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Dave Biering

Dave Biering


Recent posts by Dave Biering

3 min read

Why Is the Meldin® 7000 Series So Valuable for Manufacturers Today?

By Dave Biering on May 12, 2022

Why Is the Meldin® 7000 Series So Valuable for Manufacturers Today?

The latest addition to Saint-Gobain’s Meldin® family of materials, the 7000 series offers a powerful combination of performance characteristics that help it thrive in some of the most challenging applications on earth (and even in space). In this blog, we introduce the Meldin® 7000 series, examine some of its most important features, and explain why it offers a more economical option than ever for applications calling for high-temperature polyimide performance.

What makes the Meldin® 7000 series different?

Saint-Gobain’s Meldin® family includes a broad range of materials, all backed by decades of engineering refinement and an impeccable quality control process (you can find specifications for TriStar’s full lineup of Meldin® materials in our interactive material database here). The Meldin® 7000 series brings a diverse lineup of thermoset polyimide materials into the Meldin® family for the first time.

Just what makes Meldin® 7000 series’ high-temperature performance so remarkable?

  • Dimensional stability at continuous use temperatures up to 600°F (315°C).
  • Rated for intermittent exposure up to 900°F (482°C) while resisting thermal shocks.
  • The ability to retain stability in the face repetitive thermal cycling. Testing demonstrates that Meldin 7000 series materials exhibit less than .04% variation from their original dimension after cycling from 73°F to 500°F over a 2-day period.

Combined with several available self-lubricating fillers, this outstanding high-temperature stability helps extend component lifespan, reduce unexpected failures, and in many cases increase performance (temperature resistance is instrumental in allowing components to support higher load or speed use cases). Because Meldin® 7000 series materials resist out-gassing in a vacuum, they can also be a great fit for high-purity applications such as semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

The Meldin® 7000 series also brings substantial versatility to the table. Its many different grades allow manufacturers to select a polyimide material that is closely aligned to their application requirements. For example:

  • Meldin® 7001 – An unfilled grade that provides a cost-effective option for taking advantage of another one of this material’s valuable characteristics: excellent electrical and thermal insulation properties. Meldin® 7001 can replace aluminum (while offering lower weight) and ceramics (while offering superior ductility and machinability) in structural applications.
  • Meldin® 7021 – Combines self-lubrication, low friction, and high-temperature resistance to offer a strong all-around choice well suited for bearings, seals, thrust washers, and other low-wear applications.
  • Meldin® 7211 – Leverages a 15% graphite, 10% PTFE filler to deliver the lowest coefficient of friction of any material in the 7000 series.

These offerings are just a small sample of the full set of options available within the Meldin® 7000 series. For the full list of formulations available, please see our product page here. Or, for a more in-depth look at how Meldin® in opening up new opportunities for manufacturers to take advantage of high-temperature polyimides, please check out our deep dive.

High-temperature polyimides have a long and successful history. But historically, they have represented a high-cost solution that was economical only when nothing else would do (like when developing materials for a space mission). The Meldin® 7000 series offers truly transformative potential because it makes the benefits discussed above available at a more efficient price point than was available in the past. Looking forward, the TriStar team expects this product line to drive increased usage of polyimide components across a more diverse set of applications than ever.

If you have questions about whether a Meldin® 7000 series material is right for your application, we encourage you to reach out to our team. In our experience, high-performance materials like Meldin® perform their best when they are carefully matched to specific applications requirements. And our engineering team is here to help!

IS THE MELDIN 7000 SERIES RIGHT FOR YOUR APPLICATION?  ASK THE EXPERTS.

Meldin | A Versatile Polymer Family Featuring High-Temperature Polyimides

Topics: Meldin
3 min read

The “New Meldin®” Opens Up New Possibilities for High-Temperature Polyimides

By Dave Biering on May 10, 2022

The “New Meldin®” Opens Up New Possibilities for High-Temperature Polyimides

Applications for high-performance polyimides have always been limited by one concern above all other: cost. But today, Saint-Gobain’s latest series of Meldin® 7000 materials have the potential to fundamentally upend this traditional limitation. By providing the high-temperature performance long associated with polyimides at a more efficient price point, the Meldin® 7000 series is poised to make polyimide thermosets viable in more applications than ever.

