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Successful project with SKF may reduce both sickness and food waste

Bacteria that accumulate and spread to food and drink can lead to large quantities of recalled products for the food industry. Analyses carried out by RISE on behalf of SKF however, demonstrate that it is possible to make food handling safer, as well as kinder to the environment.

Prior to launching a new type of ball bearing aimed at the food industry, SKF was keen to discover more about the build-up of bacteria in bearing units on food production lines. RISE responded to the task by constructing a mini production line in our own workshop, in order to test and compare the old and new types of bearing units in a production situation.

Birgitta Bergström, the responsible project manager at RISE, describes this as unusual but rewarding work in which several sections within Rise were involved.

“We were able to offer a holistic solution, from compiling facts from the literature to conducting tests in the field, in the lab and in on our pilot production line. Being able to bring in equipment and carry out realistic, half-scale testing presented us with a splendid opportunity,” she says.

Breeding ground for bacteria

As part of the project, aging ball bearings with years of industrial use behind them were collected. RISE’s analyses confirmed that there could be as many as one million bacteria per gram of grease in the bearing unit. Listeria was among the bacteria discovered, something that presents a serious health hazard. According to SKF, the explanation lies in the construction of the bearing unit and the fact that it requires continuous lubrication. This leads to an excess of grease that, together with food waste and water, runs the risk of becoming a breeding ground for bacteria.

New ball bearing have a number of advantages

RISE was able to confirm that the new type of ball bearing did have a number of advantages. The smoother, more enclosed design meant that dirt and food waste did not penetrate to the same degree and was easier to clean. The fact that the new bearings require no lubrication also meant that there was no excess grease. According to Eva Otel, SKF’s project manager, taken together this will lead to reduced water consumption, improved food safety and less overall environmental impact.

“Naturally, this has major implications for the food and beverages industry. Food safety is an vital aspect, but it also reduces food waste, while water saving is one of the food sector’s leading KPIs, she adds.

In the opinion of Birgitta Bergström at RISE, the collaboration with SKF delivered excellent results.

“Making products safer and more sustainable is of course something we are very keen to participate in. Every small change for the better is a step forward,” she concludes.