In the food-processing world there are many examples of conveyor lines brought to a halt by drive units that couldn’t handle the daily dose of high-pressure washdowns and chemical cleaners. But a Victorian meat-processing works has found a solution. More than six years after investing in purpose-built, sealed mechatronic drives, its conveyor lines are still running smoothly.
In food-processing environments, cleanliness and hygiene reign supreme. It’s a given. And when meat is the product at hand, there is no margin for error. At the end of each day’s work, all the conveyor lines, and all of the drive units that keep them running, are washed and scrubbed clean with approved chemical cleaners and high-pressure hosing. The cleaning process is manual. André Vanschie, maintenance manager at Hardwick Meatworks, described it as being similar to handwashing the dishes at home, but on an industrial scale.
At plants like Hardwick’s, traditionally designed drive systems are prone to damage from water ingress and frequent exposure to the cleaning products.
This often causes them to fail early in life. With a thriving beef- and lamb-processing business that includes exporting to approved countries around the world, the challenge for the Kyneton-based facility was to find a drive system that could withstand the daily cleaning. It would also need to meet the stringent requirements for operation in a food-processing environment.
More than six years ago, in an endeavour to overcome this challenge, Hardwick’s chose a different approach, and selected SEW-Eurodrive’s MoviGear mechatronic drive system to power the conveyor lines at their meatworks. The drive systems are still operating today, despite the harsh operating environment. In a processing plant the size of Hardwick’s, which supplies to both wholesale and retail outlets, the improved reliability and longer lifetime of the drives translates into savings.
The longevity of the drive systems in this environment of constant washdowns and scrubbing is due to the fundamental design and fabrication of the units. A difference between MoviGear and the more traditional drive systems is that the MoviGear units have an enclosed housing with no fan design. The inner workings of the mechatronic drive are protected from water ingress and the cleaning products. Vanschie said that this has resulted in reliability of drive systems at the meatworks.
Earlier designs would last around one year, whereas the MoviGear drives have been operating for six years. “It’s an amazing record. Because they’re sealed, they don’t let the water in. That means there’s no corrosion, so they don’t burn out. They last a lot longer,” Vanschie said.
This assessment comes from an experienced and knowledgeable operation. Hardwick’s is a family-owned business that has been processing meat for more than 40 years. They offer restaurant-quality products to the local market in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, and export Australian produce to countries across the world, particularly in the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions. Product of the same quality is also available to the general public, via Hardwick’s retail store in Kyneton.
Employing more than 400 people, its 800sqm plant runs two shifts per day, starting early in the morning and finishing around 10.30pm, depending on the volume of work. Over the two shifts, they process approximately 200 cattle and up to 8,000 sheep. The plant has two processing floors, one for beef and the other for lamb.
The meat is bagged, ready for sale, in the deboning room, where there are 34 conveyor lines, each powered by a MoviGear mechatronic drive unit. The switchboard that controls the drives is housed upstairs, away from the meat products and wet areas. Enclosed in a stainless-steel ‘dropper’, the cables that connect the switchboard to the drive units are also well protected.
Designed for wet areas
John Gattellari, national industry specialist – food and beverage at SEW-Eurodrive, explained that the version of the MoviGear product family supplied to Hardwick’s was designed for wet areas. The units incorporate design features that enable them to resist wear and tear from high levels of mechanical and chemical cleaning, and high-pressure washdowns with water.
These design features include an IP66-rated housing and an HP200 surface treatment that results in an almost non-porous surface with anti-sticking properties. In addition, all screws, breather valves, pressure-compensation screw fittings and output shafts are made of stainless steel.
In the system of ingress protection (IP) ratings, IP66 refers to an enclosure that is dust tight, offering full protection against dust and other particles. It includes a vacuum seal and is tested against continuous airflow. An IP66 enclosure is also protected against direct, high-pressure water jets.
The HP200 surface treatment provides an anti-stick coating along with resistance to the chemical and mechanical cleaning. At Hardwick’s, this enables easier cleaning and prevents contamination of the drive units, despite the high volume of meat product that is processed daily.
It is these properties that have led to the long working life of the MoviGear mechatronic drives installed at Hardwick’s. In addition, drive units with these qualities are ideal for environments like food processing, where hygiene is a must. The sealed design prevents swirling of air, dirt and germs that can otherwise occur.
Vanschie said that, because of the design and construction of the units, there is no requirement for a routine maintenance program. This provides further savings. And should spare parts be required, the turnaround time has been fast, as has the overall customer support he has received.
As well as the long working life of the MoviGear, Vanschie also reported a reduction in energy consumption.
“Our power usage has halved, so that’s a huge saving,” he said.
Gattellari confirmed that these results typify the feedback he received from manufacturers who deploy the MoviGear mechatronic drives. He said that the energy savings are made possible by built-in efficiency and the seamless, optimised mechatronic interaction of the motor, gear unit, and integrated electronics.
The motor complies with the IE5 ‘Ultra-Premium Efficiency’ class of electric motors and the gear unit has been designed for maximum efficiency.
“The components are perfectly matched,” he said, “and the optimisation facilitates high energy efficiency of the system as a whole. The figure of up to 50 per cent energy reduction achieved by MoviGear drives has been verified by independent university research in Germany.”
For food-processing plants like Hardwick’s, which have demanding requirements for hygiene, matched by a daily regime of thorough cleaning, this combination of long-lasting and energy-efficient drive units is a good fit. Vanschie said that he would make the same choice again if he needed more drive units at the plant.
“The customer service is excellent and the MoviGear units have proved to be more than reliable. Lasting six years in that environment is a very good record,” he said.