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Dave Biering

Dave Biering


Recent posts by Dave Biering

3 min read

Food Processing and Packaging: Industry Overview

By Dave Biering on July 27, 2020

food processing and packaging - industry overview

In this brief overview of food processing and packaging, we take a look at:

  • Defining the size of the food processing and packaging industry.
  • Looking at key growth drivers.
  • Examining competitive pressures that drive a continued need for efficient manufacturing.

For a look at which activities are included under processing (from pickling to high-pressure cooking) and packaging (from canning to modified atmosphere) take a look at our blog post here.

For some of the facts and figures below, this article draws on McKinsey’s 2018 industry white paper, available here. We recommend it for a more exhaustive exploration of the topics we highlight below.

What companies are included in the Food Processing and Packaging Industry?

This industry traditionally includes the production of a variety of equipment for both food processing and packaging tasks. Many analysts also include commercial foodservice preparation equipment (like commercial-grade ovens).

The most important companies not included in this industry are agricultural firms (part of the Agriculture Industry) and restaurants, which are considered Food Service Industry companies. While food is being grown at the farm, harvested/washed, and prepared for initial storage (eg. flash-freezing vegetables at the farm) it is still within the Agriculture Industry. Once the food has entered a production facility, however, it’s within the domain of Food Processing and Packaging.

How big is the Food Processing and Packaging Industry?

Defining the size of this industry can be a complicated question, and analyst estimates vary widely.

Because many companies blur the line between agriculture and food processing, focusing on the market for Food Processing and Packaging Equipment is the easiest way to separate processing and packaging activity from the broader food/agriculture sector.

As of 2018, the management consulting firm McKinsey values the sector at ~$100 billion (including three sub-sectors: processing ($45 billion), packaging ($37 billion), and commercial food service equipment ($16 billion)).

McKinsey also notes that, by most metrics, this industry has lead industrial firms across several key financial performance metrics over the past decade, including profit per $ of revenue, total return to shareholder, and EBITA margin.

A Growing Industry for a Hungry Globe

McKinsey identifies several key factors driving growing revenue and profit margins:

  • Overall emerging-market population growth is fueling overall demand. Within these emerging markets, urbanization is pushing incomes higher, increasing food consumption per capita as well. Asia, for instance, is expected to account for 50 percent of growth for industry demand through 2021.
  • Rising income and increasing food consumption in emerging markets also changes the types of foods consumed, with richer consumers buying fewer commodity staples and more value-added food products (like meat, dairy, and packaged foods).
  • A rising consumer preference for healthy, organic food is driving menu expansion, more rigorous quality standards, and a shift toward higher-margin products. This trend also means new types of equipment for food production, higher-standard machines, and the proliferation of specialized systems like RFIT labeling for better traceability.

A Competitive Space Requiring Efficient Equipment and Ambitious Automation

Despite all this growth, the food processing and packaging industry companies face an eternal challenge: hungry end-consumers who won’t easily tolerate higher prices.

This strategic environment puts pressure on food companies to pursue a continuous push for more efficient production that automates as much of food processing as possible. McKinsey notes that increasing labor costs, tightening immigration policy in the U.S., and low industrial labor retention rates are all contributing to a push for more automation. And that means more advanced machinery.

Manufacturers in the food and beverage industry need equipment that can offer improved efficiency, lower cost, and better uptime.

Equipment downtime can be costly in any industry. Studies suggest a single hour of downtime cost 98% of businesses (across all industries) at least $100,000. For 33% of firms, those costs fall in the $1-5 million range. For food companies, these costs tend to run toward the higher end: the ever-present risk of spoilage means potential costs of downtime go far beyond production delays.

Learning More

If you’re interested in learning more about key 2020 trends for the broader food industry, take a look at our blog post here.

For a deeper dive into the industry (with a more specific look at using advanced materials to solve key food production issues) please see our white paper here.

Food and Beverage Industry: Challenges for Processing, Packaging, and Beyond

Topics: Food food bearings
5 min read

Important Processes for Food Processing and Packaging

By Dave Biering on July 24, 2020

important processes for food processing and packaging

Food processing is a science-driven industry that demands extensive knowledge of chemistry, microbiology, and the physical properties of various foods and agricultural products. It also requires the ability to engineer equipment capable of processing and packaging this food at volume.

For an overview of the Food Processing and Packaging Industry, please see our blog post here. In this article, we highlight some of the most prominent techniques used in food processing and packaging.

Traditional Food Processing Methods Still in Use Today

Food processing is one of the oldest industries on earth: as long as humans have produced food, we have needed methods to process it for optimized nutrition, longer storage life, and improved flavor. Some of the most fundamental food processing methods can be found anywhere from an open campfire to an industrial scale processing facility.

