What are the Challenges of Food Industry Lubrication?

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Rafe sits down with Simon Murray – Reliability Coach at Your Maintenance Coach to discuss all things regarding maintenance, reliability and asset management in the food industry. The main takeaway? The challenge of food industry lubrication is one of knowledge; uptake of food-grade lubricants has been driven by external audits but there is a lack of in-industry knowledge regarding lubrication best practice.

Rafe Britton: What are maybe some of the specific lubrication concerns that people have to look out for in the food industry? 

Simon Murray: Where do we start? On one side knowing what we should be doing, and then the other side is looking at what people are actually doing. Let’s go back 10 years – I would say that was probably just when people were starting to think about food grade lubrication.

Now go back 10 years just as I was starting the business, I would walk into a plant and they would use food grade where absolutely necessary. The concerns were – it’s more expensive and it’s not as good. And it was very much “we don’t want to use it. We we’re going to do everything we can, and we’re only going to use it where we need to use it”.

Now external audits have increased. In the food industry, one of the real important points around lubrication is that even though the site itself might not be lubrication experts, we have customers. Audits and quality assessments are now driven by the supermarket, some others driven by external bodies.

It’s really dragged lubrication practices into the modern day. So the third party manufacturer is not going to get away with not using food grade lubrication anymore. The challenge I see is that it’s become a necessity without the real understanding of the transition; of storage and handling, and use.

As a maintenance manager in a food manufacturing facility “I must use food grade”. But that’s almost where they stop. So the challenge is almost (because there’s just too much else going on) “I use food grade lubricant, tick the box”.

Rafe Britton: That’s interesting. Let’s return to the perceived lack of performance of food grade lubricants. This is actually a concern that is common to both food grade lubricants, as well as the environmentally aware lubricants or EALs. I think a lot of the poor reputation comes out because there’s kind of two classes. There’s two ways that you can do biodegradable or food grade lubricants.

You either go full synthetic for your lubricants, or you go vegetable oil based. And one of those is the lower end of the performance spectrum (vegetable oils), and the other is the higher end of the spectrum (full synthetic).

There’s a huge cost difference then between the two. When people see the disparity in cost, if you’re running thin margins, a lot of maintenance organizations go will not pay for a full synthetic food lubricant solution.

The vegetable oil is so inexpensive, but then the performance is significantly worse. That reinforces the perception that food grade is significantly worse.