Polyimides: High-Performance, High-Temperature, and (Traditionally) High Cost

Thermoset polyimide materials offer extraordinary high-temperature performance alongside exceptional dimensional strength. That’s why you’ll find these materials used in some of the most challenging applications imaginable, like plasma chambers, jet engines, and even spacecraft.

In engineering terms, the only notable limitation of polyimides is their vulnerability to hot water and steam. Because polyimides are fabricated using a polycondensation process, hot water can cause the materials to “re-condensate” and fall apart. Aside from chronically hot and wet environments, polyimide components can be well suited to an immense range of applications. But traditionally, their usage has been sharply limited by another factor: cost. Historically, with limited suppliers and high prices, the advantages of these advanced materials have largely been confined to high-cost applications that demanded a high-temperature, high-performance solution.

Today, however, Saint-Gobain’s cost-effective Meldin® 7000 series materials offer the potential to dramatically expand the potential range of applications that can harness the virtually unrivaled high-temperature performance of thermoset polyimides.

Meldin® 7000 Series Offers New Economies for High-Performance Polyimides

The roots of Meldin® are related to the history of another Saint-Gobain material offered by TriStar: Rulon. Meldin® was originally developed as a filler for Rulon® materials, but it has since expanded into a much broader range of thermoplastic products. For a deeper look at “Meldin® 101” and the different product series available in this family, please see our guide here.

The Meldin® 7000 series draws on the decades of engineering that have gone into making Meldin® one of the most successful polymer families on the globe, extending this experience to a new pinnacle of performance with thermoset polyimide materials. Most importantly, this “new Meldin®” can deliver the full range of performance benefits associated with high-performance polyimides at a far more economical price point than has traditionally been available in the marketplace.

These benefits include:

  • Dimensional Stability for High-Temperature and Cryogenic Applications Alike: Meldin® retains its dimensional stability at temperatures 100° above the point where Torlon® and PEEK begin to deform. Meldin® 7000 series even exceeds the high-temperature tolerance of Rulon® by around 50°. And its robustness extends all way down to cryogenic applications, with low-temperature tolerance ranging to -400° F.
  • Resistance to Out-Gassing in a Vacuum: a crucial characteristic not only in outer space (where Meldin® is used in satellites) but any ultra-sterile vacuum environment, such as those employed in semiconductor manufacturing.
  • Outstanding Component Service Life: like many other Meldin® materials, the 7000 series offers a powerful combination of high strength, low friction, and self-lubrication options. These characteristics can help reduce maintenance needs, extend service life, and increase loads/speed tolerance.

TriStar is proud to be the sole North American distributor of Meldin®, and we can’t wait to see manufacturers begin to make expanded use of these materials. Because cost has always been the single most important limiting factor in the employment of thermoset polyimides, we think the extraordinary value offered by the Meldin® 7000 series will help transform the way these materials are used. TriStar’s customers will now be able to harness these materials to cost-effectively extend component life, reduce failures, and enhance performance across a broader range of use cases than ever!

If you’re interested in detailed material specifications for the Meldin® 7000 series (and the entire Meldin® family) please see our interactive materials database here. Or, you can find a more detailed breakdown of the options available in the 7000 series on our product page here.

If you have questions about whether Meldin® is the right fit for your application, we encourage you to reach out to our engineering team using the button below.

IS MELDIN RIGHT FOR YOUR COMPONENT? ASK THE EXPERTS.

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Topics: Meldin featured
4 min read

Pulp and Paper Industry History: From Papyrus to Recycled Materials

By Dave Biering on November 2, 2021

Pulp and Paper Industry History: From Papyrus to Recycled Materials

Today, the pulp and paper industry is conducting a historic pivot toward packaging materials, as the digital evolution of work and home life continues to drive reduced usage of traditional graphic paper. (we take a look key industry trends in our blog post here).

This development is just the latest chapter in an industry with a storied history. Humans have been using plant fibers to make valuable materials for writing and beyond since ancient times. In this blog, we provide a brief overview of the history of the pulp and paper industry.