  • Cooking is the most ubiquitous form of processing. Heat is applied through various methods like baking, grilling, roasting, and frying. All of these processes require materials that can stand up the varying degrees of heat without degrading or releasing toxic material into food.
  • Drying is one of the oldest methods for preserving food. While sun-drying has been used for thousands of years, modern plants employ techniques like freeze-drying (see below).
  • Smoking is another simple but effective method for preserving a wide variety of foods. Industrial-scale smoking involves massive smoking chambers that can handle large quantities of food at once.
  • Fermentation is a chemical process caused by bacteria and other microorganisms like yeasts in anaerobic (no oxygen) environments. In addition to its famous use for alcoholic beverages, fermentation is used to make products like sauerkraut, yogurts, and bread yeast.
  • Pickling: this process can refer to either brine or vinegar immersion. The key feature of this process is a pH sufficient to kill most bacteria. In traditional pickling, antimicrobial herbs like mustard seed and garlic can also be added to the mix. Brine also draws out moisture from food, enhancing preservation. Pickling has been in use at least since the Indus Valley civilization around 2400 BC.
  • Salting/Curing: this process works similarly to pickle brine, but uses dry salt, typically on meats. Salting was the main method for preserving meats until the advent of refrigeration. Salt draws water out of the meat to dramatically reduce spoilage.

While these techniques are still used (in a highly advanced and scaled-up form) in industrial-scale food processing, today’s food processing companies have also created completely novel processes.

Advanced Food Processing Methods

Some versions of industrial food processing (like conveyorized ovens) are simply larger-scale versions of traditional food processing techniques. But the technologies available to industrial-scale food processors have also opened entirely new avenues for food processing.

  • Freezing, Flash Freezing, and Freeze Drying: freezing dramatically improves freshness and shelf-life for a huge variety of foods, and techniques like flash-freezing help prep food at mass-production speeds and volumes.
  • Irradiation: exposing food to ionizing radiation can improve food safety, delay the sprouting of plant products, and help control insects and other pests.
  • Pasteurization: in this technique, invented by Louis Pasteur in 1864, food is rapidly heated and then cooled, a reliable method for killing potentially harmful microorganisms.
  • High-Pressure Processing: sometimes called Pascalization, this process processes food in high-pressure conditions which kill many bacteria types, improving safety and shelf life. This process is desirable for its energy efficiency, decreased processing time, and the absence of additives. This relatively new process was invented starting being used commercially in the 1990’s and is still being perfected.
  • Extrusion: mixed ingredients are forced through an opening to form a continuous shape that can subsequently be cut into a specific size by a blade. This method allows for efficient mass production of food that can be easily cut to size after it is produced.
  • Modified Atmosphere Packaging: air inside a package can be substituted with a special gas mix designed to slow spoilage, extend shelf-life, and improve food safety.
  • Chemical Additives: In addition to vitamins, antioxidants help prevent oil from going rancid. Emulsifiers can help products like salad dressing from separating into oil and water in the package.

Food Processing Equipment Examples

All of the processes above require specialized equipment. And food needs to be carefully cleaned, prepared, and packaged based on how a food product is processed -- each of these tasks creates even more equipment needs.

Below we list just a few of the massive array of highly-specialized machinery used in food processing. For a more exhaustive treatment, we recommend this resource.

  • Cleaning: Sprayers, Ultrasonic Cleaners, Magnetic Separators
  • Grading Equipment: lab-like equipment to test food quality.
  • Preparation: rollers, peelers (blade/steam/flame), sorting equipment
  • Mechanical processing: mills, crushers, strainers, pulpers, slicers, grinders, and saws.
  • Extruding Equipment
  • Agglomeration Equipment: Pelletizers, Rotating Drums, and High-Speed Agitators
  • Forming Equipment: Molders, Formers, and Enrobing Machines
  • Mixers: paddle, turbine, anchor, and agitated tank mixers.

Food Packaging Examples and Equipment

The types of packaging used for food are nearly as diverse as the food itself. A few prominent examples include trays, bags, cans, coated paper cans, pallets, and plastic wrap.

For many food products, multiple packaging techniques will be required for each salable item, like a frozen meal with a tray, plastic wrap cover, and outer box (and that means multiple pieces of packaging machinery for just one production line). To package processed food at an industrial scale, food companies utilize a wide variety of specialized equipment. Just a few important examples include:

  • Vacuum-packaging machines remove air from plastic packaging to reduce atmospheric oxygen, limiting microbe growth and evaporation to improve shelf-life.
  • Cartoning machines that automatically fold paper cartons, applying adhesive as necessary. 
  • Coding and labeling machines to not only apply repetitive graphics like marketing labels but autocode information that is essential for tracking food freshness.
  • Filling and bottling machines for beverages and other liquid products.
  • Capping machines to seal and cap bottled liquids.

Learning More

A single food production facility may need to employ many of the machines highlighted above in just a single production line. Food producers face the challenge of keeping all of this equipment up and running in a manufacturing environment with some unique challenges:

  • A heightened need for clean operation.
  • A wide variety of temperature conditions: food might be fried and frozen even on the same production line.
  • A high-margin, high production volume industry where machine downtime comes with serious costs.
  • A number of food materials generate abrasive particulate matters that can damage materials made from the wrong materials.

