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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Hixson

From Motor to Table: Electric Motor Challenges for Food Processors.


technicians in food processing facility checking equipment

The food processing industry is a key sector responsible for providing consumers with safe and nutritious food. However, it faces unique challenges in terms of efficiency, food safety, and compliance, particularly when it comes to electric motor repairs.


Ensuring Food Safety and Compliance

Food processors must adhere to strict hygiene standards and various regulations, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), to prevent cross-contamination and ensure food safety.


Electric motors used in food processing environments must undergo rigorous cleaning and disinfection processes to avoid the build-up of food particles, dust, and contaminants. A study published in the European Journal of Food Science and Technology found that 34% of foodborne disease outbreaks can be traced back to equipment and environmental factors, underscoring the importance of maintaining hygienic conditions in food processing facilities.


According to NEMA MG 1 standard, electric motors used in food processing environments must have certain design features such as stainless steel housing, smooth surfaces, and a high degree of protection (IP) (e.g. IP66, IP67, or IP69K) to ensure water and dust protection. In addition, USDA and FDA guidelines mandate the use of food-grade lubricants for electric motors that come into direct contact with food.


Ensuring Equipment Reliability and Minimizing Downtime

Equipment reliability is critical for food manufacturers, as unexpected failures can result in production delays, increased maintenance costs, and potential safety hazards. Electric motors are essential to maintain operational efficiency and minimize downtime. A study published in the International Journal of Production Research estimates that equipment failures can cost food processors up to 5% of their annual output in lost manufacturing and repair costs.

electric motor covered in dust and debris

Making the job of keeping electric motors running more difficult is the reality that facilities often subject electric motors to harsh environments, where they must endure extreme temperatures, high humidity, aggressive cleaning agents, and exposure to corrosive substances. These challenging conditions can significantly impact the performance, reliability, and lifespan of electric motors, making it essential for food processors to address these environmental factors.

  • Extreme Temperatures: Food processing facilities may involve operations that expose electric motors to extreme temperatures, such as in cold storage units or high-temperature baking or cooking processes. Motors used in these applications should be designed for a wide temperature range, typically between -40°C to +60°C, to ensure reliable performance and prevent thermal-related issues, such as overheating or condensation.

  • High Humidity and Moisture: Many food processing applications such as scrubbing or steam cleaning involve water or moisture which can cause corrosion, rust, or electrical shorts in electric motors. By choosing motors with a high degree of protection (IP) such as IP66, IP67 or IP69K and corrosion-resistant materials such as stainless steel or special coatings, the effects of moisture can be minimized and ensure reliable operation.

  • Aggressive Cleaning Agents: Food processing facilities require stringent cleaning and sanitization protocols, often involving aggressive cleaning agents and high-pressure washdowns. Electric motors should be designed to withstand these cleaning processes without compromising performance, integrity, or safety. Features such as hermetically sealed enclosures, non-absorbent gaskets, and corrosion-resistant materials are crucial for withstanding harsh cleaning agents.

  • Exposure to Corrosive Substances: Some food processing operations expose electric motors to corrosive substances like salts, acids, or alkaline solutions. Motors used in such environments should be constructed from materials that are resistant to these substances or treated with specialized coatings to prevent corrosion, pitting, and wear.


Energy Efficiency and Sustainability

Technicians reading results of equipment conditions testing on laptop

Electric motors account for approximately 45% of global electricity consumption, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). For food processors, optimizing energy efficiency not only reduces operating costs but also contributes to sustainability goals. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) states that energy-efficient electric motors can save up to 8% of energy consumption compared to standard motors. A few things facilities can do to improve in this facet include

  • Optimizing Energy Consumption: Assessing and optimizing energy consumption in food processing plants can lead to significant cost savings and contribute to sustainability goals. This process involves monitoring and analyzing energy usage patterns, identifying inefficiencies, and implementing measures to improve overall energy performance. These measures may include replacing outdated or inefficient equipment, modifying operating schedules, and adjusting process parameters to optimize energy usage.

  • Selecting Energy-Efficient Motors: The choice of electric motors can significantly impact a facility's energy consumption. Upgrading to energy-efficient motors, such as those meeting NEMA Premium or IE3/IE4 efficiency standards, can lead to substantial energy savings. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), energy-efficient electric motors can save up to 8% of energy consumption compared to standard motors. When selecting motors for food processing applications, consider factors such as load requirements, operating conditions, and expected motor lifespan to ensure optimal energy efficiency and performance.

  • Implementing Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs): Incorporating variable frequency drives (VFDs) in electric motor systems can offer additional energy savings and improved process control. VFDs allow for precise control of motor speed and torque, enabling food processors to match motor performance to the requirements of specific processes. This can result in reduced energy consumption, decreased wear and tear on equipment, and increased overall system efficiency.

Challenges with Replacing Electric Motors in Food Processing Facilities

One critical issue that food processors face is the difficulty in replacing electric motors due to their unique specifications, customizations, or obsolescence. This challenge can lead to increased downtime, reduced operational efficiency, and potential food safety risks. In this section, we will explore the factors contributing to this problem and provide insights on how to address them.

  • Customized or Specialized Motors: Some food processing applications require motors with unique specifications or customizations to meet specific performance, environmental, or regulatory requirements. These motors can be challenging to replace, as they may not be readily available in the market or require long lead times for procurement. In such cases, food processors should work closely with their motor manufacturers or specialized service providers to plan for potential replacements, ensuring they have access to suitable substitutes or spare parts when needed.

  • Obsolete or Discontinued Models: Electric motor technology is continually evolving, and older models can become obsolete or discontinued as newer, more efficient options are developed. This can pose a problem for food processors when it's time to replace motors in their facilities, as sourcing an exact replacement may be difficult or impossible. To address this issue, food processors can consider retrofitting or upgrading their systems with modern, energy-efficient motors that meet current industry standards and requirements. This may involve modifying existing equipment, reconfiguring processes, or working with specialized service providers to identify suitable alternative solutions.

  • Compatibility and Integration Challenges: When replacing electric motors, food processors must ensure that the new motors are compatible with existing equipment and control systems. Compatibility issues can arise due to differences in motor specifications, mounting configurations, or communication protocols. To mitigate these challenges, food processors should consult with motor manufacturers or specialized service providers to identify suitable replacement options that ensure seamless integration with their existing infrastructure.


How Can Facilities Tackle These Issues?

two technicians discussing plant maintenance on catwalk

The biggest factor that can aid food processors in curbing downtime from electric motor failures is to implement a proactive and comprehensive maintenance program for electric motors and pumps in cooperation with a specialized service provider. Regular inspections, condition monitoring, and preventative maintenance, such as vibration analysis and thermography, can significantly increase the reliability of the systems and reduce downtime.


To illustrate the value in that implementation, a study by the ARC Advisory Group found that companies can save up to 12% on planned repairs, reduce maintenance costs by up to 30% and avoid breakdowns by up to 75% through preventive maintenance strategies. Despite the potential benefits, only about a third of facilities are able to monitor the status of their critical assets in real-time, and nearly half maintain maintenance until failure.


To make the largest and most time-efficient strides towards tackling these issues, food processors are frequently turning to companies like Ace Electric Motor and Pump Co. Accessing a team of electric motor service experts available when equipment needs to be simply serviced or in emergency situations where breakdowns can mean millions in lost production. If you're looking to make the next step towards tackling your facilities electric motor breakdowns schedule a free facility audit with the Ace Team Today.




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