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Dave Biering

Dave Biering


Recent posts by Dave Biering

5 min read

Oil and Gas Industry: Key Historical Developments

By Dave Biering on June 15, 2021

Oil and Gas Industry: Key Historical Developments

While it has ancient roots, the oil and gas industry has grown exponentially as an integral part of the industrial revolution. In a span of less than two centuries, it has evolved from a small industry focused on heating oil to how we know it today: a massive driver for the global economy.

In this article, we take a look at key events in the history of oil and gas (along with some links for deeper reading).

Throughout its history, oil/gas has been dependent on advancements in key equipment, everywhere from extraction to refining. All of this equipment is expected to perform in extreme operating conditions that include high temperature, high pressure, caustic media, and often 24/7/365 operation.

For a more specific look at engineering challenges for oil/gas equipment (and how components made using TriStar’s advanced materials can help) please see our article here.

Early History of Oil and Gas: How did the oil and gas industry get started?

  • Petroleum has been used at some scale since early ancient civilizations. These cultures harvested oil from areas where it seeps directly out of the ground. They used the oil for waterproofing, construction, and lighting. The Library of Congress provides more reading resources on ancient oil use here.
  • The first known oil well was drilled in China in 347 AD.
  • As early as 500 BC, Chinese industry also captured gas using bamboo pipelines. It was then used to boil salt water to extract salt.
  • The birth of the modern oil and gas industry is often dated to the pioneering refining experiments conducted by the Scottish chemist James Young in 1847.

Later History of Oil and Gas: What were some of the most important historical events in the oil and gas industry?

James Young began the modern process of discovering new ways of refining petroleum into useful chemical products, including a lighter oil suitable for lamps and a thicker oil for use as a lubricant. Around the same time, Canadian Abraham Gesner discovered Kerosene, which would soon be used to light America at night. The market for lamp oil (where oil-derived fuels largely replaced whale oil) provided the first major lift for the modern, industrial-scale oil and gas industry’s product market.

These early pioneers, however, did not originally work from drilled petroleum, but largely from coal mine seepage and shale-based extraction. These early extraction techniques limited supply, but Polish Chemist Ignacy Łukasiewicz would soon learn to distill lamp oil directly from liquid petroleum that seeped from the ground. By 1859, the first drilled, steam-powered oil well was in operation in the United States. The first oil pipelines were constructed soon thereafter. Early supply limits were alleviated, and the fundamentals of the modern oil and gas industry were in place.

The first commercial use of natural gas occurred in Britain in the 1780s: it was used to light homes and streets. Early gas power was also used for streetlights in Baltimore (1816) and Philadelphia (1836). With these early exceptions (where gas was harvested from nearby wells), natural gas was largely produced as a byproduct of oil drilling. It was often perceived as a dangerous nuisance, and large scale transportation and storage facilities simply weren’t available to make its collection practical. It was usually burned or vented off.

The advent of electricity stunted the market for lamp oil. But, just in time, the advent of the internal combustion engine would soon create a massive new source of demand for oil, a market that has helped sustain massive growth for the oil and gas industry to this day. Over time, oil would also find use in power generation, further increasing demand. Whole new industries, like plastics, would also fuel the demand needed to support the oil and gas industry’s century-long growth spurt.

Meanwhile, natural gas can now be readily captured through extensive pipeline and storage infrastructure. It is now a prime fuel for electrical power generation, providing over 30% of the energy used by the US economy, more than any other fuel source.

Modern Oil and Gas Industry Development Facts

  • Important early oil production and refining centers included Baku in Russia, Romania, and the Bradford Oil Field in Pennsylvania, USA (in the 1880s, the Bradford Oil Field accounted for 77% of global oil supply).
  • John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil famously came to monopolize the early United States oil industry, at one time commanding a market share over 80%. In 1909, Standard Oil would be broken up into 34 different companies in one of the first major anti-trust actions.
  • The first “gas station for autoists” opened in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1907.
  • The rise of national oil companies and OPEC dramatically reshaped the world oil market starting in the 1960s.
  • A major breakthrough in fracking in 1997 would set the stage for a new US oil and gas boom.

Learning More

The oil and gas industry has always depended on advancements in technology and equipment. That’s more true today more than ever. From fracking engines, to sea oil rigs, to massive refineries, this industry depends on getting the most possible efficiency out of complex equipment. All of it is expected to thrive in extreme operating environments that include extreme heat, high pressure, and prolonged exposure to corrosive chemicals. Key components are not only needed to perform in these conditions but maintain reliability during extremely long run times (many types of equipment are run 24/7/365).

TriStar’s self-lubricating polymers have proven themselves across a wide variety of oil /gas equipment. For a more focused look at challenges for oil/gas equipment components (and how the right materials can help) click on the button below to see our guide.

Oil and Gas Industry Equipment: Challenges for Critical Components

TriStar works with many different oil/gas operators and OEM’s to identify solutions to these engineering challenges. Efficiency, safety, and reliability are all essential for oil and gas equipment, which is precisely why material selection matters. We bring a true consultative engineering approach to bear on every client’s business needs, taking the time to understand their business, their equipment, and how smart material selection can maximize ROI for critical components.

If you’d like to talk about your oil/gas equipment component needs, contact our team using the button below.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR OUR EXPERTS?

Topics: Oil & Gas
5 min read

Oil and Gas Industry Outlook and Trends

By Dave Biering on June 10, 2021

Oil and Gas Industry Outlook and Trends

The oil and gas industry is a key driver of the global economy. It’s also at a long-term strategic crossroads. In this blog, we take a look at analysts’ opinions on key industry trends, and how these trends might drive the outlook for the industry as a whole.

Key Trends in the Oil and Gas Industry

  1. Volatile prices will continue to set the industry’s pace.
  2. A new push for operational efficiency will shape the industry
  3. The oil and gas industry is expanding investments in energy efficiency and sustainability.