For a more specific look at challenges for food processing and packaging equipment (and how the right material selection can help) we recommend our white paper.

Food and Beverage Industry: Challenges for Processing, Packaging, and Beyond

Topics: Food food bearings
4 min read

Food and Beverage Industry Trends 2020: Convenience, Plant-Based Proteins, and More

By Dave Biering on July 22, 2020

food and beverage Industry trends - convenience, plant-based proteins

Major food trends have implications for a cluster of related industries. For instance, the rise of plant-based food affects not only restaurants and meat substitute manufacturers but a much broader set of companies.

From the agricultural operations where raw inputs are grown to the processing facilities where food is produced and packaged, new trends create new challenges for companies throughout the supply chain.

Meanwhile, food companies continue to face a manufacturing environment full of caustic chemicals, clean operation requirements, and abrasive food materials. Food processing and packaging equipment manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve performance, reliability, and uptime in the face of diverse food production challenges.

In this post, we take a look at some of the most important food industry trends for 2020.

Or for an overview of food processing and packaging (including what companies fall under this category), take a look at our blog post here.

If you’re looking for a deeper look at food processing and packaging, we recommend our whitepaper here.

Plant-Based Food: Burgers and Beyond

Plant-based hamburgers are a great symbol of continued product innovation in this industry. And burgers are just the beginning of a dramatic explosion in plant-based food that has only begun to reshape the marketplace. Plant-based burgers and ground beef are already available everywhere from fine-dining to fast food. But the industry has only begun exploring plant-based alternatives for animal products like fish, chicken, pork, eggs, and dairy. Even KFC is getting in on the trend.

The move toward plant-based products will have dramatic implications for the entire food industry supply chain. For example, the plant-based meat substitute trend is already driving an explosion of pea production: peas are becoming a popular alternative to soy as a source for plant-based proteins. A single shift like this one means different farms, different food packaging and processing needs, and different machinery.

Food and Beverage companies face the challenge of maintaining efficient production of price-sensitive products even as they adapt their supply chains for new consumer tastes.

The Digital Revolution Comes to Food and Beverage: Big Data and Online Delivery

The food-focused marketing agency Quench provides an excellent deep dive into major industry trends heading into 2020. Highlights include:

  • Hyper-customizable food to reflect a growing awareness of personal allergen- and nutrient-related needs. Personalized, data-driven food delivery applications range from the common sense (avoiding food allergies) to applications that wouldn’t surprise us in a science fiction movie. For example, Sushi Singularity is a restaurant concept where personal biodata will be used to create 3D-printed sushi dishes.

  • Data-rich supply chains allow for much more granular tracking of food from production to packaging, essential for promoting better food-safety. Superior tracking also helps prevent supplier fraud (like passing off non-organic agricultural products as organic or lying about freshness). Better tracking also allows consumers to have more precise information about where their food comes from.

  • A growth in online-driven food delivery is only beginning to shakeup how food products are distributed (with potential implications for everything from restaurants to packaging design). Food delivery app downloads were already up 380 percent over the past three years before the COVID crisis hit.

    While the initial move to home food delivery has generally centered on apps that allow customers to order food from a physical restaurant, this model has the potential to shake up the food supply chain more dramatically. For example, more and more companies are exploring the concept of a “ghost kitchen” (a non-dine-in location that makes food solely for delivery). These locations will make it easier to flexibly accommodate demand in areas with high amounts of delivery orders.

A Move Toward Convenient Food

Consumers in developed economies have long shown an increasing preference for “convenient” food options, like frozen food or pre-packaged fresh meals. This also includes an increase in restaurant meals (the BLS reports Millenials spend 46% of their food dollars eating out compared to 41% for Baby Boomers).

This trend has many implications for food companies throughout the supply chain, even packaging. For example, McKinsey reports it is driving a boost in demand for trays made from plastics that allow for direct cooking/warming. These flexible packaging options (eg. plastic containers that can be used for different types of fresh, convenient food products) are growing at the expense of traditional packaging formats like glass jars and metal cans.

Inside the Production Plant: Challenges for Food Processing and Packaging Equipment

Food companies face the need to adapt to these changes in a competitive market that demands highly-efficient, high-volume production wherever possible. Food processing and packaging equipment need to achieve optimal uptime and have to do so while facing unique manufacturing challenges. As equipment makers design machines for the next generation of food products, these key operational challenges will remain as relevant as ever.

Key Challenges for Food Processing and Packaging Equipment

  • Food materials like beans and dry cereals can be highly abrasive to machinery over time. Abrasion can cause premature part failure (resulting in both elevated maintenance costs and more stoppages).
  • Food processing equipment requires regular cleaning using FDA-certified processes and chemicals. In many cases, these chemicals are highly caustic, and can potentially degrade mechanical components made from the wrong materials.
  • Food processing and packaging plants require unusually clean operation for a manufacturing facility. This requirement can create challenges for component selection. For instance, parts requiring high amounts of grease present a chronic contamination risk when used in food processing equipment.

