Overcoming lubricant challenges

27 July 2020

Phil Burge discusses the importance of using the right lubrication in the right application, and looks at technological advancements designed to reduce bearing wear and corrosion.

Poor lubrication accounts for over 36% of premature bearing failures. Although good lubrication is essential for efficiency and productivity, using lubricants in food applications brings with it some additional challenges. 

When it comes to lubricants food applications that deliver the most challenges are hot and/or wet environments and those areas that receive frequent high-pressure wash downs. 

In hot, humid and wet environments bearing grease absorbs the moisture around it. As a result, this grease slowly begins to emulsify, changing its consistency, allowing the grease to be easily washed out. Grease emulsification accelerates wear on the bearing and also creates the potential for the grease to contaminate the food products within its vicinity.

Also, during routine bearing relubrication, chronic over-greasing can be an issue. This occurs when contaminated production material ¬– such as hygiene fluids or water – is cleared from the bearing by grease flushing. However, this can lead to many food safety and hygiene issues, as well as unnecessary costs.

Industry regulations
According to the European Lubricating Grease Institute (ELGI) ‘Food lubricants are among the most crucial products in the food chain.’ There are a range of food lubricants used across the food production plant, and their reference number defines where and when they should be used.

For example, H2 and H3 lubricants are classified as not for food contact and the only ‘Food Grade’ lubricant is H1. 

H1 lubricants are also known as incidental contact lubricants and as such they are only expected to come into contact with food occasionally under normal working conditions. They are traditionally used to lubricate mechanical parts in bearings, chains, slides, etc. but are subject to maximum incidental lubricant levels in food stuffs. ELGI advises the use of H1 lubricants across ‘all feasible applications’ in a food production facility, to ‘reduce the risk of contamination’ and ‘to run a lubrication programme as cleanly as possible.’

Consider the following to help reduce food application bearing wear:

Use a high-quality lubricant: Check to see if the product carries an NSF registration. NSF International is the only independent, third-party organisation that offers product registration for non-food compounds such as lubricants used in food and beverage processing. Products that pass their thorough toxicology assessment are registered in the NSF White Book. 

Go lubricant free: An obvious way to manage the challenges faced by lubricants in wet, humid or hot conditions is to minimise their use where possible. In the case of bearings, solid oil lubrication technology has advanced in recent years and can now offer food producers cost reductions, improved reliability and food safety in challenging operating environments. 

Opt for hygienically designed units: In washdown tests carried out by the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) microbiology and hygiene department, an SKF relubricable standard bearing unit was tested against a relubrication-free SKF Food Line Blue Range hygienically designed bearing unit. The results showed that the hygienically designed unit had no standing water on it after a high-pressure wash, and none of the bearing’s grease had been exposed or displaced, compared to that in the standard unit.

With poor lubrication being so closely linked to premature bearing failure, choosing the right lubrication and bearing unit is key to avoiding accelerated wear and corrosion. Today there will be a bearing solution available to suit any food application.

Phil Burge is PR and brand awareness manager at SKF.

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