Oil and Gas Industry Trend One: An Industry Paced by Volatile Prices

The last two decades have seen a rollercoaster for oil and gas industry prices. Today, energy prices typically track the global macroeconomy: a booming economy means more demand for oil and gas products. After a modest price-crash immediately following the 9/11 attacks, prices entered a seven-year boom, culminating in 2008. The 2008 financial crisis precipitated a dramatic price crash.

Prices began to recover alongside the global economy but did not retain their former heights before crashing again in 2014. The 2014 crash was caused by a combination of slowing demand growth in China, increasing supply from the North American shale oil/oil sands boom, and an accommodative production strategy from Saudi Arabia. Prices had only begun to recover when the COVID crisis caused another huge hit to global demand, this time pushing prices to an inflation-adjusted level not seen since 1998. Prices have since made a modest recovery, but the industry could be in for another volatile decade.

These prices have huge implications for industry structure because of how oil and gas production is uniquely stratified by production costs. This fact feeds into the next trend, explored below.

Oil and Gas Industry Trend Two: A New Push for Operational Efficiency Will Define The Industry

The price volatility discussed above will have a huge impact on the future of the industry. That’s because of how the oil and gas industry’s production costs vary based on the technical demands of extracting different types of deposits.

New technologies like hydraulic fracturing are making it possible to extract oil and gas from a vast new array of sites. These new extraction methods are more technically involved, however, and have higher costs of production. These increased costs mean a higher commodity price is necessary to break even for unconventional producers. And that these producers will continue to bear the brunt of downturns in oil and gas prices. According to Investopedia:

  1. Some shale oil wells have a break-even price point of $40 a barrel over their production life. But estimates for some wells range higher, from $60-90 a barrel.
  2. Conventional oil deposits can be extracted for dramatically cheaper rates. Saudia Arabia can produce at around $10/barrel, with other Middle Eastern and North African countries able to achieve $20 per barrel. Globally, $30 to $40 per barrel is typical for conventional extraction.

This cost bifurcation means that, with prices currently hovering around $40/barrel, many producers will remain on a knife’s edge of economic viability. Consequently, there is a huge push for more efficient unconventional production. Most unconventional extraction methods are relatively new, and there is hope to unlock considerable new efficiencies. Research by Deloitte, for example, suggests that operational improvements could improve well costs by 19-23 percent. They identify cooperation to realize greater efficiency both upstream and midstream as a key requirement to maximizing competitiveness for unconventional production.

We can expect a massive push to find every possible efficiency gain for unconventional producers. This challenge will include achieving every possible efficiency gain for key industry equipment (equipment that has to thrive in long periods of continuous high-temperature, high-pressure operation, often with minimal maintenance). We take a closer look at engineering challenges for key oil and gas equipment components (and how TriStar’s advanced materials can help) in our guide here.

Industry Trend Three: Investing in the Energy Transition

Maximizing efficiency is related to another long-term challenge for the oil and gas industry: climate change and the global push for alternative energy. Energy companies are not focused on denying this transition but investing to be ready for it.

The challenge of this adaptation is twofold. First, according to Deloitte, is the imperative that oil gas companies “need to figure out how to produce more oil and gas (and increasingly power) year after year while also being carbon-conscious and addressing stakeholders’ sustainability concerns.” Deloitte identifies potential avenues for less emissions-intensive energy extraction, including eliminating methane leaks, using renewable energy at field operations, exploring carbon recovery, and improving water use.

Second, oil and gas companies are investing to compete in an energy future that is expected to see peak demand for fossil fuels within the next 10-30 years. Reduced demand reinforces the imperative for efficient operation discussed above. It is also driving oil and gas companies to invest in technology, ranging from batteries to biofuels, that will help them stay competitive well into the future of the global energy market.

Oil and Gas Industry Outlook

Margins appear set to remain highly competitive for the foreseeable future (but may also be more stable as the global oil supply becomes less sensitive to geopolitical shocks). The push for more efficient production will continue to be a constant imperative, especially for unconventional extraction operations. And the entire industry will be innovating to position itself as a less carbon-intensive part of the economy, work which appears certain to continue throughout the century.

With these challenges in mind, the oil and gas industry continues to operate as a fundamental cog in the global economy and appears set to for the foreseeable future. Just as it has for the past century, the industry will continue to seek out new technologies and more efficient equipment in its quest to adapt.

Learning More

The trends discussed here underpin a fact that’s proved true throughout history: the oil and gas industry’s continued success depends on continued advancements in technology and equipment. This reality appears certain to endure for the next century, at least.

From fracking engines, to pipelines, to refineries, critical margins depend on achieving every possible efficiency for business-critical equipment. To succeed, equipment components need to perform in the face of extreme heat, high pressure, and chronic exposure to corrosive chemicals. Key components need to stand up to these conditions while maintaining reliability during extremely long run times (many types of equipment are run 24/7/365).

TriStar’s self-lubricating polymers have proven themselves across a wide variety of oil /gas equipment. For a more focused look at challenges for oil / gas equipment components (and how the right materials can help) click on the button below to see our guide.

Oil and Gas Industry Equipment: Challenges for Critical Components

TriStar has deep experience working with oil/gas operators and OEM’s to identify solutions to these engineering challenges. Efficiency, safety, and reliability are all essential for oil and gas equipment, which is precisely why material selection matters. We bring a true consultative engineering approach to bear for every client. We take the time to understand their business and their equipment, spending time on-site if necessary. This knowledge is essential for the sort of smart material selection that can maximize ROI for critical components.

If you’d like to talk about your oil / gas component needs, contact our team using the button below.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR OUR EXPERTS?

Topics: Oil & Gas
3 min read

Oil and Gas Industry Overview

By Dave Biering on June 8, 2021

blog-2020-oilgas-1

The oil and gas industry is one of the largest on the planet. It’s also one of the most crucial for overall economic performance: energy and fuel costs are vital parameters for a wide variety of other industries. At the same time, oil/gas outputs are key ingredients for a variety of other products, like plastics, pharmaceuticals, and asphalt.