Learning More

In our experience, the right materials for vital engineered components like bearings is essential to maximizing performance and uptime for business-critical food processing and packaging equipment.

For a deeper look at manufacturing challenges for the bearing industry and how solutions like self-lubricating polymer components can help solve them, you can download our free industry white paper by clicking on the graphic below.

Food and Beverage Industry: Challenges for Processing, Packaging, and Beyond

Topics: Food food bearings
3 min read

Thermoset vs Thermoplastic Materials: Bearings and Other Applications

By Dave Biering on June 30, 2020

Polyethylene Plastic Molecule - A Thermoplastic

Thermoset and Thermoplastic materials have similar names, but they have very different properties. In this post, we provide an overview of what makes these two categories different and why these differences matter for different applications.

What is the difference between thermoset and thermoplastic bearings?

The primary difference between these two bearing materials is that thermoset plastics retain their solid state indefinitely, and include just a few trade names. Thermoplastic bearing materials can be heated and reheated many times to form new shapes. Thermoplastics are the largest groups of plastics and include PVC, PEEK, polyethylene, nylon, acetal, and acrylic. Thermoplastics are particularly good for machining into custom fabricated components (explore The Essential Guide To Machining Plastics).

We explore the key differences in more detail below.

Thermoset v Thermoplastic | Remolding Properties

Thermoset: Synthetic materials that are not able to be reheated or remolded.

Thermoplastic: This is the largest group of plastics (polymers) and the group is also known as “thermosoftening” plastics given their ability to melt at high temperatures.

Thermoset v Thermoplastic | Heat Resistance

Thermoset: As it cures, the material increases in its ability to resist heat and succeed in high-heat applications (approaching 400°F or more).

Thermoplastic: Readily liquefies upon reaching melting points. The material also hardens and strengthens after cooling.

Thermoset v Thermoplastic | Chemical Characteristics

Thermoset: This category often incorporates fillers. When heated, the material’s molecules begin to crosslink, which helps to determine final strength and other characteristics. However, some of these materials also have a tendency to shatter under certain circumstances.

Thermoplastic: Provides good chemical resistance (will re-form without any chemical changes), but keep in mind that material properties will deteriorate if over-processed. Thermoplastics offer good impact-resistance as compared to thermoset plastics, and are also easily recycled.

Thermoset v Thermoplastic | Machining

Thermoset: Some of these materials are brittle and chip easily, making them hard to machine into custom parts. Other thermosets with fillers and fibers are easier to machine and produce very clean finished parts.

Thermoplastic: Are stronger and well-suited to machining techniques – as long as proper heat controls are followed. Get the Machining Slide Deck to review heating and cooling guidelines.

Examples of Thermoplastics and Thermosetting Plastics

Thermoset: Common formulas include Phenolic, Epoxy, PTFE, Ultracomp, CJ, Micartas, Melamine and some grades of imides.

Thermoplastic: This group includes both trade and generic names, representing Acetal, ABS, nylon, polyethelene, PET and PBT.

The different properties of thermoset plastics and thermoplastics have vital implications for your design, whether used as a bearing or in a different application. But this basic material difference is only one of many factors that need to be carefully considered. We always recommend approaching materials selection as a strategic engineering decision, not a box to be checked.

You can connect with our polymer experts here to discuss the right material for your design.

Custom Plastic Fabrication: Get the Guide!

Topics: Thermoplastic bearings
4 min read

Consultative Engineering for Optimal Material Selection

By Dave Biering on June 16, 2020

TriStar Engineering Consultants

In this blog post, we highlight TriStar’s application-focused approach to finding the right bearing materials for our client’s needs.

For a broader look at bearings, bearings failure, and bearings materials, take a look at our Bearings 101 page here. Or keep reading to learn why choosing the right bearing for an application can be a real engineering challenge. 

Careful Component Selection Can Solve Engineering Problems

For fundamental mechanical components like bearings, bushings, and wear pads, material selection matters. Options range from traditional greased metals to advanced, self-lubricating polymers.

Even within a broad material type like polymers, different materials (and material specifications) have very different performance characteristics. These attributes have important implications for the life and effectiveness of the bearing itself. But they can also have much broader effects on the performance of the equipment where they are employed. Excessive vibration, heat, or electrical conductivity can create real problems for the reliability of an entire complex machine.

All too often, however, we see bearings treated like a commodity-part. In this situation, material selection is often based on a broad, pre-existing preference for one material over another. In our experience, this approach comes with real risks. Employing an improper bearing in a design heightens the risk of acute failure. But simply using a sub-optimal bearing may result in chronic problems that affect reliability, maintenance costs, and performance for years without going recognized.

To be clear, there are certainly low-performance, cost-sensitive applications where the priority is simply to find the cheapest possible material. But a wide variety of applications call for materials that are carefully selected to reflect specific operational concerns.

