Keeping operations sweet with sugar cane shredders

All sugar cane that passes through a sugar mill must pass through a shredder, which reduces the cane to a fibrous mass before it passes on to further crushing and refining processes required for the production of sugar.

Shredders run at high speeds, approximately 1000 rpm, churning through heavy loads of cane throughout the mill crushing season. This arduous process requires shredder components that can withstand high strain.

As the shredding process occurs very early in the production of sugar, it is critical that shredders are maintained in working condition. If a shredder fails, mill production comes to a halt. Choosing the right parts and keeping them well-maintained is therefore essential in minimising costly downtime.

The spherical roller bearings are a critical component in the operation of a cane shredder. When bearings are fitted to the shaft of the shredder, they fit on a taper which locks the ring of the bearing on to the shaft so that it cannot move. Forcing the ring upon the taper elastically stretches it. Under the heavy loads, high speed, and high temperatures of the shredding process, the ring of a bearing can become cracked and fracture, causing the shredder to seize up.

BSC and NSK engineering teams carry out regular installation and maintenance of bearings for sugar cane shredders at mills across Queensland and northern NSW. According to Anthony Richards, reliability engineering manager at BSC, installing the right spherical roller bearing can make all the difference in maintaining shredder operability throughout the crushing season.

“NSK’s TL Series is the go-to for this kind of application. They are extremely durable and have a long operation life,” Richards said.

A special surface hardening thermal treatment is applied to the inner rings of the TL Series bearings, making them highly resistant to ring fracture and cracking under the straining conditions of the cane shredder.

Because the TL Series bearings have harder surfaces than standard bearings, their wear resistance is higher, enabling them to last longer in arduous conditions. While standard bearings usually last for two seasons of mill shredding, the TL Series can last up to four.

To get the most out of these bearings, it is important that they are installed properly and regularly monitored.

“Because shredders are such a critical piece of equipment, it is extremely important that the bearings are fitted correctly to get the best life out of the product,” said Richards.

First, BSC and NSK engineers visually inspect and measure the internal clearance of the new bearing and inspect the shredder shaft for defects. Bearing Blue is then applied to the shaft to check on the contact area of the bearing tapered bore on the tapered shaft. The bearing bore and shaft are cleaned before the bearing is mounted. Hydraulic oil under pressure is fed to the bore of the shaft through to the inner ring to assist in axial drive up. A dial indicator is then mounted on the shaft to monitor axial movement and feeler gauges measurements are carried out to establish the final clearance setting of the bearing. Using feeler gauges, the gap between the seal shoulder and the bearing’s inner ring is measured in order to match the required shim thickness. The bearing is then dismounted, the shim with the required thickness is put in place and the bearing is remounted. Finally clearance measurements are taken again to confirm that the fit is correct.

“Our engineering services teams at BSC have expert product knowledge and experience in installing and maintaining these bearings,” Richards said. “Three times a year we will do vibration testing to monitor their condition, and we will often do yearly inspections.”

With local branches located across NSW and Queensland, BSC is able to respond quickly to customers requiring new products or maintenance services.

“If a customer rings up and needs assistance, we are available and ready 24/7. The TL Series is quite a specialised bearing and it is stocked and readily available at our branches, so if a client needs the product, we can deliver it quickly,” said Richards.

“Whether it be remotely assisting with technical information and advice over the phone, or actually going onsite to carry out or assist installations or checking and replacing equipment – when our customers need us, we are always ready to help.”

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New tool for sugarcane farmers

Sugarcane farmers in far north Queensland have a new app by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, that will help them manage fertiliser use and reduce nitrogen runoff onto the Great Barrier Reef.

Currently there’s no way sugarcane growers can tell whether fertiliser has runoff from their farm but the free app, named 1622WQ, shows the concentration of nitrogen in local waterways in real time.

It means that, for the first time, they will have easy access to water quality information and can relate their management practices to water quality in local waterways, for example immediately after it’s rained.

When rainfall washes nitrogen fertiliser into waterways, it both wastes farmers’ money and becomes a major threat to the health of Great Barrier Reef ecosystems.

READ MORE: How bearings helped in the sugar cane production process

CSIRO agricultural scientist and 1622WQ project leader Dr Peter Thorburn said the new app was co-designed with farmers to meet their needs.

“Sugarcane growers told us they wanted quick and easy access to water quality information, so they could find out what’s going on with their crops and make better decisions,” Thorburn said.

“Although an app can appear simple, the smarts behind it are anything but. The chain of information between the water quality sensors in local waterways and what you see on your phone is complex and requires substantial innovation along the way.”

The app shows data on nitrate concentrations from high frequency automatic sensors deployed in selected coastal catchments.

It uses CSIRO’s advanced data analytics and state-of-the-art deep learning not available in other data delivery systems.

It also shows rainfall so farmers easily see how the weather is affecting local water quality.

Stephen Calcagno is a sugarcane grower and Chairman in the Cairns Region of the peak body, CANEGROWERS. He’s started using the app.

“This will be a great tool for farmers to see the impact of their farm management and help them improve their practises and the environment,” Calcagno said.

“I look forward to seeing what happens over the coming wet season.”

CSIRO Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley said the app brought together decades of agricultural expertise and close industry relationships with advanced digital technologies.

“We’ve paired our deep domain expertise in agriculture with digital technology to provide a solution for farmers who want to remain efficient and competitive while also reducing their impact on the environment,” Foley said.

“Solving complex challenges like protecting the Great Barrier Reef require deep innovation, but it’s also important that the end result is a simple and intuitive product like this app, that farmers can seamlessly integrate into their business.”

New ways to predict water quality in the days or weeks ahead based on artificial intelligence, something that’s never been done before, are in the pipeline.

CSIRO is also building other aspects of importance to sugarcane growers into a suite of 1622 apps, such as fine-tuning which parts of a crop might need more or less fertiliser, and comparing different fertiliser application rates on crop performance and environmental impact before they even plant.

The name 1622 comes from the height of Queensland’s tallest mountain, which is in the area where the initial app development work took place. WQ is for water quality.

“Sugarcane is the first farming system we’ve looked at, but we could deploy it in any area where real time water quality data could help inform agricultural practices,” Thorburn said.

The app is being launched in Cairns on 17 January 2020 and media are invited to attend.

How bearings help in the sugar cane production process

Australia produces about 35 million tonnes of sugar cane every year, with 80 per cent of it exported. Sugar cane farms run from the north of New South Wales through to northern Queensland, mainly on the east coast.

Sugar cane came to Australia via South Africa on the First Fleet in 1788. It is a hardy ingredient, made for hot, humid conditions with plenty of rain. In other words, the northern climate of Australia’s east coast is ideal for growing the plant.

Over the years, the industry has become part of the Australian industrial landscape, providing much needed foreign currency as well as jobs. Those in the industry work hard, and expect the equipment and machinery they use to do the same.

In order to process the cane into raw and then refined sugar, plant and machinery needs to be top quality and able to handle the rigours of working day-in and day-out to process the product. A whole range of equipment needs to be utilised to make the industry run. This includes crystallising machines, material handling equipment such as conveyors, fume extraction systems, as well as a raft of other tools. The companies involved in the industry need to know they can rely on certain brands and back-up service in order to ensure their operations run smoothly.

Schaeffler is one such company that has an excellent reputation when it comes to plant equipment. High-end brands such as INA, FAG and LuK are included in the Schaeffler portfolio. German-based, Schaeffler is renowned for producing high-end, long-lasting industrial products that can handle the pressures that the sugar industry brings to bear.

One of the company’s products is its FAG spherical roller bearings, which are ideal for the sugar processing industry, where the factories themselves create harsh conditions. These products come into their own by not only being high performing due to their engineering, but handle high loads – something that is a necessity in this industry.

Junior Eltagonde is a regional manager for CBC Australia and is based in Townsville, which is right in the heart of the sugar industry. As a distributor of Schaeffler products, he can testify not only to the quality of the product, but how it keeps industry moving.

“The products have a great reputation and many customers know the quality of them,” he said. “They are well-known and well-regarded throughout the sugar processing industry.
“They have been tested over time and last as well as any other product. With bearings, it’s all about different applications. Schaeffler would be in the top five brands in the world when it comes to this type of gear.”

These bearings have a design in which the inner ring that runs inside the outer ring on two rows of rollers. They also have an angular adjustment of up to two degrees, which not only helps when it comes to the aforementioned high-load carrying capacity, but it also can compensate for misalignments.

Schaeffler spherical bearings also offer increased operational reliability and raise the average service life by up to 60 per cent. They save on space because smaller sizes deliver the performance of larger bearings.