This industry needs massive infrastructure and complex equipment to accomplish the hard work of extracting valuable media from the ground, transporting huge volumes of it over long distances, and refining it into a variety of end-products and chemical intermediates.

For a more specific look at engineering challenges for oil and gas equipment (and how TriStar’s self-lubricating materials can help) please see our article here.

How big is the oil and gas industry?

  • The United States oil and gas industry commands total revenues in the trillions. US industry revenues are a massive part of the overall economy, around 8%, according to the American Petroleum Institute. This figure includes drilling, transportation, refining, and various service companies.
  • There has been a decline from a peak in 2014. The shale oil boom in the United States brought global energy prices down, substantially affecting the industry’s overall revenue. This boom may now be slowing: lower prices are rendering more shale extraction operations uneconomical.
  • 2020-2021’s COVID crisis has generated an almost unprecedented slowdown for the industry. The true impact of this slowdown is not yet fully understood.

How is the oil and gas industry structured?

The oil and gas industry manages an unusually broad swath of economic activity. The extraction part of the industry is more similar to activities like mining, while refining has more in common with chemical processing. To facilitate analysis of these industry segments, analysts typically divide the industry into three parts. Some companies are integrated and manage work across all three segments. Most oil/gas companies, however, specialize in one of these activities.

Upstream Oil and Gas: Exploration and Extraction

This industry segment includes exploration and extraction of oil and gas. They are sometimes known as “E&P” (exploration and production) firms. Because the value of many potential extraction sites cannot be known for certain, this market segment is often considered to be high-risk, high-reward. The economic viability of a particular drilling site may also change depending on market conditions: if prices cause profit margins to fall below production costs, a site will need to be shut down.

Midstream Oil and Gas: Transportation and Storage

This segment focuses on transportation and storage of raw media on their way to refineries. This work includes shipping, trucking, storage tank facilities, and, most of all, pipelines. Midstream infrastructure is extremely capital intensive to develop, but typically perceived as lower-risk than upstream in terms of economic viability.

Downstream Oil and Gas: Refining

This industry segment is defined by refining: removing impurities and transforming raw media into salable products (either directly in the case of fuel and heating oil, or indirectly, in the form of inputs for other industries like plastics).

Learning More

Across all of its industry segments, the oil and gas industry relies on equipment at every stage of the production process, from fracking engines, to sea oil rigs, to massive refineries. And all of it is expected to thrive in an extreme operating environment that brings high heat, high pressure, and prolonged exposure to caustic chemicals. Key components not only need to perform in these conditions but maintain reliability during extremely long run times (many types of equipment are run 24/7/365).

For a deeper look at challenges for oil and gas equipment components (and how the right materials can help) see our guide by clicking on the button below.

Oil and Gas Industry Equipment: Challenges for Critical Components

TriStar works with a wide variety of oil/gas operators and OEM’s to identify solutions for these engineering pain points. In an industry where efficiency, safety, and reliability are all essential for the bottom line, material selection matters. We bring a true consultative engineering approach to bear on every client’s business needs, taking the time to understand their business, their equipment, and how smart material selection can maximize ROI for critical components.

If you’d like to talk about your oil / gas component needs, you can reach out to our team using the button below.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR OUR EXPERTS?

Topics: Oil & Gas
6 min read

History of Agriculture Equipment: Important Developments and Examples

By Dave Biering on December 21, 2020

History of Agriculture Equipment: Important Developments and Examples

The agriculture industry has a mission to keep the world fed. From hybridizing plants and animals to engineering new arable lands using irrigation (and even land reclaiming land from the sea), farmers have never stopped looking for new methods for increasing food production. More production means more nutrition and more food variety, all while keeping food prices as low as possible. For a concise overview of the agriculture industry, please see our blog here.

In this blog post, we focus on outlining the history of one of the most important ingredients to the agriculture industry’s millennia-long effort to increase food production: agriculture equipment. Equipment has always been vital to increasing yields while reducing agriculture’s dependence on manual labor.

While this post focuses on history, agriculture equipment exhibits continued innovation to this day. Click here for our article on key engineering challenges for agriculture equipment (and how advanced self-lubricating components can help tackle them).

Early History: Agricultural Equipment Pre-Mechanization

Today, advancements in agriculture equipment tend to center on better, more efficient mechanized equipment. Even before powered machines, however, equipment innovations played an important role in agriculture’s historical development.

The earliest innovations involve the invention of the first implements to advance farming beyond working directly with hands, sticks, and simple stone hoes. A few examples include:

  • The earliest plows, in the form of forked sticks used to scratch trenches in the dirt for planting seeds, emerged over 5000 years BC. While hand-drawn plows were only a suitable replacement for hoes in certain climates, they allowed for rapid preparation of far more ground. Beginning with the domestication of oxen (first in the Indus Valley around 4000 BC) draft animals would soon allow for much more efficient use of emerging plow technologies. Wooden, animal-drawn plows would become the preferred method of tilling by 1500 BC. Some of the earliest wooden plow examples are found in Ancient Sumeria (modern-day Iraq).
  • Around the same time, we have found examples of some of the earliest stone sickles, an implement which dramatically increased humans’ ability to harvest large quantities of grain. The invention of the sickle helped make the earliest grain agriculture possible. The earliest examples were simple flint or stone blades attached to a wood or bone shaft. Sickles became one of the first applications of early metalworking, with copper and bronze sickle blades emerging as knowledge of metal-working matured and proliferated.

    Even modest improvements to this design made a real difference for agricultural productivity: the invention and proliferation of the long-bladed, long-handled scythe are credited with substantially increasing production compared to sickles.
  • The first known iron plow was developed in China around 475 BC. Limited metal-working capabilities meant early plows included only a small metal blade attached to a wooden implement. As metal-working improved, plows could be made with more metal and at much higher weights. By the Han Dynasty period (200 BC - 200 AD) all-metal, cast-iron plows were being employed, leading China into a revolution of agricultural productivity.

