The force that powers food processing equipment — everything from pumps and conveyors to slicers and mixers — is housed within industrial gearboxes. Though these parts are small enough to be picked up by hand, they’re still not pieces you want to replace regularly, especially when a breakdown means stalling production and losing profits. We spoke with Amy McCord at STOBER Drives, Inc. to learn how high-quality, dependable gearboxes can help plants avoid downtime and profit loss.

Established in 1934, STOBER manufactures gearboxes and motors for industrial applications such as food and beverage processing, packaging, printing, automotive, and aerospace. Headquartered in Pforzheim, Germany, the company formed its U.S. base in Maysville, KY, almost 30 years ago. McCord is STOBER’s Marketing Coordinator and has been with the company for nine years.

“We make products that work with NEMA motors and servo motors,” she explains. “We also manufacture servo motors and servo geared motors. All of these products can be used in a wide variety of industries. STOBER works with meat and poultry processors, dairies, bakeries, and snack food manufacturers as well as fruit and vegetable processors.

Sanitation prompts a shift to stainless steel

Food industry applications need gearboxes that can take a beating, especially during sanitation processes. Gearboxes with stainless steel hardware, plastic covers, and several layers of protective and antimicrobial coatings used to be the standard. But McCord says that today processors are starting to request equipment that’s more reliable with fewer areas that could cause a food safety problem, like paint.

“Food manufacturers want products they can count on, products that won’t fail prematurely, rust over time, or risk contamination,” McCord says. “They want something that's almost bulletproof.” That “something” is a gearbox that’s made entirely of stainless steel.

STOBER offers a right angle stainless steel product, the KSS, which is backed by an IP69K certification, the maximum rating for high-pressure washdowns. “They can take caustic chemicals,” McCord adds. “So you can find your harshest environment and put a STOBER unit in it, and we're up for the challenge of handling that application.”

Reducing downtime and eliminating maintenance

One of the industry’s main concerns is finding ways to reduce downtime and boost production. That’s impossible if you have to continually replace your gearboxes, which McCord says is a fairly common situation. Some processors STOBER has spoken with have been replacing their gearboxes as often as every few weeks.

“Reliability and durability is something we focus on,” McCord says. “That way our customers can keep running for longer periods of time and optimize their production efficiency.” STOBER estimates an average runtime of nine years, even under the most difficult environments.

They’re able to achieve this by prioritizing quality in every aspect of their products. STOBER adheres to strict tolerances on its bearings and sealed surfaces, and uses Exxon Mobil lubricants for longevity.

These units can also run with no oil changes required, McCord explains. “You're not going to need a drip pan either — our products aren't going to leak.” In other words, processors don’t need to stock lubrication products and drip pans or worry about disposing of used oils. The gearboxes are perfectly sealed and oiled for the life of the product. “Basically, it's a no maintenance product.”

Slimming down storage with smart stocking

“Something else that customers really are striving for, besides getting rid of downtime, is how to optimize their storerooms,” McCord says.

A large, crowded storeroom is essentially a costly insurance policy against equipment failing. To save on these costs, more plants are looking to downsize their inventory. “Everyone wants to stock only what's absolutely necessary and run a little bit leaner,” McCord says. “Not tie up a lot of their budget on something they may or may not use.”

They can do this by choosing products that don’t have to be replaced as often, as well as by standardizing products. For example, many plants are using separate gear reducers for specific mounting positions when they could be taking advantage of a product that mounts multiple ways. In some cases, this can reduce the stocked part numbers by more than half.

“It depends on each individual company and what they're running,” McCord says. “But we're able to consolidate a lot of those part numbers. They don't have to stock as much because they can use the same product in several locations.”

Preparing for the future with energy efficiency and digital tools

Reducing energy consumption is also top-of-mind for many processors today, and McCord believes this will become an even bigger priority in the future. To get ahead of the curve, STOBER already designs its products with energy efficiency in mind — they estimate a $0.97 output for every dollar’s worth of energy going into one of their gear reducers.

The company is rolling out more digital services for its customers, too. The interactive STOBER Configurator allows customers to forgo the product catalog and configure exactly what they need.

“The configurator lets them select their unit, configure everything online, get a drawing, request a quote, and download technical data sheets,” McCord describes. “They're able to input the specifications they’re looking for and get matching solutions.” She adds that tools like this are becoming increasingly important as customers seek straightforward online ordering options.

STOBER will be making its third appearance at PROCESS EXPO as an exhibitor this year. “We think it's a great show in terms of the target audience,” McCord says. Specifically, they like that the show brings in a wide variety of attendees, including maintenance and engineering professionals.

You can learn more about STOBER at Booth #2703 at PROCESS EXPO. They’ll have product demos on display and be there to answer any questions you might have.