Connecting With Safety And Savings In The Pickle Industry

EP Editorial Staff | December 2, 2008

This Wisconsin-based pickle processor has seen significant payback from its new approach to connecting and disconnecting pumps, conveyors and other equipment.

Van Holten’s Pickles certainly knows its stuff. Founded in 1898, the company has been producing individually wrapped Pickle-in-a-Pouch products since 1939. Originally based in Milwaukee, Van Holten’s moved to a larger plant in Waterloo, WI in 1956. That’s where it recently opened a new 53,000 square foot facility—and where it now produces approximately 18 million individually pouched pickles annually.

These days, Van Holten’s is finding that connecting and disconnecting pumps, conveyors and other equipment in its operations has become much easier and safer than in the past, simply by using combination plug/receptacle and disconnect switches. The company has turned to Meltric Decontactor™ Series switch-rated plugs and receptacles that allow workers to safely make and break electrical equipment connections, even under full load. And, because they are UL switch and horsepower rated, the Decontactors meet NEC requirements for a motor “line of sight” disconnect. These devices also cost less than conventional connectors over the longterm.

Yesterday and today
Previously, Van Holten’s connected its many pumps and conveyors with twist type or pin-and-sleeve connectors partnered with separate disconnect switches. The combination of salt, moisture, acid and heat used in the pickling process caused the switches and plugs to fail regularly. Safety also was an issue because of the potential for a worker to insert or remove a plug without first verifying deenergization at the local disconnect switch.



Decontactor plugs feature an OFF switch/pawl that can be used as an emergency disconnect switch for conveyors.

Project Engineer Arland Wingate points out that the company does not hard wire most pumps and conveyors because being able to quickly disconnect and reconnect equipment for repair or replacement helps to minimize downtime. Electrical safety during equipment change-outs used to be a concern but is less so now because the Decontactors’ safety shutter and internal arc chambers prevent exposure to live parts and arc flash. The new plant provided an opportunity to upgrade and standardize on the Decontactor plugs and receptacles. Wingate explains: “When I first saw them, I thought they would work well for us, but we weren’t ready to change everything over. The new plant gave us an opportunity to include the conversion in the budget, so we made it our standard.”

According to Wingate, the heat and harsh atmosphere ruined the previous plugs because the brass contacts often corroded together.

He points out that the long-term operating cost was a big factor in selecting the Decontactors, which feature more corrosion resistant solid silver-nickel contacts. “Our company has been in business for 100 years, and I try to look at the long term when I buy things for the plant. We had been buying a lot of the previous plugs for replacements. When we designed the new facility, we looked at ways to keep the cost down without sacrificing safety or our other needs,” he says.

In addition to the long-term cost savings in replacement plugs, Wingate liked the Decontactors’ integrated disconnect switch, which meant there was no need for a separate plug and disconnect box. “It not only costs less,” he notes, “it eliminates one more thing to go wrong in our environment. Before, it was too easy for someone to disconnect something and forget to lock it out properly.” That’s not a problem with the Decontactor plugs. They can be locked out just by inserting a lock through a hole in the plug shroud.

Going forward
While moisture and other harsh conditions are prevalent in many areas, some of the NEMA 4X rated Decontactors are located in areas where they regularly are subject to being splashed with brine. According to Wingate, there have been no problems during the year they have been installed. “We’ve not had any scoring of the contacts because of the quick break, and we don’t have to worry about arcing or corrosion buildup.”

Most of the applications at Van Holten’s are on 440-volt power, with some on 230-volt equipment. In addition to the production equipment, the company also uses some Decontactors on maintenance equipment such as welders and saws. Several have even been installed along one exterior wall, where they are used to provide power to a large cucumber-loading machine when it needs to be moved along the back of the building.

Wingate reports that the company is planning to triple the size of its tank yard soon and will convert it to the Decontactors as part of the project. “We will use them on pumps and conveyors, and also on the low-pressure blowers we use to help move product along,” he adds. MT




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