The right grease: choosing the best lubricants for food production

With the food and beverage industry under sustained pressure to improve productivity and safety while reducing costs, proper machine maintenance is of utmost importance. Mohamed Mourad, industrial marketing advisor at ExxonMobil, discusses the role that lubricants play in helping to improve equipment efficiency and reduce maintenance cost.


Exxonmobile

In today's competitive nutrition industry, food and beverage manufacturers are constantly challenged to find new ways of boosting processing efficiencies while also maintaining the highest food safety standards, including the on-going focus on avoiding product contamination.

The food-grade lubricants market was estimated at 41,040.6t in 2014, and is projected to reach 60,566.9t by 2020, at a compound annual growth rate of 6.7% between 2015 and 2020. The growth of the food-grade lubricants market is primarily triggered by the increasing demand for processed food. While one must take all precautions to avoid lubricant contamination during production in any industry, in the food processing industry the need to ensure zero lubricant-contamination becomes even more critical.

A crucial component of the food-grade lubricants market is grease. In a recent survey, ExxonMobil found that more than half of industrial equipment operators are unaware that selecting the right grease can positively impact the performance of their equipment.

Grease keeps food machinery running smoothly. In the context of so many challenges that accompany the stringently regulated food environment, greases help to ensure that the highest levels of product integrity are maintained as well as maximising equipment longevity and productivity.

Synthetic food-grade greases

When compared to a mineral base oil, grease formulated using a synthetic base oil can offer enhanced oxidation-resistance, and a higher lubrication film thickness - ensuring continued performance and protection even in high temperature conditions. In addition, synthetic base oils have the potential to contribute to reduced energy consumption as a result of reduced friction.

“It is essential to consider the conditions under which your bearing will operate.”

ExxonMobil offers leading technology greases that can help protect food processing equipment and contribute to problem-free operation. Unlike conventional mineral alternatives, Mobil™-branded greases offer enhanced equipment reliability and performance even in severe operating conditions, including very high and low temperatures, presence of water contamination, heavy or shock loads and variable speeds.

The application

Greases have varying priorities which are designed to ensure that they can best operate under certain conditions. In this respect, it is important to ensure that the grease matches the application. To select the right grease, it is essential to consider the conditions under which your bearing will operate - think about machine speed, load level, ambient temperature and the type and size of bearing.

Base oil viscosity

When selecting a grease, consider the base oil viscosity. This viscosity should be appropriate for the load and speed of the application at operating temperature and will help to ensure maximum protection and component life. Greases formulated using a higher viscosity base oil are usually more water resistant and are suited to heavy-duty or high temperature applications. Greases with a lower viscosity base oil can help to enhance the protection of slow speed, heavily loaded bearings or low temperature performance.

Don't over-grease or under-grease

Incorrect application and over-greasing is the cause of more than 90% of costly bearing failures. In addition to bearing failures, it can also lead to problems due to migration of the lubricant into the windings.

“When selecting a grease, consider the base oil viscosity.”

Typically, a bearing should never be more than two-thirds full of grease, leaving one-third air space, to allow for optimal operation. Likewise, an insufficient amount of grease could lead to bearing failure due to lack of lubrication.

Avoid Incompatibility

Ahead of applying a new grease, thoroughly clean - or flush out - the previous grease from the bearing. This avoids compatibility issues and helps ensure that the new grease can perform at an optimum level.

As a result of the increasingly competitive nutrition industry and tightening food safety legislation, leading manufacturers worldwide are paying close attention to their choice of equipment greases. The good news is that with best practices and recent advancements in industrial greases, manufacturers no longer have to choose between safe operations and optimal productivity.