Food processing

Food plants operate best when everything is moving smoothly. But there’s one small piece of equipment that processors may not even notice that they count on every day to carry an impressive burden while navigating challenging plant environments: casters. They’re everywhere in food processing, but you’ll be forgiven if you haven’t given them much thought before. Most people typically don’t notice casters at all. That is, until something goes wrong.

We spoke with Darrell Metzger of Colson Group to learn why companies should be more selective about the casters and wheels supporting their equipment. Metzger has been with the company for over 20 years in various engineering and sales roles. Today, he’s the Director of Customer Service.

Colson Group, with roots dating back to 1878, is the world’s largest manufacturer of casters and wheels, specializing in mobility solutions on a global level. The company has manufacturing plants across the country and the world, where they produce several major caster brands, including Colson, Jarvis, Albion, Bassick, Shepherd, Faultless, Pemco, and MedCaster.

The problem with generic casters

In the food processing world, casters can be found underneath carts, conveyor belts, and just about any piece of equipment that requires mobility. Often, they’re expected to withstand harsh sanitation practices while moving along various surfaces.

The problem is that people often pick out casters from catalogs with little thought about the products’ durability or suitability for the environment. “There’s a common misconception that a caster is a simple product without many options,” Metzger says. “So food processors typically go with standard zinc-plated steel casters, which are fine for casual use but certainly not built to survive sanitation processes.”

While sanitary requirements are important (Colson abides by the National Sanitation Foundation Standards), what’s most critical is the amount of abuse that casters in a food manufacturing plant have to take. Frequent, intensive chemical cleanings take a toll and can cause inadequate casters to deteriorate and harbor food particles. “You’re cleaning up high and working your way down,” Metzger says, “which means everything is going to the floor. So the casters are getting bombarded with all of the elements.” Eventually, the wheels will lock up from buildup or rust.

What clues most people in to the fact that they’re using inferior casters is the frequency with which they need to be replaced. Metzger shares an example of a company that used the incorrect casters for a tumbler: “They were replacing the wheels every week or even a couple times a week. At that point, it became an epidemic issue with them because of the downtime and labor that went along with the replacements.”

So, how often should you be changing your casters? Certainly not weekly! “For plant applications, if you’re changing the casters more than once a year, you’re probably using the wrong casters,” Metzger says.

Another problem with inadequate casters is that they become difficult to move, leading to ergonomic and safety issues. For example, back injuries can be caused by the strain of trying to move heavy equipment with faulty wheels. “A lot of times, it’s because the bearings have rusted,” Metzger explains. “The casters weren’t made from stainless steel or they weren’t designed ergonomically. And once someone gets hurt, it’s too late.”

Choosing the right casters for your application

Despite popular belief, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all caster.

Stainless steel casters are the ideal choice for high moisture environments. There are also casters designed to move large capacities with ease, thus minimizing the risk of employee injury. And for extremely harsh conditions where there’s no avoiding frequent replacements, there are solutions that can make those changeovers faster. “So it’s not only about getting the right caster,” Metzger says. “It’s about helping clients improve their efficiency. Many processors don’t realize how much they’re spending to replace casters. They could be spending that money on preventative maintenance or new developments instead.”

Rather than picking something out of a catalog, Metzger suggests having an expert make a recommendation based on the application, a service that Colson provides.

“We schedule audits so we can go through the entire facility and take pictures of the caster in its environment, if possible,” Metzger says. The company then uses that information to determine what materials and caster types will be most appropriate for each job. For example, if it’s a meat processing plant, Colson may suggest a urethane wheel with Delrin bearings in a stainless steel rig.

This year marks the first time Colson will be exhibiting at PROCESS EXPO. They researched more than 30 industry trade shows and chose PROCESS EXPO because of the profile of who attends. “We’ll get to talk to maintenance managers, engineers, designers, executives — exactly the audience we’re trying to reach,” Metzger says.

If you find yourself in a constant cycle of replacing your casters, be sure to stop by Booth #4159 to learn more about Colson’s mobility solutions and benefit from their expertise. For a sneak preview now, check out Caster CAD 3D, an app that provides an interactive 3D product catalog for all of Colson’s brands. There, you can configure part numbers as well as download native CAD models and data sheets for the different casters and wheels available. This same information is also available on any of the company’s brand websites, which can be found here: