Why food grade lubricants are important and what everyone should know about them

A manufacturer’s worst nightmare is a robot with an oil contamination problem or, worse yet, a leak in one of its gears.

In the majority of cases such a situation can be rectified rather quickly, and production can get up and running again almost immediately. For Food & Beverage or pharmaceutical manufacturers such problems can have extreme consequences if corrective measures aren’t taken rapidly.

Understanding food grade lubricants
Because food grade lubricants can easily come into contact with ingestible products they are specially formulated to meet the stringent requirements of the global food industry. They are also tasteless and odorless and designed to be resistant to plastics and other packaging containers. In addition, food grade lubricants must dissolve sugars, and withstand degradation from food products, chemicals, water and steam.

Food grade lubricants must be all of the above and also work like other oils. They need to increase machine efficiency, dissipate heat, and decrease wear, friction, corrosion, and oxidation.

The facts about food grade lubricants
A study commissioned by the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association – Capturing Recall Costs – puts the average cost of a food recall at USD10 million. The figure is modest, at best, as it only takes into consideration direct costs such as notifying authorities and the general public and the removal and disposal of damaged products, etc. Not included in the figure are indirect cost like lost revenue and the damage a recall can do to a company’s brand reputation.

When it comes to food process management, the introduction of automation and robotics has clear benefits. For the consumer who buys ingestible products, the risk of contamination must be negligible. Therefore, cleanliness and hygiene are of the utmost importance. Lubricants can come into contact with food, beverages, or drugs at any moment. They can contaminate an entire inventory, and have the potential to create unknown health and safety risks. Just three drops of oil can contaminate 1,000 litres of product which can result in an average of six (6) hours of downtime.

For manufacturers, picking, packing and palletizing (PPP) robots are ideal for handling the repetitive work and heavy lifting often required with a picking and palletizing line. In addition to doing the dirty, dull, delicate and dangerous jobs often associated with packaging these robots can also reduce costs associated with new product packaging and shrinking product life cycles.

The global food industry represents nearly $8 trillion of the world’s GDP, according to Plunket Research. Picking and packing robotic applications are defined as the picking of products and packing them into a case or tray. In most packaging robotic operations, product is delivered from a primary packaging operation on a continuously moving conveyor. Packaging robots make packaging applications faster, precise and more cost-efficient. They are extremely flexible and with correct tooling, a robot can complete any type of packaging from meat and poultry to pharmaceutical tablet packaging.

As you can imagine there has never been greater pressure on the makers of food and beverages, fast moving consumer goods and pharmaceuticals to increase productivity and lower total ownership costs while maintaining uncompromised quality and safety. The shift towards smaller lots of greater variety in products and their packaging is also making automation more complex and less predictable.

ABB is helping customers in fast moving industries such as food, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods improve their ability to accommodate change efficiently while avoiding costly downtime – this is at the heart of the ‘factory of the future.’

ABB’s range of automation solutions help these types of manufacturers increase their flexibility and efficiently adapt to today’s dynamic markets and shorter cycles. Just this month, we introduced the newest member of our growing family of food grade lubricant robots, IRB 1200. This food grade lubricant (NSF H1) option includes Clean Room ISO Class 3 and IP 67 protection rating which ensures uncompromising safety and hygiene for food and beverage applications. The Clean Room ISO 3 design eliminates the potential for contamination of the food handling area. The new variant joins ABB’s IRB 360 and IRB 120 robots to create a portfolio of small robots uniquely designed for the food sector. They are supported by advanced ABB AbilityTM Connected Services and a broad array of grippers and accessories; as well as machine safety equipment, and ABB’s complete motion control offering including drives, motors and PLC controllers.


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About the author

Roy Fraser

As a Global Product Manager at ABB Robotics, I am excited to be part of this great journey we are on towards a new digital collaborative age. As we step forward it will not be just "one small step for man" but a giant leap we need to take towards a more productive, safer, cleaner world. Let's embrace it is my call to action.
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