    Metal plows would not expand to Europe until much later, during the early Middle Ages, where they drove greater productivity due to their ability to work in colder, clay-based soil. The first steel plow would not be introduced until John Deere in 1837.

The Rise of Mechanized Agriculture Equipment

Jethro Tull’s invention of an improved mechanical seed drill in 1701 marked the beginning of a new age for agriculture equipment. Tull’s machine combined a small plow for creating a planting row, integrated with a hopper for storing seed, a funnel for distributing it, and a harrow for re-covering the newly planted seed. Prior to this invention, seeds were either scattered (or in some cases, like bean pods, individually hand-planted). Tull’s seed drill could be pulled by hand or animal.

Tull’s invention foreshadowed a common trend for the coming mechanical revolution: integrating more tasks into a single, integrated piece of equipment to accomplish them more quickly and more precisely than was possible through manual labor alone. Innovations would begin emerging more quickly than ever.

Important Examples of Agricultural Equipment Innovation

  • In 1794, Eli Whitney developed the first hand-powered cotton gin suitable for the short-staple cotton grown in North America (gins used for long-staple cotton in India have a much longer history). This device separates seeds/hulls and other detritus from cotton fibers, a process that had earlier been extremely labor-intensive.
  • By 1834, rival reaper designs from Hussey and McCormick marked the first move away from sickle/scythe reaping of grains. These devices could be drawn by horse, while a hand-crank powered a reciprocating cutting bar. While a skilled farmer could harvest at most 1-2 acres per day with a scythe, the mechanical reaper allowed one man (with a horse) to harvest large fields in a day. With this increase in efficiency, farm sizes could expand to hundreds or even thousands of acres.
  • The proliferation of the steam engine created the first technological options for replacing human and animal power in agriculture. The earliest agricultural steam engines were used in the early 19th century. These examples were portable machines that could be placed in a field or a barn to power farm machinery like threshing machines. Power was transmitted using a belt or drive chain (a mechanism used to transmit power to machinery towed by tractors to this day). Soon, steam traction engines would even be placed on both ends of a field to actually pull a wire-drawn plow back and forth.
  • While experimental steam-tractors found some applications, they were cumbersome, heavy, and dangerous pieces of machinery. The invention of the internal combustion engine would lead to the first gasoline-powered tractor by John Froelich in 1892. While tractor designs would take time to perfect, Henry Ford would introduce a popular mass-produced tractor, the Fordson, by 1917. Ever since, the tractor has been at the center of agriculture: it can both tow and power a variety of implements, from simple plows to combine harvesters, operating as a flexible investment for farm mechanization across the entire cultivation cycle.

“Low prices made it possible for thousands of small-scale farmers to afford a tractor, and ownership jumped. In 1916, about 20,000 tractors were sold in the U. S.; by 1935 that number had jumped to more than 1 million.” - Smithsonian Insider

Innovation in agriculture equipment continues to this day. GPS, for instance, is helping farms to work more precisely than ever. Aerial drones are being used for more and more applications, from scanning/monitoring to pesticide dispersal. And the “internet of things” (IoT) is finding promising agricultural use cases.

Learning More: Engineering Challenges for Agricultural Equipment

At TriStar, we work hand-in-hand with the engineers who work to design and produce better agricultural equipment to this day. We work with a diverse variety of agricultural equipment OEM’s to help solve key engineering challenges for everything from tractor under-carriages to liquid sprayers (for fertilizer, pesticide, etc.)

Our bearings and other components fabricated from advanced self-lubricating materials can offer greaseless operation for lower maintenance costs, less equipment downtime, and the functional characteristics needed to replace traditional metal bearings in a wide variety of applications.

We employ a true consultative engineering approach to help our customers select components that can generate real ROI for agriculture equipment. Critical components work best when they are engineered to reflect relevant operational challenges (not treated as commodities to be sourced from the cheapest bidder).

For a more specific look at how TriStar materials can help solve key engineering pain points for agriculture OEM’s, please click below to see our guide.

Challenges for Agriculture Equipment: The Value of Self-Lubricating Components

If you prefer to reach out directly to the TriStar team to discuss your agriculture product and its component needs, you can contact our bearing experts using the button below.

CONTACT THE TRISTAR TEAM

Topics: Agriculture
5 min read

Three Important Trends for Agriculture and Agriculture Equipment

By Dave Biering on December 15, 2020

Three Important Trends for Agriculture and Agriculture Equipment

Agriculture is the oldest industry in human history but remains defined by changing practices, technological innovations, and a never-ending quest for more efficient production. Continued innovation has been vital to feeding a growing global population while keeping food prices affordable.

In this blog post, we look at some key recent trends for agriculture. Collectively, these trends appear set to help support expected long-term demand growth for agricultural products. Concurrently, this growth will drive a continued need for agricultural equipment that can help farmers grow food more efficiently and sustainably.

Agriculture Trend One: Continuing Farm Consolidation

The consolidation of agricultural production from smaller producers to larger farms is a long term macro trend in the industry. This shift covers the entire industry, across virtually every type of crop and livestock. James MacDonald, agriculture research professor at the University of Maryland, writes that “what's been happening is a steady shift of acreage and production to larger operations that covers almost all crop and livestock commodities and that occurs steadily over three or four decades.”

More and more small firms are going out of business, replaced by fewer distinct operations operating on more acreage. MacDonald’s research shows that over the past 35 years:

  • Production shifted to larger farms in 60 of the 62 tracked crop and livestock commodities.
  • 2,000+ acre farms operated 15% of all cropland in 1987. By 2017, that figure was 37%.
  • While much larger than before, the majority of farms are still family-owned.

This change is being driven, most of all, by the economies of scale that come with more specialized production, and the capital investment this specialization allows. More specialized producers simply have more economical options for investing in equipment that can improve yields.