Eltagonde said that another key to using Schaeffler products is that the company doesn’t rest on its laurels. It offers great local support, but also on a developmental level, the company knows that moving ahead is important when it comes to making sure they are at the cutting edge of these technologies.

“They’re always upgrading their technology and the materials they use,” said Eltagonde. “They’re constantly looking at upgrading the coatings they use on their bearings, especially the ones they use in gearboxes.”

Schaeffler’s bearings are but one of its reliable products. They offer an array of solutions to the sugar processing industry where hard-working machinery is a necessity.

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New strategic plan to shape the future of sugarcane research investment

Sugar Research Australia (SRA) has released its new five-year Strategic Plan, following an extensive development and consultation process with growers, millers, government investors, and other stakeholders.

SRA CEO Mr Neil Fisher said SRA has listened to its investors and is responding to their call for SRA to deliver research that has a real impact on-farm, at-mill and in the communities and environment in which the sugarcane industry operates.  This brand new Strategic Plan allows SRA to addresses the challenges and opportunities facing the Australian sugarcane industry with a focus on research where SRA can have the most impact.  In short, SRA aims to deliver research that has a transformational impact on the profitability, sustainability, and resilience of the industry.

“Through our consultations, our investors were clear that they need SRA to be delivering tangible outputs and outcomes for sugarcane growers and millers,” Mr Fisher said. “Our investors, through the Strategic Plan, have identified particular areas of attention and investment for SRA in coming years, which includes improving the efficiency of the sugarcane breeding program, improving adoption and communication, enhancing soil health while minimising nutrient run-off, and continuing to work on the yellow canopy syndrome dilemma.

“The bottom line is that SRA exists to help put more dollars in the back pocket of growers and millers, who underpin regional jobs and economies in large areas of Queensland and NSW.

“SRA is committed to being accountable for our investment, and we do that through measuring and reporting on our performance. Our Strategic Plan has clear measures of success, and we are accountable to these measures through an annual Performance Report, and an Independent Performance Review every three years.

“SRA has also consulted widely with our Commonwealth and State Government investors, and our Strategic Plan aligns with the National Sugarcane Industry Research, Development and Extension (RD&E) Strategy, the Commonwealth Government’s Science and Research Priorities and Rural Research, Development and Extension Priorities, and the Queensland Government’s Strategic Objectives for investment in the sugarcane industry.

“What sets this Strategic Plan apart from our previous plan is the establishment of four goals that underpin our research investment. These are: drive profitability, improve sustainability, enhance capability, and strengthen organisational excellence.”

The Plan also has nine specific Key Focus Areas (KFAs) for SRA’s investment: optimally adapted varieties, plant breeding and release; soil health, nutrient management and sustainability; pest disease and weed management; farming systems and harvesting; milling efficiency and technology; product diversification and value addition; knowledge and technology transfer and adoption; collaboration and capability development; and organisational effectiveness.

“Each year, our Strategic Plan is enacted through an Annual Operational Plan, which has also now been released for 2017/18,” Mr Fisher said.

“These plans ensure SRA is positioned to lead, partner and invest in research, development and adoption activities that will enable growers and millers to remain profitable and our industry resilient over the long-term.”

Billington’s releases exotic sugar range

Billington’s range of natural, unrefined sugars are made with a distinctive and intense flavor, according to the company.

“We carefully produce our sugar to lock in, rather than refine out the natural molasses of the sugar cane,” says Deborah Milroy, International Manager for Billington’s. 

“We craft our sugars with precision, time and care. We stop the process at exactly the right time to create the many different types, flavours and colours of sugar, and we hope this digital recipe guide serves to help consumers experience the mouth-watering flavours the Billington’s range has to offer.”

“Many of us fail to realise that not all brown sugars are the same, many are simply white sugars with an added brown coating for colour and a little flavour,” continues Ms Milroy. 

“At Billington’s, we go the extra mile to bring consumers a natural, unrefined product, giving them the chance to experience the full spectrum of flavours sugar has to offer; we’ve now gone one step further and taught consumers how to make the most of this experience with some of our favourite recipes and a guide that explains how to use our perfectly unrefined sugars.”

Billington’s sugar range includes Golden Caster, Light Muscovado, Dark Muscovado, Molasses and Demerara.