There is no “perfect” bearing material: there’s only the right bearing for the task (and budget) at hand. This reality calls for real engineering expertise to identify the demands of a particular application and match the right material to the application.

TriStar’s Approach: Consultative Engineering to Find the Right Bearing for Every Application

TriStar works with our clients to understand precisely how and where a bearing is going to be used. Our engineers and sales representatives take time to study the applications where our bearings will be expected to perform. In some cases, TriStar team members will spend weeks on-site to learn more about the operating conditions where a bearing or other component will be expected to thrive.

That’s the only way to select materials that are not only fit-for-purpose but capable of solving problems our clients didn’t know they had. For some great examples of this approach in action, see our case study library here.

In some cases, a very subtle problem can result in serious implications for a broader design. Even utilizing a bearing that is over-specified for an application can result in a problem: the bearing may not deform to the intended geometry under operating stress. Within the same factory, and even within the same machine, different bearings may be subjected to very different environmental stresses.

The right materials selection offers a viable solution for many common engineering problems that bearings are called to solve. But to find the right solution, real expertise helps match the chosen material and shape to the precise operating conditions it will be confronting.

The operating concerns listed below illustrate how careful bearing selection is simply good business. A bearing that is marginally cheaper may end up costing far more if it requires frequent replacement or constant re-lubrication.

Example Operating Concerns for Bushing, Bearings, and Wear Pads

  • Corrosion: Applications everywhere from manufacturing to underwater introduce corrosion concerns. Even the cleaning chemicals used in food processing plants will destroy the wrong material.
  • Dusty and Dirty Environments: Particular matter risks being attracted to traditional grease lubricants almost like a magnet. Once inside the bearing, abrasive contaminants will negatively affect performance and service life.
  • Lubrication: inadequate lubrication is the number one cause of bearing failure. The viability and cost-effectiveness of regular lubrication need to be carefully considered when selecting a bearing. Self-lubricating characteristics, for example, are a must in hard-to-reach locations.
  • Weight: a lighter bearing capable of handling the same load can offer vital performance advantages for the entire design. For instance, plastic polymer bearings are up to 5x lighter than steel.
  • Noise/Vibration: high-levels of bearing vibration is a common operating condition, yet it’s still one of the most common causes of failure for metal bearings. Reducing metal-on-metal contact can help dramatically reduce vibration and noise. This reduction is not only good for the life of bearings but the entire mechanical design.
  • Temperature: it’s best to avoid broad generalizations about material temperature tolerances. While every polymer has some theoretical melting point, the right plastics can succeed at relatively high operating temperatures. However, material deformation needs to be carefully considered, as a material can begin losing crucial structural integrity long before its actual melting point.

These concerns are just a few examples, and every different material and application will vary across each of these categories.

At TriStar, we take pride not only in our advanced, high-performance materials but our years of hard-won knowledge on how bearings can be best applied in a huge range of applications.

Our experience allows us to offer our clients a true end-to-end partnership, from solution engineering to final production to support.

Tstar-Advantage-2020

From choosing the right polymer to conducting surface treatments to ensure the right adhesion and bonding properties, we treat bearing selection as a real engineering problem that is best addressed with genuine expertise. Our enhanced materials division even adapts our materials to specialized applications such as filtering membranes.

We work closely with clients to understand both functional and financial needs, identifying the material that will ultimately provide the best possible ROI.

For a detailed look at some of our materials and their specific properties, we recommend our materials database here. If you’d like to reach out to our team to discuss finding the right solution for your application, just click the button below. 

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR OUR EXPERTS?

Bearing Selection: Get the Ultimate Plastic Bearing Design

2 min read

TriStar’s Engineering Partnership with Clients of All Sizes

By Dave Biering on June 9, 2020

TriStar’s Engineering Partnership with Clients of All Sizes

The market for bearings and similar components like bushing and shock absorbers is multi-faceted.

On one hand, a variety of non-specialized, high-volume applications demand extremely cheap solutions. These components can be as simple as furniture drawers slides. In this context, bearings are often treated like a commodity: cheap, plentiful, and interchangeable.

For manufacturers that focus on this bulk production bearings market, volume matters. For the largest bearings manufacturers, the ideal client will purchase huge quantities, even millions, of bearings per year. But while this style of production makes sense in support of some applications, we find that it hasn’t always served TriStar’s customers well.

Smaller manufacturers and high-tech firms with specialized, high-performance bearings needs often don’t receive adequate attention from bulk manufacturers chasing accounts at some of the biggest companies on earth. Yet smaller companies, often in the sub-contractor role, are often doing the heavy-lifting when it comes to design and component selection.

Bearings are expected to thrive in a huge variety of specialized conditions that are anything but interchangeable. And they have vital implications for a design’s performance, reliability, service life, and maintenance needs. Businesses of different sizes and industries feature crucial applications where bearings aren’t a commodity, but a vital, precisely engineered component.