Meanwhile, many remaining small farms are operated by older farmers who aren’t interested in selling their land to pursue a new career. As these farmers retire and age out of the workforce, this trend will only accelerate. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers notes that “there are more than two farmers over the age of 65 for every farmer under the age of 45 in the industry today. The average age of farm operators is 58—higher than it’s ever been—and many of these farmers’ children have already gone on to establish their own careers off the farm.”

There are few signs that this long term consolidation will abate anytime soon. It represents a growth-driver for equipment OEM’s, with larger farms able to afford greater investments in equipment, mechanization of more agricultural processes, and more willingness to consider any operational innovation that can improve the bottom line.

Agriculture Trends Two: Precision Agriculture

More than ever before, equipment innovation is being driven by digital technology that allows more data-driven, responsive, and precise agricultural work. From in-field sensors to UAVs, new digital applications are everywhere in agriculture. Farmers now have access to tools and software that can provide real-time intelligence on factors like:

  • Soil Conditions via Soil Sampling
  • Rainfall
  • Crop Yield Monitors
  • GPS-driven monitoring of equipment performance (and even autonomous vehicles that operate via GPS).

In addition to better data on the status of these vital production parameters, farm information management systems (FMIS) give farmers more powerful tools for tying operational decisions to their financial impact. Farmers are always juggling an incredibly complex array of factors. For instance, the most profitable crop to plant may depend on soil status, prices and market conditions forecasted months into the future, expected weather, transportation costs, and more. Software allows for a more systematic consideration of these trade-offs than ever before. And broader applications for AI and machine learning in agriculture are only now beginning to emerge.

Equipment makers are not only looking to deliver equipment that features more sensors and digital integration but exploring opportunities for providing broader farm management services (like predictive maintenance analytics to detect potential equipment failures before they cause an operational disruption during, for example, a critical time-sensitive harvest).

Collectively, these new technologies are closely related to consolidation. Farms are bigger, more business-oriented, and deeply interested in developing a more holistic understanding of yields than ever before. Better data and more sophisticated management tools will help farmers leave no stone unturned in the search for more efficient, profitable production.

Agriculture Trend Three: Accelerating Government-Led Investment

Food security is, understandably, a huge political priority for governments across the globe. As available arable land diminishes, the climate changes, and population grows, governments will only develop more focus on increasing food production wherever possible. Meanwhile, citizens of developing countries are consuming more calories as their income increases, putting more pressure on the global food supply. By 2050, average per capita calorie requirements are expected to be up 11% compared to 2003.

India provides subsidies of 40% of the total cost for rural entrepreneurs setting up farm machinery banks, which rent out equipment to small-acreage farmers to incentivize mechanized production even on traditional family farms.

From subsidized crops, to public investment in more productive equipment and farming methods, to government-backed loans for agricultural capital investment, the public sector will be seeking to enhance agricultural production using every tool available in the public policy toolkit.

Water and soil conservation are other vital areas for public involvement. More intensive agricultural production can degrade soil and stretch already overburdened water supplies, harming productive capacity even as demand surges. Governments are expected to invest in research regarding the practices and equipment needed to keep yields high while preserving soil fertility (and water usage) wherever possible. New machinery designs, for instance, play an important role in “conservation tillage” practices.

The long term imperative for more food production, backed by public investment, is another factor likely to drive a long term growth market for agriculture equipment.

Learning More: Better Components for More Efficient Agricultural Equipment

TriStar has worked with a variety of agricultural equipment OEM’s to help solve key engineering challenges for agriculture equipment. Bearings and other components fabricated from our advanced self-lubricating materials can offer greaseless operation for lower maintenance costs, less equipment downtime, and the functional characteristics needed to replace traditional metal bearings in a wide variety of applications.

When it comes to bearings in demanding agriculture applications, material selection matters.

We take pride in offering a true consultative engineering approach to all of our clients. Critical components like bearings perform best when they are carefully matched to relevant operational challenges (not treated as commodities to be sourced from the cheapest bidder). We work to understand each and every client application for clients large and small (many smaller OEM’s play a vital role designing and producing highly specialized agriculture equipment).

For a more specific look at how TriStar materials can help solve key engineering pain points for agriculture OEM’s, please see our guide here.

If you prefer to reach out directly to the TriStar team to discuss your agriculture product and its component needs, you can contact our bearings experts using the button below.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR OUR EXPERTS?

Challenges for Agriculture Equipment: The Value of Self-Lubricating Components

Topics: Agriculture
4 min read

Agriculture: An Industry Overview

By Dave Biering on December 10, 2020

Agriculture: An Industry Overview

The agriculture industry includes everything from small local farmers growing organic produce to massive grain and livestock operations producing food for the export market.

These core production activities are supported by a huge network of equipment manufacturers. From simple plows to sophisticated harvesting combines, equipment plays an essential role in helping agriculture produce food as efficiently as possible.

This blog post provides a concise overview of this essential industry that provides nutrition for the entire globe. For a more focused look at engineering challenges for agricultural equipment (and how TriStar components can help tackle them), please see our article here.

What is agriculture?

Formally defined, agriculture is the science and business of cultivating plants and animals for use as food (and in some cases, other industrial products like fiber, eg. cotton).

Harnessing the productive power of nature requires extensive knowledge of many different processes. Soil must be tilled, fertilized, and irrigated. Soil qualities must be carefully matched to the right crops. Seeds must be planted at the right time. Plants must be protected from pests and weeds. And these are just a few of the concerns that farmers face each and every year.

Agriculture has developed over thousands of years, and vital knowledge has been accumulated over that entire span. We directly benefit from this long process of advancement today. Today’s plants and animals, for example, reflect hundreds of generations’ work breeding, husbanding, and hybridizing different species so that they can better serve human needs.

Farmers and other agriculture specialists remain engaged in a never-ending quest to increase yields using limited arable lands. These efforts can be a matter of life and death: the “Green Revolution” famously enabled dramatic increases in food production just when it appeared certain that the developing world was set to descend into chronic famine.

