Robust mixers won’t last if they aren’t properly maintained. Failing to provide proper preventative maintenance can significantly reduce a mixer’s lifespan, which is expensive for a piece of equipment that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. OEMs outline these maintenance tasks and schedules in their manuals.

“Maintain a preventative maintenance program by reviewing the maintenance recommendation that we have set forth for our mixers and depositors,” said Bob Peck, vice president of engineering, E.T. Oakes. “We outline in our maintenance manual the critical items that need attention at the correct intervals to maintain our machines.”

The No. 1 maintenance task bakers should be doing is lubrication.

“Nine times out of 10, the mixer issues we see are lack of lubrication,” Mr. Morabito said. “It’s a combination of over-washing and either not lubricating at all or not lubricating enough. If your mixer is making noise, it’s probably because it hasn’t been greased in months.”

While sanitation is critical and mixers can withstand power washing, Damian Morabito, president, Topos Mondial Corp., pointed out that if bakers aren’t lubricating bearings immediately after to remove any water that snuck inside, they are missing a step.

“If you force water into a bearing with a power washer, it will displace the grease and create rust in the bearing,” he said. “You have to grease that bearing after washing to remove any water and lubricate the component. If you don’t, this valuable asset will come to a screeching halt.”

To prevent water from getting into the bearing in the first place, Topos Mondial double seals its bearings, but that doesn’t let bakers off the hook from lubricating them … and with real bearing grease. Some food manufacturers will grease bearings with food-grade grease as a precaution against the grease getting inside the bowl. Food-grade grease doesn’t have the lubricating properties bearings need.

“We’ve designed our bearings so that any grease is not going to get into the product zone,” Mr. Morabito said. “Using food-grade grease will cause your mixers to run too hot and shorten the life of the machine by half.”

Hydraulic fluid also needs to be changed every year, and components should be checked often for wear. This prevents unscheduled downtime. A preventative maintenance schedule, as outlined in the manual, should guide a maintenance team.

“The PM schedule includes the number of hours before the oil needs to be changed in the gear motors,” Mr. Peck said. “A maintenance schedule will recommend replacing the parts that usually break down first. Having a PM schedule and sticking to it will lengthen the life of the equipment.”

And it doesn’t hurt to have the OEM inspect the equipment once a year, in addition to the scheduled maintenance.

“They can check the operation of the equipment, change wear parts and perform preventive maintenance operations to avoid breakdown,” said Claire Auffrédou, marketing and digital development, VMI.

A good maintenance program relies on a skilled workforce addressing challenges as they arise. In today’s labor market, that skilled workforce can be difficult to come by, but automation is helping bakers streamline maintenance so tasks aren’t missed. This can often look like alerts on an HMI that tell operators it’s time for lubrication or oil changes. Or it can go beyond that and anticipate problems.

“The RBS control system monitors and trends the kw draw from the mixer motor in real time and charts that on an operator display screen,” explained Matt Risser, Exact Mixing product line manager, Reading Bakery Systems (RBS). “This can be reviewed at any time for anomalies in the trend, which can then be addressed before there is a failure.”

Andrew McGhie, director of sales, Shaffer, a Bundy Baking solution, said that different sensors — ultrasonic, vibration and temperature — placed on key components can provide an early warning of mechanical issues that can be headed off.

“These sensors can be linked to the supervisory control program to automatically alert maintenance of any events requiring attention,” he said.

Bühler has also introduced software on its mixers to track key mixing parameters that can signal a possible failure.

And VMI’s IoT solutions collect this data and provide real-time information that can complement the manual checks being carried out by a maintenance technician.

At the end of the day, the person working with the machine daily, however, will most likely be the first to know when something goes wrong.

“A machine will talk to you before it dies,” Mr. Morabito said. “Be cognizant and trained to check on unfamiliar noises and fix them before it fails or causes downtime. When the mixer operator says the machine is talking to him or her, it’s important that they’re not ignored.”

This article is an excerpt from the October 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Mixers, click here.