TriStar takes pride in bringing our full engineering expertise to bear on each and every client account. 

A Prototype to Production Partnership for Customers of All Sizes

TriStar retains the ability to engage with each client’s application as a real engineering challenge. We’re not just selling bearings, but using bearings to solve problems our clients didn’t know they had. We work directly with client engineers to understand specifically how our products will be used, where they’ll be expected to thrive, and how they can help promote superior performance and reliability. From extensive consulting on material selection to 24/7 support, we center our service model on customer success from prototyping to production.

Our business is built on finding the right bearing for every possible client application, and you’ll never struggle with a service issue or order too small to get our attention. From working with niche agriculture equipment manufacturers to developing specialized membranes for medical applications, we’re always working to find new problems to solve with our materials. Which is why you’ll find our products everywhere from underwater to high-altitude. We’re still finding exciting new applications for our low-friction, self-lubricating materials every day.

If you’re interested in learning more about taking advantage of our advanced, customizable materials (and working with a bearing provider that always picks up the phone) you can get in touch with our experts using the button below.

CONTACT THE TRISTAR TEAM

Topics: TriStar Engineering bearing engineering
4 min read

Why Material Selection Matters for Bearings and Beyond

By Dave Biering on June 2, 2020

Why Material Selection Matters for Bearings and Beyond

Bearings and similar components often have serious implications for the performance and reliability of the design where they are employed. But in many cases, bearing selection is conducted based only on a vague, abstract preference for one material over the other.

In TriStar’s experience working with applications ranging from advanced military to food processing, taking the time to carefully match component materials to specific application demands can pay real dividends.

In this blog post, we take a look at why careful materials selection can offer serious value across a wide variety of use cases. If you’re looking for an overview of bearings, what they’re made of, and why they matter, please see our Bearings 101 page here.

Bearing Materials Selection: An Engineering Priority

Generalities about bearings materials can be limiting (and even dangerous). Sometimes, an organization will stick with a particular bearing type because it has “always worked for them.” But new applications put new environmental stresses on bearings.

Anything ranging from a dusty desert (where particulates can rapidly stick to lubricated metal bearings) to a corrosive cleaning chemical (like those used in food processing plants) can cause an otherwise reliable material to fail.

Meanwhile, misconceptions about material limitations can prevent an organization from taking advantage of the best materials available. Sometimes, for example, we run into a vague belief that plastics can only be used in low-load, load temperature applications. But this couldn’t be further from the truth: as you can see in our materials database, polymers can thrive when faced with a wide variety of loads, temperatures, and environmental risks. With this knowledge in hand, engineers can take advantage of self-lubricating polymers in a huge range of applications.

Priorities for Effective Bearing Selection

  • Careful material selection: performance characteristics can vary widely within a broad material category like polymers. It’s important to resist broad generalizations and look at specific data points on material properties. In many cases, materials can even be customized specifically to your application. Materials like TriSteel take advantage of the desired properties of multiple materials at once, another great reason to resist generalization about materials.
  • Application-specific engineering: there is no “best” bearing material. Rather than relying on a wholesale preference for one material over the other, it’s important to consider the performance requirements and operating environments of each application. Different components within the same design can even call for very different materials. TriStar works hand-in-hand with client engineers to find the best solution for each application.
  • Consideration of full TCO: finding the right bearing is about more than just preventing catastrophic failures. It’s important to consider how material selection will affect broader operational concerns like maintenance schedules. Or to consider the costs of dealing with massive amounts of grease often required by traditional metal bearings. With one client, for instance, we were able to save over $300,000 per year in downtime losses and reduced maintenance expenses, just by changing a simple material.

Materials Matter: Advantages of TriStar’s Advanced Materials for Bearings

  • Self-lubricating design means lower lubrication costs, less maintenance, and cleaner operation.
  • Vibration and impact resistance is vital for service life. Transferring less vibration throughout the machine can be beneficial for the service life of other components as well, while also reducing noise from metal on metal contact.
  • Superior strength and wear resistance. They also wear and age more predictably and gradually, reducing the risk of a sudden, catastrophic failure that can damage far more than the bearing.
  • Low friction coefficients help improve performance and increase component life.
  • Corrosion resistance maximizes service life while enabling production in conditions that are acidic, wet, or full of abrasive particulate matter.
  • Polymers offer minimal moisture absorption. This trait helps reduce bearing expansion, even in wet environments.
  • These materials are capable of handling high loads yet are lightweight, with a compact strength-to-weight ratio for good durability and flexible design options
  • Our materials are approved for regulation-intensive applications like food processing and pharmaceuticals, giving manufacturers a path to speedy, simplified regulatory compliance.

Using The Right Materials to Build the Best Product

The advantages of effective bearing material selection can go beyond obvious failure modes of the bearing itself. These critical components can play a huge role in how much heat, vibration, and even electricity are transferred throughout the broader design where they are incorporated.