This work to increase production can center on:

  • Expanding Irrigation: California’s Central Valley, for instance, produces 40% of the United States’ fruits, nuts, and vegetables using less than 1% of US farmland. Before irrigation, it was a desert speckled with seasonal wetlands. From the very first sedentary agricultural societies in Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, and the river valleys of China, irrigation has been an essential driver of more food production.
  • Engineering New Arable Land: a famous example is the Netherlands, which has used ingenious engineering and hard work to transform the ocean itself into arable farmland. To increase production, the only alternative to increasing yields per acre is actually creating new farmland.
  • Making Use of New Equipment and Technology: new equipment has always played a key role in expanding agricultural efficiency. Innovations that may seem obvious today (like the heavy metal plow) precipitated agricultural revolutions in their own time. Mechanized agriculture, often dated by the creation of the seed drill by Jethro Tull, revolutionized the industry in its own right. Equipment innovations continue to this day, with GPS, IoT sensors, and even UAVs becoming increasingly commonplace on farms.

    Finally, genetics has been a new frontier over the past several decades, representing a marked leap in directly increasing the biological productivity of plants and animals.

How Big is the Agriculture Industry? Facts and Figures

In the United States, farming directly contributes over $130 billion to the economy, about 1% of GDP. However, its true impact is much larger: related industries like food processing depend on agriculture for their inputs. Expanding to agriculture, food, and related industries, the overall impact rises to $1.053 trillion (around 5% of GDP).

This economic activity amounts to well over 20 million full-and part-time jobs, or 11% of total US employment. Of these jobs, over 2.5 million are directly on the farm.

In developing countries, agriculture plays an even more dominant role in the economy. While it accounts for 4% of global GDP, it is well over 25% in many developing countries (according to the World Bank).

As more and more global farms adopt mechanized techniques, the associated market for agricultural equipment is only expected to grow. The equipment market is over $150 billion and is expected to reach $244.2 billion by 2025.

Learning More

For a look at recent trends in agriculture, please see our blog post here. Next, we provide an overview of key events in the historical development of agricultural equipment here.

At TriStar, we work with this equipment up close. We have worked with a broad variety of agricultural equipment OEM’s to help solve key engineering challenges for everything from tractor under-carriages to liquid sprayers (for fertilizer, pesticide, etc.)

Our bearings and other components fabricated from advanced self-lubricating materials can offer greaseless operation for lower maintenance costs, less equipment downtime, and the functional characteristics needed to replace traditional metal bearings in a wide variety of applications.

We employ a true consultative engineering approach to help our customers select components that can generate real ROI for agriculture equipment. Critical components work best when they are engineered to reflect relevant operational challenges (not treated as commodities to be sourced from the cheapest bidder).

For a more specific look at how TriStar materials can help solve key engineering pain points for agriculture OEM’s, please see our guide here.

If you prefer to reach out directly to the TriStar team to discuss your agriculture product and its component needs, you can contact our bearings experts using the button below.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR OUR EXPERTS?

Challenges for Agriculture Equipment: The Value of Self-Lubricating Components

Topics: Agriculture
4 min read

Rail Transportation: An Equipment Overview

By Dave Biering on October 29, 2020

Blog_2020-rail-3

In this article, we take a look at some key types of locomotive, rail car, and maintenance of way equipment.

Rail Locomotives

The locomotive (or “engine”) is the rail vehicle that provides power for each train. Some modern passenger train designs do employ “self-propelled” cars which can be powered without an engine, but this arrangement is relatively rare.

At a high-level, locomotives are typically classified based on how they generate power. For example:

  • Steam locomotives were the first type of mechanized locomotive (early experimental trains were horse-drawn or pulled by stationary cable systems). While they remained the most common type of engine until well into the post-war period, they are less efficient than modern alternatives and have been phased out except on history-minded “heritage railways.”
  • Diesel-electric locomotives use a diesel engine, but this engine does not drive a mechanical mechanism directly. Instead, it powers an electric generator which is subsequently used to power the motor. 
  • Electric locomotives are powered by electricity alone, which means they need some sort of external power supply. This supply can take the form of an overhead line suspended from poles above the track or an electrified “third rail” running along the track itself.

We traditionally imagine locomotives pulling from the front of a train, but today’s locomotives are often used in a “push-pull” manner, where the engine can be at the front, back, or both of the train. Heavy freight trains may even utilize a “distributed power” arrangement where a supplementary locomotive is placed in the middle of the train and remote-controlled by the leading locomotive.

Rail Cars

This list highlights the breadth of specialized cargoes that rail cars are tasked with handling. Even a simple boxcar comes with a large degree of mechanical complexity, including coupling systems, braking systems, undercarriage trucks, and more. All of these systems must be engineered to stand up to high levels of vibration, varied weather conditions, and more. Meanwhile, rail OEM’s and operators are experimenting with more and more advanced technologies, this article provides a great exploration: 

Types of Freight Cars: Key Examples

  • Boxcars are the most common type of freight car and can carry a huge variety of pallet-borne cargo inside.
  • Refrigerated boxcars are essential for transporting perishable foods.
  • Automobile rack cars for transporting automotive vehicles. These racks can be single- or multi-level. Some even include adjustable-height racks for accommodating larger vehicles without changing rail cars.
  • Flatcars offer more room than boxcars and can be flexibly loaded. They are suitable so long as the carried cargo can be exposed to weather. Common goods shipped include intermodal containers, steel beams, heavy machinery, and pipe. 
  • Centerbeam cars (a specialized flatcar) allow for bundled goods that can be packed up along both sides of a central beam, providing a strong center of gravity. Lumber or wallboard are examples of the types of goods shipped on these cars. 
  • Hopper cars come in covered and uncovered varieties. Used to transport dry bulk commodities like grain, they can be loaded from the top and unloaded from the bottom.
  • Tank cars for shipping liquid products like oil or chemicals. These cars often need extra safety features to, for instance, prevent sparks and limit fire risk.

