Conveyor lines brought to a halt by drive units that can’t handle the daily dose of high-pressure washdowns and chemical cleaners is a common story for food processors. Victoria’s Hardwick Meatworks’ investment in purpose-built, sealed mechatronic drives from SEW-Eurodrive shows there is a solution, with its conveyor lines still running smoothly six years later. This article first appeared in the June 2021 issue of Food & Drink Business.
In food-processing environments, it is a given that cleanliness and hygiene reign supreme. When meat is the product at hand, there is no margin for error. At the end of each day all conveyor lines and the drive units that keep them running are washed and scrubbed clean with approved chemical cleaners and high-pressure hosing.
Hardwick Meatworks maintenance manager André Vanschie describes this manual cleaning process as being like handwashing the dishes at home but on an industrial scale.
A major issue for Hardwick’s and other plants like it, is that when traditionally designed drive systems are frequently exposed to washing and cleaning products, they are prone to damage and fail far sooner than they should.
Hardwick’s Kyneton beef- and lamb-processing facility was faced with the challenge of finding a drive system that could withstand the daily cleaning regime and meet the stringent requirements for operations in a food-processing environment.
The company chose a different approach and installed SEW-Eurodrive’s MOVIGEAR mechatronic drive system to power the conveyor lines at their meatworks. The systems are still operating today, despite the harsh operating environment.
For Hardwick, supplying wholesale and retail markets as well as having a growing export business, the improved reliability and longer lifetime of the drives translates into significant 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 major difference between MOVIGEAR and the more traditional drive systems is that MOVIGEAR units have a completely enclosed housing with no fan design. The inner workings of the mechatronic drive are completely protected from water ingress and cleaning products.
Vanschie says that this has resulted in unprecedented reliability of drive systems at the meatworks. Other designs would last around one year, compared to the current six years with MOVIGEAR.
“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 says.
Hardwick’s is a family-owned business that has been processing meat for more than 40 years. It offers restaurant-quality products to the local market in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. Its main export markets are in the Middle East and Asia Pacific. Product of the same quality is also available to the public through its retail store in Kyneton.
Employing more than 400 people, the 800 square metre plant runs two shifts per day, with shift length depending on the volume of work. Over the two shifts, the plant processes approximately 200 cattle and up to 8000 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
SEW-Eurodrive’s national industry specialist – Food & Beverage, John Gattellari, says the MOVIGEAR installed at Hardwick’s is specifically designed for wet areas. Its design features enable resistance to wear and tear from high levels of mechanical and chemical cleaning, and high-pressure washdowns with water.
These 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 totally 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 occur.
Vanschie says 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 excellent, as has the overall customer support he has received from SEW-Eurodrive.
As well as the long working life of the MOVIGEAR, Vanschie says Hardwick’s recorded a significant reduction in energy consumption. “Our power usage has halved, so that’s a huge saving,” he says.
Gattellari confirms that these results typify the feedback he receives from manufacturers who deploy the MOVIGEAR mechatronic drives. He says 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 says, “and the optimisation facilitates high energy efficiency of the system. The figure of up to 50 per cent energy reduction achieved by MOVIGEAR drives has been verified by independent university research in Germany.”
Vanschie says 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 says.
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 perfect fit.