The article below is part of our series examining some of the biggest challenges for pulp and paper equipment manufacturers (and how the right materials can help). For a deep dive on this topic, please see our guide here.

Pulp and Paper Industry History 101: From Papyrus to Chemical Pulping

Paper-making has its roots in ancient Egypt, where thin layers of papyrus plant were used to form sheets, and then stacked on top of each other at right angles and pounded together. In fact, our modern word paper comes from “Papyrus” (which means paper-reed in Latin).

Papyrus was tough and constituted (aside from wet clay) the world’s first mass-produced writing surface. Unlike true paper, however, papyrus was made from plant fibers that have not been broken down. It has rough edges and surface, and the underlying strips can begin to separate when used repeatedly.

True paper was first created in China, with evidence of the first paper making dating from around the 1st century BC. Early Chinese paper was most often made using tree barks. In China (as would be the case in Europe several centuries later) the birth of printing transformed the paper market. Without the restriction of handwriting, the scale of written media exploded. So did the demand for paper, and inputs like bark could no longer be collected in sufficient quantity. New techniques were pioneered for making pulp from hemp, flax, cotton, and old rags/ropes (at this time, raw wood chips still could not be effectively processed).

In essence, though conducted through manual labor, these early paper-making processes were similar to paper manufacturing today. A fibrous pulp was made, drained, and air dried before being pressed and cut into sheets.

These paper-making processes spread their way across Asia and then to the Islamic world (which, like Europe at this time, used parchment made from animal skins). Paper was much more cost effective than parchment and spread as quickly as new civilizations acquired the knowledge needed to manufacture it. In the Middle East, animal- and water-powered mills emerged that allowed for truly bulk paper manufacturing for the first time. This knowledge soon made its way to Europe through Islamic Spain, and by the late Middle Ages paper mills were operating in Spain, France Germany, and Italy.

Around 1799, the Fourdrinier Machine enabled continuous paper-making for the first time. Until this device, paper had to be pressed and dried one sheet at a time. Originally developed in England by the French Fourdrinier brothers, this basic design has become so commonplace (with some evolution) that these machines are now often simply called “paper machines.” It uses a conveyor belt, traditionally made of wire mesh, to continuously drain water from paper as it moves down the line.

The introduction of wood pulp processing in 1843 allowed papermaking to move beyond a reliance on used textile products. Until then, paper mills had resorted to employing “rag-pickers” to comb streets and garbage heaps for scraps that could be processed into paper.

The use of wood chips was the final ingredient needed to make paper a relatively inexpensive good for the first time. And modern society would come to “run on paper” for the next century and a half. Just as it had with the invention of printing, new tools like mass produced pencils and fountain pens would create a whole market for paper. And at cheaper prices, modern realities like school textbooks became widely possible for the first time.

The engineers of the pulp and paper industry would continue to develop new methods for making new products (like cardboard and other packaging materials), increasing yield, and handling new inputs (like recycled materials). We look at today’s prototypical process, including key types of equipment, in our blog post here.

Learn About Key Challenges for Pulp and Paper Equipment Manufacturers

Today’s pulp and paper OEM’s continue to push boundaries by engineering solutions capable of working more efficiently, withstanding more caustic processing chemicals, and minimizing unplanned downtime.

Doing so is rarely easy. The pulp and paper industry exhibits some of the most challenging manufacturing environments around. Critical components needs to be ready for chronic exposure to water, both end of the pH scale, abrasive wood chips/paper dust, and more (often, one or more of these complicating factors is present at the same time)

TriStar has worked with a number of pulp and paper equipment manufacturers to help match our advanced materials to use cases where they directly address some of these operational challenges. Pulp and paper industry applications are typically best served by carefully engineering materials and components to reflect specific operating challenges.

We take a deeper look at some of these challenges in our in-depth guide here (also available as a free whitepaper for offline reading):

Pulp and Paper Equipment Manufacturers’ Guide to Polymer Components

Topics: pulp and paper
4 min read

Pulp and Paper Industry Overview: Processes and Equipment

By Dave Biering on October 28, 2021

Pulp and Paper Industry Overview: Processes and Equipment

Intensive processing is required to turn wood fibers into graphic paper, cardboard, packaging, and a variety of other paper-based products.

