Food processing is one of the most heavily regulated industries. The selection of bearings and bushings for the food industry can be tough, especially when it comes to MRO.
In this blog post, we are going to review some of the issues that bearings face in the food processing industry, then discuss how polymer bearings and bushings can address those issues.
Issues for Bearings in the Food Processing Industry
The food processing industry has its own unique set of challenges when it comes to bearings and bushings. As part of food processing equipment, polymer bearings will be exposed either to harsh chemicals or high-temperature water and steam. Bearings and bushings in such applications need to be both chemically compatible and perform well at high temperatures.
Water and moisture absorption can also be a significant problem. First, the bearings might change in dimension as they absorb water. Second, and maybe more importantly, bearings that can absorb moisture can also harbor unhealthy bacteria that could compromise food quality.
Lubrication can be a problem in food processing, too. Some lubricants are not to be used around food products, which can severely limit the type of bearings that can be used. Food particles can also get trapped in the lubricants, which can lead to a whole new set of problems. Besides, bearings that require regular lubrication result in increased maintenance cost and machine downtime.
Metal bearings, especially those made of bronze, may have been the first choice in the past but potential contamination from the lead and tin used in these bearings has become a problem.
How Polymer Bearings Can Address Food Processing Issues
1. There are FDA approved grades of polymers such as PTFE, PEEK and UHMW that are resistant to potential chemical attack from heavy-duty sanitizing cleaners. At the same time, they can withstand extended exposure to temperatures within the range of those used for steam-based and hot water cleaning.
2. PEEK, PTFE and UHMW are also highly resistant to moisture absorption. They are dimensionally stable when exposed to water for long periods of time. That also means they are far less likely to harbor bacteria that could compromise food quality.
3. PEEK, PTFE and UHMW as well as other polymers commonly used in bushings and bearings, are self-lubricating. Using self-lubricating polymer bushings eliminates the need for maintenance, which in turn reduces maintenance costs and the associated machine downtime. Using self-lubricating bearings also removes the need for lubricants and the potential contamination that they pose.
4. Polymer bearings and polymer bushings are regularly used to replace existing metal bushings. Not only does their use eradicate the problem of tin and lead contamination, but they are also lighter in weight while equal or better strength, stiffness, and wear properties than their metal counterparts.
Conclusion: Food Processing MRO
Food processing poses its own complex set of challenges when it comes to MRO. Several different issues are specific to bearings, but fortunately, there are polymer options that are up to the challenge. There are polymer bearings compatible with the aggressive cleaning and sanitation required as part of the in maintenance and operation of food processing equipment. PEEK, PTFE and UHMW which are popular choices for bearings and bushings, can be used to replace existing metal bearings that require time-consuming lubrication, are posing contamination issues, are have just worn out. Other industries have also found that polymer replacement bushings and bearings are a cost-effective, durable alternative to their metal counterparts. If you are preparing to replace bushings or bearings on food processing equipment, don’t forget to investigate the benefits of polymer bearings.
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