Within a complex machine, issues like excessive vibration can have detrimental effects on the reliability of a design even when the bearing is still operating properly. This can result in sub-optimal performance (or excessive failure) that is very hard to pin down. TriStar often finds bearing replacement options that solve chronic reliability issues within a mechanical design.

If you’re interested in chatting with the TriStar team about finding the perfect material to tackle your engineering challenge (or just building a longer-lasting product) you can reach out using the button below.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR OUR EXPERTS?

Bearings 101: What They Are, How They Fail, and Why They Matter

Topics: Material Selection
2 min read

How Much Grease Do Bronze Bushings Really Need?

By Dave Biering on May 19, 2020

Bronze Bushing Grease Example

For traditional bushing materials like bronze, lubrication is simply a requirement of the material. Lubrication requirements mean not only more maintenance but more muck. While precise needs will vary by application, it’s important to understand that we’re not talking about “little drops” of grease. In this post, we wanted to provide a concrete example of just how much grease a bronze bushing can require when employed in a high-performance application.

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How much grease do bronze bushings need?

Unlike self-lubricating polymer options, bronze bushings require abundant amounts of lubricating grease to keep industrial equipment running. But have you ever wondered just how much grease they need? We did, so we asked a client to show us the sludge that was left behind after a routine cleaning. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, today we want to share this incredible image. Even our experienced engineers were amazed at the amount of greasy sludge that was removed!

An entire barrel (nearly 42 gallons/159 liters) of grease. Nearly 400 pounds worth!

That’s the amount of excess lubricant our partner removed from just one machine during routine maintenance of their bronze bushings. In this case, our client had two full-time workers assigned to degreasing their manufacturing and packaging lines. Because bearings that are left with excess grease are prone to seizure which can lead to a halt in production.

Do bronze bushings need grease? Always?

Bronze bearings need some sort of lubricant to reduce friction in virtually every application. While oil is sometimes used, most applications call for grease. Either way, this substance not only requires regular maintenance and cleaning but can be a magnet for contaminants like dust and particulate matter, negatively affecting machine lifespan. While some bronze bearings are impregnated with oil to generate some “self-lubricating” properties, these designs don’t change the need for cleaning. With these drawbacks in mind, more and more businesses are using alternative materials.

What to use instead of bronze bearings with grease?

Advanced materials like Rulon and other polymers and composites offer a powerful alternative bronze bushings/bearings. The right material choice will depend on your application, but these materials have self-lubricating properties that prevent the need for traditional lubricants like grease (you can read about how self-lubricating bearings work here).

Once our client replaced the high-maintenance bronze with no-maintenance plastic bearings, they realized immediate production gains. They were able to reassign the maintenance crew to other areas of the line, and experienced far fewer work stoppages. Ultimately, our partner estimates they will recover over 2,000 hours a year in lost labor. And their plant will provide a greener footprint.

Is it any surprise that they decided to say goodbye to bronze bushings forever and switch to greaseless plastic composites? Want to learn how you can end bearing lubrication? And save a barrel in maintenance costs? Ask the plastic composite bearing experts ― we can help!

To learn more about the different kinds of bearings, bearing failure, and more check out our Bearings 101 feature article.

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Topics: bronze bushings
2 min read

What is the shelf life of PTFE and Rulon® Materials?

By Dave Biering on May 8, 2020

WWhat is the shelf life of PTFE and Rulon Materials?

This was an excellent question from a customer wondering how long they could store non-etched Rulon materials.

Rulon and PTFE Shelf Life: Key Factors

When handled and stored properly, Rulon has an unlimited shelf life. But when the material is etched, the answer is not quite as simple.

When stored in normal warehouse conditions, all PTFE and Rulon materials have an unlimited shelf life. In fact, a common industry joke is that, at 85 years and counting, PTFE has “not been around long enough” to determine how long it will last! 

But etched-PTFE and Rulon are a different story. The etching process involves reducing the surface lubricity of the polymer in order to bond it to another material. For best results, etched materials must be stored in a black, UV-blocking bag or else the etch will degrade at about six months. The UV bag also protects Rulon materials from damaging ozone and heat exposure, which is common to a warehouse environment. With this protection, etched materials can last a year.

Rulon/Ptfe Degradation: How Can I Tell If My Material Is Degrading?

To determine if your PTFE/Rulon material has degraded, we recommend two methods:

  • Look at the color ― if it has faded to a light brown/tan or has a marbled look, it is no longer a viable manufacturing material.
  • Try a droplet test – add a drop of water and if it rolls around in a ball the material is now hydrophobic and the etch has been lost. If it disperses, than the etch is still hydrophilic and the material is good to go!

Still not sure about the shelf-life of your stored Rulon materials? Need a second opinion? Just connect with the official Rulon experts!

Rulon and PTFE have key advantages over traditional materials in a broad array of applications like bearings. You can learn about these advantages (like self-lubrication and friction coefficients) on our Bearings 101 page.

