Graphalloy® Bearings Running Reliably for a Major Food Manufacturer
Authors: Mike Cook, Maintenance Planner/Scheduler, Frito-Lay; and John Warhoover, Territory Sales Manager, Graphite Metallizing Corporation
For over 23 years, I’ve been working in the Frito Lay plant based in Jonesboro, Arkansas. I spent the first three years as a mechanic, then became a Maintenance Planner/Scheduler. I’m responsible for supporting the maintenance team and making sure the equipment runs so we can continue to produce a quality product. With over 281 million Americans consuming potato chips, which has definitely been a comfort food during the era of COVID-19, we have not stopped our manufacturing processes, but work to continue maintaining our equipment while we keep our people safe.
On a walk-through of our plant back in the spring of 2019, we invited John Warhoover, Sales Manager with Graphite Metallizing Corporation, to join us after we had made our own initial startling discovery! Prior to this walk-through, we checked the bearings on the paddle wheels of the potato chip fryer and realized they had been running strong for 6 years!
Back in 2014, we had installed a new potato chip fryer at our plant as part of a restoring initiative. Graphalloy bearings had been installed on the paddle wheel drive shaft. These paddle wheels operate like the ones you see on a steamboat, only instead of moving water for forward propulsion, the wheels rotate at a specific speed to keep the potato chips in the oil for an exact amount of time. We aim to get the perfect kind of ‘crispy’; you cannot leave the chips in the oil for too long, or else they will get soggy. Running 6,000 pounds of potatoes through the fryer system per hour means that those bearings on the paddle wheel drive system work non-stop!
There are two drive systems on that fryer, and the second paddle wheel was the one that has the Graphalloy bearings, so when we realized those bearings had been operating for 6 years without any wear and tear, we thought to ourselves ‘what other pieces of equipment should we install these bearings on?” This is why we invited John Warhoover to tour the plant with us and talk about other areas where we could utilize these bearings. There were three key reasons why the Graphalloy bearing was proving beneficial for us:
- Graphalloy bearings do not require grease. In the food industry, care must be taken with machinery lubrication. Even though the industry uses food-safe grease products, you just don’t want any kind of grease messing with the quality of your product.
- No maintenance. These bearings were installed and ran for six years without failure nor any issues whatsoever. Many continuous-duty process industry applications experience bearing failure after about six months to a year, but in our case, these ran reliably without our maintenance team having to give any attention to them. Which brings me to my next point…
- Longevity. In an industry that typically ‘runs to failure’, it feels much better as a maintenance manager to know we’re installing something that is going to run for a very long time. It means we can trust the machinery to operate and gives us time to focus our attention on other important projects.
In October last year, during our planned shutdown, we installed more Graphalloy bearings for the other paddle wheel drive system on the potato chip fryer. We realized we needed to modify the base a little bit so it would properly fit in there, and the engineers at Graphite Metallizing Corporation worked with us to manufacture and provide to us a stainless steel pillow block.
“Even though we had to modify the bearing housing a bit to make it work, it’s been a great investment,” declares Alan Cochran, Lead Mechanic and soon-to-be Maintenance Manager who will take over my position after I retire next year. “We installed the new bearings in October and here it is, August of 2020, and there are still no signs of wear.” When you have to spend money on maintenance during a planned shutdown, it’s good to know you’re putting in components that work reliably.
The Graphalloy bearings worked so well on the potato chip fryer that we ordered bearings and a stainless steel flange block for the corn washer. “It was sort of funny because they squeaked when they were first put on and the operators were concerned about the sound,” shares Alan. “We had to explain to them that Graphalloy is a self-lubricating, non-galling bearing material that is engineered to ‘run dry’. Running on the stainless steel shaft – it’s dry – so the squeaking sound was there initially, but would go away as it continued to run.”
Prior to using Graphalloy on the corn washers, we had experienced constant issues with bearing failure. The previous bearings we had been using did not react well to the caustic material that is used during our sanitization processes. Every 13 days, the sanitization process utilizes a caustic spray to clean the machinery, and with the corn washer, we did not want to risk rust contaminating the final product. Quality is our standard. Our plant processes between 18,000 – 26,000 pounds of corn per 8-hour run in the corn washer, and we wanted to use a material that could stand up to these wash-down chemicals.
There are some plants that run to failure, and there are others that take a proactive approach to making sure the components in their systems make sense. We evaluate our systems constantly and are always looking at ways to improve production. It’s always been a habit of mine to try a new product or technology, see how it works, and if it proves to be reliable, then that product gets entered into our inventory system to be re-ordered. Seeing how the Graphalloy bearings have worked well with us since October of 2019, with zero signs of wear, I can happily report that these items are officially being entered into our system. With another planned shutdown and maintenance event coming up this fall, we’ll have another order for the knowledgeable and supportive folks at Graphite Metallizing Corporation. I am glad to work with them!
Read more about self-lubricating bearings from Graphite Metallizing Corporation.