This blog examines the basics of the process and equipment required to get the job done.

The article below is part of our series examining some of the biggest challenges for pulp and paper equipment manufacturers (and how the right materials can help). For a deep dive on this topic, please see our guide here.

A Complex Industry Process Full of Challenges for Pulp and Paper Equipment Manufacturers

Pulp and paper processing is one of the most varied industries around, so the process below is necessarily generalized. It represents a prototypical modern paper-making process (we provide a look at the history of the industry in our blog here).

Paper products can be made from a variety of different wood pulps, fibrous plants, recycled materials, and more. Wood chips, the most common source today, can be made from logs but are also commonly sourced as a residual product of sawmills, furniture factories, and other timber-related industries. Any object that becomes embedded in a tree can ultimately become a contaminant within woods chips. Old fence posts, metal bolts, and even bullets have been known to emerge in pulp and paper processing facilities.

Industry equipment must be ready to process any of these inputs into quality pulp. To accommodate all this variation, the industry uses a variety of intensive processing techniques. All of them share the same goal: separating the cellulose fibers used to make paper. This processing can be accomplished using chemical pulping, mechanical pulping, or some mixture of both. Within these two broad categories, operating parameters can vary substantial from mill to mill—pulp and paper companies are always looking for opportunities to employ more aggressive processing techniques that enhance yield. More aggressive downstream processing can also drive savings by limiting the amount of filtering and cleaning required for raw inputs.

  1. Mechanical Pulping: rather than using chemicals, a grinder is used to press against woodchips and physically separate cellulose fibers. This process tends to result in shorter fibers which exhibit less strength, a typical base for newsprint paper. After being finely ground, techniques like steaming can be used to further process the wood material.
  2. Chemical Pulping: the most common process in the United States, wood chips are cooked in a “digestor” machine (see below) at an elevated temperature and pressure. This digestor also includes a special chemical mix designed to dissolve lignin, a substance which binds wood fibers to one another. This process preserves longer wood fibers, enabling stronger paper products ideal for applications like photo-paper and paperboard.

By the time wood fibers are separated, they have become a mix of fibers and water called pulp. Pulp forms the base ingredient for almost any paper product. Pulp is then thoroughly washed and decontaminated to ensure no processing chemicals remain in the paper. For white paper, the pulp is bleached to remove any color.

Finally, the wet pulp must be drained. This is typically accomplished by pumping the pulp onto rolling, wire-screen mats that allow water to drain as the fibers press down and become interwoven into sheets. Altering the thickness of the pulp, the length of the drying process, and other key parameters results in paper with different final qualities.

The final step is passing through a long series of rollers and heated drums which remove any remaining moisture. Dried paper can then be polished, smoothed, and wound onto rolls or cut into individual sheets.

Examples of Pulp and Paper Equipment

These are just a few examples of the solutions offered by pulp and paper equipment manufacturers.

  1. Chippers: woodchippers are used to turn pulpwood into evenly sized chips, which will allow for cooking or grinding processes to work effectively and uniformly. Stationary chippers are employed at paper mill facilities, and mobile units are also used directly at timber yards.
  2. Pulpers: “pulper” also describes a different type of equipment used for food products, but a paper pulping machine is very different. Mechanical pulping machines are essentially large (usually cylindrical) grinders where wood chips can be ground into pulp.
  3. Digesters: Digesters are the key piece of chemical pulping equipment. They essentially look like large tanks—inside, chips are processed using caustic chemicals, rapid pressure changes, and heat.
  1. Refiners: refining processes paper fibers through brushing, cutting, and hydrating, all of which can help determine different final paper qualities. This is accomplished using hydraulic refining machines that utilize high-speed rotating discs to treat pumped-in paper slurry.
  2. Fourdrinier Machines: originally developed in England by the French Fourdrinier brothers, this basic design has become so commonplace (with some evolution) that these machines are now often simply called “paper machines.” They use a conveyor belt, traditionally made of wire mesh, to continuously drain water from paper as it moves down the line.

