The Food and Beverage Industry is large, diverse, and full of specialized machinery. It’s one of the oldest industries on the planet but still full of innovation. From new products to higher-volume, lower-cost production techniques, this industry is always looking for new ways to produce the food consumers want at the best possible price. And vital equipment is there every step of the way. From simple ovens and conveyor belts to complex bottling and packaging machines, the food and beverage industry depends on equipment for industrial-scale food production.
We provide a brief overview of this essential industry and look at its equipment’s unique challenges for components like bearings. Finally, we look at how has used our materials expertise to solve engineering pain points for Food and Beverage companies. Advanced polymers and composites are a powerful solution for clean, grease less operation in food processing and packaging facilities.
Food and Beverage Industry Overview
Mixing and sorting cut vegetables in a food processing plant The Food and Beverage Industry includes all the companies involved in transforming raw agricultural goods into consumer food products. The overall industry supply chain includes food processing, packaging, and distribution. It does not cover raw food production, which falls into the closely related agriculture industry. This industry includes fresh food, packaged food, and beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). This industry serves various retail outlets, from food sold at the grocery store to cooking meals at restaurants, institutions, and events.
Examples of Food and Beverage Processing
Turning fresh milk into anything from dehydrated power to fine cheese.
Processing whole plants like carrots into diced or cut packaged goods.
Transforming grain into flour and then a variety of baked goods.
Cows, chickens, etc. (A single plant, for example, can process 1000’s cattle in a single day).
Adding chemical components like preservatives enhances shelf life and reduces spoilage. Nutrient fortification is another prominent example.
Using proteins to manufacture the new wave of synthetic meats is an excellent example of how this industry creates new products and categories. These processes come with urgent packaging and distribution timelines, often with an imperative to complete the process, with processed food out the door, in under 48 hours from receiving raw food from the farm.
Food and Beverage Industry Pain Points
While different food categories require very different production processes, some challenges are broadly shared in the industry.
The food and beverage industry is tasked with solving some unique business challenges:
A time-sensitive supply chain where the product can go bad fast. This reality means food companies are always on a schedule, need to plan for specialized storage and transportation, and must practice careful inventory control.
A manufacturing production environment with unique demands for hygiene and safe food handling. This imperative includes specific equipment cleaning requirements to tight controls and potential allergens. A highly regulated industry that needs to ensure production practices are up to code carefully. A tendency toward price-sensitive products where every margin matters.
Pain Points and Solutions for Food and Beverage Industry Equipment
Dry pasta manufacturing For packing and processing equipment alike, better equipment performance has real business value for food and beverage companies:
- Downtime can be extremely costly in this time-sensitive industry: reliability is essential.
- Efficiency matters for this competitive, margin-sensitive industry. Faster, higher-volume machines are essential for a wide variety of food processors.
- Failing to comply with regulations can result in lost production, fines, or legal liability.
When looking for increased performance for its equipment, this industry has to pay attention to some unique environmental concerns. These concerns are significant for critical mechanical components like bearings. Food processing can include various temperature conditions, ranging from a flash freezer to an industrial-scale fryer or oven. Materials need to be carefully selected for performance characteristics at these temperature extremes.
The heightened cleaning requirements for food processing and packaging equipment mean potent cleaning agents must be use. These cleaning chemicals are so caustic that they can damage many materials. Materials must be carefully selected to reflect the cleaning agents used. UV treatments are another potentially damaging cleaning process. Selecting suitable materials is essential for avoiding contamination from grease, ensuring amenability to caustic cleaning chemicals, and avoiding overly porous materials where microbes can hide.
Dry food products like grains, beans, and sugar are abrasive to hardware and bearing materials. Particulate matter can also be generated in food production of many types. This “food dust” can quickly get into the inner working of exposed machines, causing damage and reducing reliability. Sticky grease for traditional metal bearings can exacerbate this problem, functioning almost like flypaper for contaminants. Equipment needs to be approved by all relevant regulators.
Essential Regulations for Food and Beverage Industry Equipment
Food and Drug Administration (FDA): regulates the composition, additives, and properties of materials for food contact
US Department of Agriculture (USDA): regulates food safety and inspection for manufacturing, packaging, and handling practices, including meat, poultry, fruits, and vegetables
National Sanitation Foundation (NSF): an independent agency devoted to achieving solutions relative to public health and the environment
3-A Sanitary Standards: an independent agency dedicated to advancing hygienic equipment design for the food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries.
Bearings for the Food and Beverage Industry
Bearings (along with related components like bushings and wear pads) are essential components within food industry equipment. They’re a great example of a crucial component that must carefully address each pain point listed above while helping equipment operate as effectively as possible.
Bearings for food applications. Traditional metal bearings must be regularly lubricat with grease. This lubricant presents both a regular maintenance demand, a magnet for particulate matter, and a chronic risk for contamination. Meanwhile, the wrong plastics can deteriorate quickly due to caustic cleaning agents. Some Companys have had extensive success using our advanced materials to address all of these issues. Our self-lubricating design puts an end to messy grease. And we offer a wide variety of materials capable of various operating temperatures. Companysmaterials used in the Food and Beverage Industry include Rulon, CJ, Ultra comp, and Retaliate. For a broader overview of bearings, how they fail, and why picking the right material matters.
We highlight functional advantages that have made these materials valuable to food processing and packaging companies.
Food Processing Equipment Examples: Bearing Solutions
Composite bearings for food mixers Fast freeze systems quickly take food products from room temperature to -112°F via a conveyorized tunnel. The bearings within the tunnel can’t be access for lubrication. These bearings act as the belt roller supports as the food moves through the tunnel. Rulon 641, a self-lubricating bearing material, offers a powerful solution. Rulon is FDA-cleared, compatible with all cleaning solutions, and doesn’t need to be lubricated. Food mixers utilize different polymers depending on the media being mix.
Polymers offer excellent resistance to long-term abrasion effects. For steady shaft bearings in dry, abrasive foods, special polyolefins can be used in 40 to 180°F applications. In hot food or beverage mixers above 300°F, Rulon bearings can be use. Mixers also use polymer mixing paddles that run against the wall of the stainless tanks without abrasive wear. In one case, Rulon 641 replaced virgin PTFE in a hummus mixer and increased service life by 200X.
Ovens are a massive part of conveyorized baking, making products like tortillas, pizza crusts, cookies, and bread. These ovens use bearings within the oven tunnel to support the conveyor belt. These belts are traditionally made from either stainless mesh or coated fiberglass. Rulon 641, fully FDA-cleared, is capable of 350°F and more in continuous service. Crucially this material retains dimensional stability over a long service life of the maintenance-free operation.
Food Packaging Equipment
Also Plastic bearings for food packaging applications Food packaging ranges from egg cartons to frozen food containers. Packaging encloses food to protect it from tampering or contamination from biological, chemical, or physical sources. Innovation continues in packing technologies. Some recent examples include water-soluble packaging for liquids (like detergent “pods”), clay-based nanotechnology for fast-degrading film packaging for foods, edible packaing, and antimicrobial packaging. Equipment is critical in getting food inside its packaging at high production volumes. And it needs to do so cleanly and according to regulatory requirements, just like the food production equipment itself.
Bearings for the Food and Beverage Industry are essential components of food industry equipment. Some Company’s materials include Rulon, CJ, Ultra comp, and Retaliate. The NSF is an independent agency dedicate to advancing hygienic equipment design for the food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries.