston Gear 700 Series worm gear technology for long-lasting, high-quality performance. The Stainless Steel 700 Series takes that trusted performance to new levels by providing maximum corrosion resistance in the most
challenging, caustic washdown environments.

Hoffseth explained that when so-called “corrosion resistant” products fail, it is often much more costly to repair than with a stainless steel product. This is because, as they are failing, they are typically corroding and seizing onto the piece of equipment that they are mounted to. This can result in a far more difficult removal process, often damaging adjacent parts and components. Coastal has a 175-ton press in its shop, and there have been times when that press had to be used to remove seized, corroded parts. Typically, if that amount of force is required to remove a corroded part, there is often damage to other attached parts.

When asked about Coastal’s customers’ concerns regarding energy efficiency, cost of ownership, etc. Hoffseth said, “While these issues are important to everyone, I would say those are second-tier concerns. Food processing customers are mostly concerned with ‘is it food safe’? and ‘is this machine going to corrupt or harbor any product’? In most of the food and pharmaceutical areas that we work in, any equipment that contains corrosive parts is unacceptable. No question.”

Coastal had used painted speed reducers from Boston Gear and other manufacturers for at least 20 years and decided to standardize on Boston’s stainless steel units about 10 years ago. Hoffseth told us, “We have tried just about every brand of reducer – either due to customer specification or, often, because we are given other products to try out and there are some quality competitive reducers out there. But over the years, we have not found one that can beat the quality and availability of Boston Gear.”

Hoffseth acknowledged that Coastal has a very large number of Boston Gear stainless steel units in the field. While all parts wear and eventually require rebuilding or replacement, he said that the stainless steel Boston Gear reducers have the lowest maintenance requirement of any component they use. “We install them and forget about them, typically never having to hear about them or work on them again. For us, the bottom line is Boston has a quality product and has never missed a delivery due date. That’s the kind of company we want to work with, as that is the kind of company we are.”

Article provided by Altra Industrial Motion with additional edits by Matthew Jaster, senior editor, PTE Magazine.

Categories: Editors Choice

About Author

Matthew Jaster

Matthew Jaster, Senior Editor, has a B.A. in journalism from Columbia College Chicago and has 15+ years of writing and editing experience in automotive, manufacturing, engineering, law and arts and entertainment.

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