Passenger Cars

Passenger rail systems range from larger long-distance Amtrak trains to small local trolleys and commuter/light rail systems. In general, these cars employ more complex safety systems than freight. For example, mechanical brakes are replaced with electro-mechanical braking systems. 

While the basic function of these cars is the same, higher-speed trains require more robust safety systems, while smaller trains need lighter-weight cars. Some trains include cars with specialized interiors, like sleeping cars, dining cars, and observation cars, which come with their own equipment needs. 

This article provides some interesting depth on the history of passenger cars and how their design evolved over time.

Maintenance of Way Equipment

Rail locomotives and cars are only one small part of the arsenal of equipment needed to maintain rail infrastructure. Tracks cover many miles of varied terrain and need to be kept level, solidly founded on well-packed ballast (the crushed stone used as a bed under the track itself), and free from debris.

Successfully performing these maintenance tasks requires specialized equipment like:

  • Ballast cleaners, a machine for removing dirt and other contaminants from the ballast. Cleaning ballast helps prevent the need to constantly replace it with new crushed stone.
  • Under cutters, a special heavy-duty machine for actually removing the ballast under tracks to facilitate more in-depth maintenance and cleaning.
  • Rail Grinders are a vehicle that grinds down rails to preserve level rails, remove deformations, and smooth out corrosion. Regular grinding allowing for longer intervals between rail-replacement.
  • Tampers are used to pack ballast as tightly as possible, which helps to keep ballast level, tightly packed to absorb impact, and effective at preventing foliage from growing under the tracks.

Learning More

TriStar is proud to work with rail equipment manufacturers across all the categories discussed above. We bring an engineering-driven approach to the table, helping clients solve key design pain points for their rail designs. You’ll find our self-lubricating materials everywhere from maintenance of way equipment to on the station platforms of the largest subway system in the country.

In the in-depth article linked below, we take a look at why bearings and similar components are so important for rail equipment.

Rail Cars and Rail Transportation

Or, just use the button below to reach out directly to our team and discuss how we can help your rail equipment perform more efficiently and more safely.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR OUR EXPERTS?

Topics: Railroad
5 min read

Rail Transport: Important Trends

By Dave Biering on October 27, 2020

Rail Transport: Important Trends

Rail transportation systems are a great example of a longstanding industry that is always looking for new ways to become more efficient, safer, and more effective at moving passengers and goods across rails.

From the New York City subway to transcontinental rail on every continent but Antarctica, rail lines are essential arteries of the global economy.

In this article, we take a look at some important recent trends.

Rail Trend One: Intermodal Freight Rail Continues to Expand

“In 2019, U.S. rail intermodal volume was 13.7 million units and intermodal accounted for approximately 25% of revenue for major U.S. railroads, more than any other single commodity group and well ahead of coal, which in the past was usually the largest single source of rail revenue.” - Association of American Railroads

Intermodal transportation refers to shipping using containers or truck trailers which are designed to be readily transferable between maritime, rail, and automotive shipping methods.

The container is increasingly dominating intermodal transport, and railroads are no exception. Since its inception in the 1950s, the rise of the “container,” which is standardized for maritime shipping and land-based transportation, is one of the most dominant trends in logistics. They continue to count for an ever-increasing share of overall freight. According to the Association of American Railroads, containers accounted for:

  • 47% of intermodal volume in 1990.
  • 69% in 2000.
  • 92% in 2019.

Containers can be double-stacked on ships and trains, allowing for much greater efficiency compared to traditional truck trailers. Modern port infrastructure also allows for the rapid transfer of containers between ships and trucks/trains using specialized cranes.

These containers are a great example of improved transportation integration offering more efficient options for shipping customers. Efficient intermodal containers allow customers to benefit from the geographic flexibility of trucks without sacrificing the superior per-mile costs of rail. The intermodal approach first became prominent in import/export shipping but has become increasingly common in domestic shipping.

Rail Trend Two: A Focus on Digitalization and Cyber-Security

Digital innovation is everywhere in today’s economy, and rail transportation is no exception. With sprawling physical infrastructure, rail networks provide a prime opportunity for improved integration of sensors with physical infrastructure (the much-hyped “internet of things”).

Cisco estimates that $30 billion will be spent on IoT projects for rail over the next 12 years. Myriad potential applications include more detailed passenger tracking and feedback, preventative maintenance sensors to reduce long term TCO, and real-time incident alarms. Meanwhile, automated trains are slowly expanding in scope.

Finally, cybersecurity is an increasing concern that comes alongside greater reliance on digital tools. As crucial infrastructure, rail networks represent a potentially attractive target for cyber attacks. This article in Railway Review provides an excellent interview of the rail cybersecurity landscape.

Rail Trend Three: Chemicals as Prime Freight

“The American Chemistry Council estimates that an additional 300,000 annual rail shipments will be required to meet increased production by 2023. From our analysis, that translates to about 40% of their projected volume growth moving via rail.” - AAR

Coal was traditionally the number one commodity shipped by rail. While the decline of coal continues to reduce rail traffic for this commodity, chemical shipping is emerging as a promising alternative growth market.

Rail offers a safe, cost-effective method for shipping chemicals, which now command the second-largest share of revenue of any freight (more than coal and behind only intermodal freight). The chemicals category includes everything from plastics to pharmaceuticals, consumer goods to toxic compounds.

Continued investment in safe rail car operation conditions has helped mitigate the risks associated with shipping hazardous or highly flammable materials. TriStar has some ground-level experience with this trend: we have been using our flame retardant composites to help rail OEM’s achieve better fire safety alongside improved performance (learn more here).

Rail Trend Four: The Resurgence of Passenger Rail?