Learn About Key Challenges for Pulp and Paper Equipment Manufacturers

The process described above is full of challenges for pulp and paper industry OEM’s. Caustic chemicals are used to break down pulp, wood chips and paper dust can be highly abrasive to the wrong materials, and intensive water use drives a need for non-absorbent materials. Relatively high heats are commonplace. Any of these issues demands careful component engineering. When all of these challenges are present in the same paper mill, selecting the right materials can be like threading a needle.

That’s why, in our experience, pulp and paper industry applications are typically best served by carefully engineering materials and components to reflect specific operating challenges.

We take a deeper look at some of these challenges in our free downloadable in-depth guide:

How Careful Material Selection Can Solve Key Engineering Challenges for Pulp & Paper OEM’s

 

Topics: pulp and paper
3 min read

3 Key Trends in the Pulp and Paper Industry

By Dave Biering on October 26, 2021

3 Key Trends in the Pulp and Paper Industry

The pulp and paper industry’s market is changing, but it remains robust:

“If you thought the paper industry was going to disappear, think again. Graphic papers are being squeezed by digitization, but the paper and forest-products industry overall has major changes in store and exciting prospects for new growth.”
McKinsey Report on Pulp and Paper Industry Outlook

This blog looks at key pulp and paper industry trends heading into the next decade.

3 Important Trends in the Pulp and Paper Industry

  1. Adapting to New Market Realities: the move from graphic papers to packaging.
  2. Anti-Plastic Consumers Could Drive Continued Packaging Growth
  3. Accelerated investment in processing capabilities for recycled materials.

The main article below is part of our series of articles focused on key challenges for pulp and paper equipment manufacturers (you can read our main guide on that topic here).

Pulp and Paper Industry Trend One: Adapting to New Market Realities

The proliferation of digital technology at both home and work has dramatically decreased overall demand for “graphic papers.” This category includes paper products like regular printer paper, newsprint, and the glossy paper used for magazines and brochures. We are moving away from a “paper world” for day-to-day communication, and this clear trend may lead casual observers to assume the pulp-and-paper industry is in decline. After all, in 2015, overall demand for graphic paper products fell for the first time in recorded history.

But this assumption is false. Graphic paper is just one of many products processed from wood pulp, and other markets continue to exhibit strong demand growth. One of the most important pulp and paper industry trends is the aggressive pivot toward growth markets like packaging material.

As the graph below demonstrates, growth in areas like cartonboard, containerboard, and tissue paper will be instrumental to “papering over” revenue losses stemming from the global reduction in graphic paper use.

kinsey-pulp-paper-chart

Infographic Source: McKinsey Pulp and Paper Report

Pulp and Paper Industry Trend Two: Anti-Plastic Consumers Could Drive Continued Packaging Growth

Paper-based packaging products offers marked environmental advantages over plastics: they are readily biodegradable, do not accumulate in the ocean, and can be readily composted or repurposed.

As environment-conscious consumers ramp up pressure for a reduction in plastic packaging, pulp and paper manufacturers will benefit. This trend should help give long-run fuel to the market trend described in Trend One—a move away from plastic packaging will help ensure that packaging is not just a replacement for lost graphic paper demand, but a viable long-term growth market.

Pulp and Paper Industry Trend Three: Recycled Products

The American Forest; Paper Association reports that “65.7% percent of paper consumed in the United States was recycled in 2020...nearly the double the rate the U.S. paper industry achieved in 1990.” Growing environmental concerns and consumer activism have led to consistent increases in the use of recycled materials in the pulp and paper industry.

Adaptation requires innovation both in products (learning how to use recycled materials in marketable products) and processing (recycled materials require a different approach than raw wood chips). Indeed, we are already seeing US pulp and paper companies make major investments in recycled material mills, such as this $125 million facility in Pennsylvania.

Learn About Key Challenges for Pulp and Paper Equipment Manufacturers

In our experience, pulp and paper industry applications are typically best served by carefully engineering materials and components to reflect specific operating challenges. Caustic chemicals, large quantities of water, abrasive media, vibration, and high-heat are all daily working realities for pulp and paper firms, and any of these issues can degrade components made from the wrong materials.

We take a deeper look at some of these challenges in our in-depth guide here (also available as a free whitepaper PDF at for offline reading):

Pulp and Paper Equipment Manufacturers’ Guide to Polymer Components

Topics: pulp and paper
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