CONTACT THE TRISTAR TEAM

Topics: Rulon Materials
2 min read

How it Works: Conveyor Roller Bearing

By Dave Biering on April 7, 2020

How it Works: Plastic Conveyor Roller Bearing

From food packaging and processing to general material handling, the conveyor roller bearing is an underrated superstar of the manufacturing floor. You might even consider it the heart of the whole conveyor assembly. But how does this essential bearing assembly work?

What is a Conveyor Roller Bearing?

A conveyor roller bearing is a specialized bearing which presses into the ends of a conveyor belt roller, allowing the rollers to rotate smoothly. Typically, this conveying belt moves materials along a manufacturing or food processing production line. In this context, smooth operation allows for optimal performance and component lifespan.

As the name suggests, conveyor roller bearings have a cylindrical shape and are designed to carry heavy loads, since the weight is evenly distributed over a large surface area. Also referred to as cylinder rollers, this bearing type can easily handle radial (but not thrust) loads. For a good fit, we always recommend choosing a conveyor roller bearing with the largest diameter at the shortest length in order to minimize roller deflection. For tight spots, needle bearings (a close cousin to roller bearings), offer a very small diameter design envelope.

Steel Conveyor Bearings vs Plastic Conveyor Bearings

Plastic roller bearings offer significant advantages over metal; they are lightweight, require no manual lubrication (for a look at just how much lubrication can build up in a traditional metal bearing, check out our post here) and do not rust or corrode after sanitation baths.

And since they require less energy to turn, they can help you reduce energy costs. Roller bearings excel in virtually any manufacturing environment from cold rooms (explore how Ultracomp plastic bearings increased production for an ice cream manufacturer), to tough, heavy-vibration manufacturing areas.

Ultracomp bearings are available in tube and sheet stock, or can be fabricated to your exact specifications (fill out an engineering worksheet for a custom quote).

See how plastic conveyor roller bearings work in our video:

This crucial bearing application is one of many where material selection has serious implications for performance, lifespan, maintenance needs, and more. For a broader look at bearings and the materials used to make them, we recommend our Bearings 101 page here.

Need more info? Connect with the Conveyor Roller Bearing experts!

Topics: conveyor roller bearing
1 min read

Rulon 641: Performance from Food Processing to Medical Equipment Manufacturing

By Dave Biering on July 16, 2019

Rulon 641: Performance from Food Processing to Medical Equipment Manufacturing

The food and medical manufacturing industries share many commonalities; most notably, they operate in environments with strict regulations for quality, safety and sanitation.  Processing equipment must be of the highest quality and offer contamination resistance.  Rulon® 641 is the only FDA-cleared material for use in food processing that also has USP Class VI approval for medical applications.

Two demanding manufacturing environments, one common material ― Rulon 641.  See our Rulon Comparison Chart to explore the advantages.

Temperature tolerance for food processing

A major food processor approached us seeking a replacement for their virgin-PTFE seals located on the miniature cryogenic valves of the fast-freeze systems. The equipment is used to flash-freeze fruits and other foodstuffs. The PTFE seals were failing from exposure to the cryogenic temperatures and required frequent and expensive change out. Rulon 641 offered our partner a material with superior temperature stability and a longer lifespan for significant savings. Rulon 641 is non-abrasive for use against the systems’ stainless mating hardware, and has maintained good sealability under difficult conditions. 

Superior sterilization for medical manufacturing

We’ve also partnered with the manufacturers of surgical laser devices to replace failing PTFE valves seats with Rulon 641.  Rulon excels in the rotary and oscillating movements required of this application and has a very low coefficient of friction and a superior wear factor.   The material can be lapped using standard procedures to produce extremely good surface finishes in precision valve seats.  And the material’s white, stain-resistant color indicates a sanitary compound for medical environments.  Rulon 641 has USP Class VI approval, and easily tolerates all standard CIP procedures required of both the food and medical industries.

Is Rulon 641 the right material for your application?  Contact our Engineering Experts for a consultation. Or read our free Rulon White Paper to learn about the advantages of Rulon’s processing controls.

Rulon - Quality Assurance Begins With Precision Processing

Topics: Food Rulon Medical
1 min read

Rulon® 142 Delivers Exceptional Vibration Resistance and Superior Mechanical Strength

By Dave Biering on May 14, 2019

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Rulon 142 is an excellent material for high load, high speed linear guideway liners for machine tools.

Commonly used as an inexpensive insurance policy to possible lube failures on machines, Rulon 142 is bonded to the dynamic component on the X-Y-Z tables of some of the world's leading machinery builders.

Rulon 142 is also an excellent material for rebuilding machine tools where the efficiency and tolerances have been lost over time.

Easy to install using CE211 or CE211FC adhesives available from stock. Rulon 142 is commonly used as an cost effective alternate to Turcite B and is fabricated using the same techniques.

For more information, visit our Rulon 142 web page and be sure to check out our Shooting Star Archives for a number of articles on Rulon and more!

Rulon - Quality Assurance Begins With Precision Processing

Topics: Rulon Materials featured