“Rail is among the most energy-efficient modes of transport for freight and passengers - while the rail sector carries 8% of the world’s passengers and 7% of global freight transport, it represents only 2% of total transport energy demand.” - IEA

Passenger rail experienced a long decline as new transportation methods like air and the interstate highway system proliferated. Amtrak long exhibited widely criticized financial performance, but things may be beginning to turn around.

Growing congestion at airports and on highways, coupled with an increasingly carbon-conscious consumer population, are driving renewed demand for train travel.

For now, passenger lines are focused on major inter-urban corridors, like San Diego-Los Angeles and Milwaukee-Chicago. The Northeast Corridor from NYC to Boston remains Amtrak’s best growth driver. Long-distance routes, however, continue to operate at a loss.

New technologies are opening up new options for passenger travel. In Europe, for instance, high-speed trains are offering increasingly competitive travel times between highly trafficked routes like Paris-London. High-speed trains, however, require substantial infrastructure investments that were public-led in Europe but remain elusive for a US passenger system which has seen substantially less government investment.

Forbes provides a good summary of the current state of play for passenger rail here. For a deeper look at train energy efficiency and how this could lead to a rail resurgence, we recommend this article by the International Energy Agency.

Learning More

TriStar works closely with a number of rail manufacturers to select advanced material components that solve key industry challenges (like the need for flame-retardant components). We bring our engineering-driven approach to bear on every client project, ensuring the right materials are selected.

To read more about why bearings and similar components are so important for rail car technology, please see the article linked below.

Rail Cars and Rail Transportation

If you’d like to reach out to learn more about using TriStar’s self-lubricating composites to solve rail engineering pain points, just click the button below.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR OUR EXPERTS?

Topics: Railroad
4 min read

Rail Transportation: An Industry Overview

By Dave Biering on October 23, 2020

Rail Transportation: An Industry Overview

Railroads are the oldest form of mechanized transport and one of the original “big businesses” of the American economy. At the turn of the century, railroads were the largest industry in the country. While they no longer command such economic heights, rail is still an essential part of transportation infrastructure, from regional passenger networks to long-distance freight.

In this article, we provide a high-level overview of rail transportation today. 

The rail industry varies considerably internationally: in many countries, rail operations are overseen by a government entity. In the United States, however, private companies often manage both operations and own/maintain tracks and other infrastructure (with some notable exceptions like Amtrak and regional transit authorities). For simplicity, this article focuses on US/North American rail.

Before examining the industry in greater detail below, we should note that rail is a highly cyclical industry that reflects the broader state of the economy. A robust economy means more freight, more passengers, and more revenue for rail companies. Meanwhile, rail companies face extensive capital costs to build and maintain infrastructure, a fact that can leave cash flow vulnerable in the face of economic downturns. For example, overall rail traffic appears to have hit a substantial downturn due to COVID.

Rail Industry Key Facts

  1. Total routes cover over 140,000 miles.
  2. The industry generates an excess of $70 billion per year in revenue.
  3. The industry employs 167,000 plus people.

Source: Department of Transportation

Rail Transport Industry Structure

Rail is a highly consolidated industry. A cluster of seven large “Class I” freight railroads dominate the market, working with smaller regional operators to integrate transportation across regions.

There are over 500 smaller freight railroads across the country, but according to the American Association of Railroads, the Class I operators account for 90 percent of employees, 69% of freight miles, and 94% of total revenue.

As you’ll see below, these large railroads maintain market dominance based on region.

Class I Railroads in North America

  1. Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe are the most important players in American West.
  2. Norfolk Southern and CSX maintain rail operations along the East Coast (including Ontario/Easter Canada).
  3. Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway maintain operations across most of Canada.
  4. Kansas City Southern Railway operates a number of lines that connect Kansas City to the South and Gulf Coast. It is substantially smaller than the other Class I freight railways.
  5. Amtrak is a special quasi-public corporation that operates many US passenger rail routes (and virtually all long-distance passenger routes). It maintains stations at over 500 destinations across 46 US states and 3 Canadian provinces.

The Competitive Landscape for Rail

In North America, freight is by far the dominant activity for the small set of large rail operators who dominate the industry. Major firms like Union Pacific no longer operate passenger lines at all. Passenger rail is generally managed by regional short-line railroads that provide local service (including various municipal rail systems like the NYC subway or Chicago’s CTA) and Amtrak.

While still an essential part of transportation infrastructure, rail moves a smaller percentage of freight (27.69%) than trucking (39.6% | source). However, when this metric is constrained to inter-city freight, rail’s share of tonnage increases to 43%.

Compared to trucking, rail offers much lower per-mileage costs to offset its more limited geographic flexibility. Freight rail also offers much lower accident rates than trucks. Finally, rail remains the only cost-viable option for moving heavy commodities like grain and coal over long land distances.

Intermodal transport using containers is allowing trains to be better integrated with maritime and automotive shipping (we look at intermodal shipping in our article on rail trends here). Freight rail also offers superior carbon and energy use per mile, a fact which may help drive growth as firms look for greener supply chains.

Learning More

It’s important to remember that the size of the full array of companies that support the rail industry greatly expands the economic footprint of the industry. Rail equipment OEM’s are tasked with designing everything from specialized freight cars, to braking systems, to advanced electronics. We break down some key types of rail equipment here.

All of this equipment is expected to thrive in an operational environment that’s full of vibration, heavy loads, all-weather conditions, and fire risk from metal-on-metal friction. For a deeper look at challenges for rail transportation equipment (and how the right component materials can help), see our guide here.

TriStar works with a wide variety of rail equipment makers to identify solutions for these engineering pain points. In an industry where efficiency, safety, and performance are all central to the bottom line, material selection matters.

If you’d like to discuss your rail engineering challenges with our team, click the button below to reach out.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION FOR OUR EXPERTS?

FREE Railcar Equipment White Paper

Topics: Railroad
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 & Beverage Industry Trends: Plant-Based Proteins, & More

By Dave Biering on July 22, 2020

food-and-beverage-industry-trends

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