June 18, 2020 | Case Studies

PTFE Conveyor Components Keep the Food Supply Chain Flowing

In manufacturing, unplanned downtime is the killer of profitability and disruptor of critical supply chains—especially in the food manufacturing sector. Conveyors keep product moving through the production process in huge quantities within large facilities. When a conveyor goes down, everything comes to a grinding halt.

The Application

The customer is one of the world’s largest processors of chicken, beef, and pork and the largest exporter of beef in the United States. One of the customer’s plants in Arkansas is a key manufacturer of some of America’s most popular chicken products, including fast food chicken nuggets. They reached out to the Cope Plastics team for help with a challenge they were experiencing with their conveyors.

Within the customer’s plant, the conveyor system moves chicken nuggets through massive industrial fryers to complete the cooking process before sending them on their way to cooling and packaging. The nuggets ride on top of conveyor components known as frying strips, and each of the three conveyor systems at the customer’s facility have 180 individual strips. 

The Challenge

The customer’s team approached Cope seeking an alternative solution to the stainless steel fryer strips they were using. The stainless steel parts needed constant replacement due to corrosion and jams during production. Every time a metal part failed, the customer had to stop the entire production line to have the maintenance team replace it. Unplanned downtime was threatening the plant’s ability to meet its quotas, and the constant replacement of parts was costing the company additional money. 

The Solution

Our team gathered information about the requirements of the application to guide the customer in choosing the right material for replacement fryer strips. Considering the high heat environment and the need to have both FDA and NSF approval, we selected PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene). PTFE can withstand temperatures in excess of 550°F and is impervious to chemicals and corrosion. 

Once PTFE was identified as the ideal material for the customer’s application, our engineering teams collaborated on the design of the new parts. PTFE (like many other thermoplastics) can withstand high temperatures, but unlike stainless steel, some expansion does occur during service when using it. Cope’s engineering team made adjustments to the part design to allow for this expansion while the parts were in use to avoid jams or part breakage. 

Cope created a prototype so that the customer could run testing. To verify that the design was viable, the customer ran the new fryer strips on the conveyor without product present during a planned maintenance cycle. After a successful test, they decided to implement the solution on all three of their conveyors at the Arkansas facility. 

The Result

The corrosion resistance and smooth operation of the PTFE conveyor components reduced unplanned downtime on the customer’s line. Rather than replacing a broken part here and there (like they had been doing with the stainless steel parts), they could replace the entire assembly during planned maintenance periods. This not only kept production flowing, it also simplified the maintenance process. 

In addition to the efficiencies gained as a result of the plastic parts, in this case the PTFE fryer strips cost the company less money than the previous stainless steel components. The new solution was so successful that the customer implemented the PTFE strips at all of its frying locations across the entire Southeast. 

To mitigate risk for the customer, Cope keeps enough fryer strips for two full conveyors on hand in inventory. Our team monitors the customer’s usage regularly to check for any adjustments that need to be made in our inventory or fabrication production. 

Conclusion

Uptime is critical to success in manufacturing. The PTFE strips allowed the customer to take charge of their downtime in order to run efficient operations and keep their commitments to customers. Plastic components can help accomplish this for all types of manufacturers who use material handling equipment. So, are your conveyors running smoothly or just getting in the way?

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