Thermoplastic producer Vesconite Bearings is expanding its polymer offering to the US beet sugar market, building on its experiences and success in the local and US sugar cane industries.
Vesconite Bearings began supplying its locally produced polymers to the South African sugar industry in 2009 and to the US cane sugar industry in 2015. The beet sugar industry is a new market for the company, Vesconite Bearings technical sales representative Eddie Swanepoel notes.
The US is an ideal market for expansion, as it is “approachable” for business and there is no language barrier when conducting marketing and business. In the US, there are 22 beet sugar mills and 16 sugar cane mills. Vesconite is supplying its products to four of the beet sugar mills and endeavours to expand this as much as possible.
Vesconite Bearings’ polymers are used across the spectrum in sugar mills – directly, through supply for particular sugar applications, and, indirectly, through supplying to original-equipment manufacturers for use in their products, such as pumps, which are then used at the mills.
Swanepoel notes that sugar manufacturing is an abrasive industry, with many materials unable to withstand this, and for which Vesconite Bearings caters specifically: “Vesconite Bearings aims to be a market leader in sugar applications where other materials do not last.”
For the US market, the company is offering Vesconite Hilube and Vesconite HiTemp 150 polymer hanger bearings for sugar processing, and its Vesconite Hilube for sugar refining. The latter is ideal for sugar refining, as it is a white material and, therefore, does not discolour the sugar’s appearance during refining. Most of Vesconite Bearings’ polymers are food-grade approved for equipment manufacturing for contact with foodstuffs.
The HiTemp 150 polymer bearing material was developed for applications that are wearing on traditional materials such as bronze. Swanepoel indicates that bronze bearings used in local sugar mill applications usually last between six months to a year, whereas the HiTemp 150 material lasts for more than two years because of its strong abrasive-resistant qualities.
Moreover, the offering requires less maintenance. Bronze bearing use requires the relevant application to be opened and the bearings checked every three months, and replaced or turned around if worn out. Thus far, in its two-year life cycle, the HiTemp 150 bearings have not required any replacing, which saves substantial costs on downtime and maintenance, as the time-intensive process of opening up an application is avoided. Swanepoel says this has been evidenced at the Felixton sugar mill in Richards Bay, South Africa, where eleven HiTemp 150 hanger bearings, installed last year, are still in use.
The abrasive-resistant Vesconite Hilube is suited to dry startup applications, where a low coefficient of friction is required.
Vesconite Bearings is slowly building its US beet sugar base by visiting clients and generating new projects. Swanepoel tells Engineering News that, following his visit to six sugar mills in the US, five expressed interest in its polymers and four enquired about samples to begin testwork of the polymers at their sugar mills.
Some of the interested US sugar mills are agricultural cooperative American Crystal Sugar’s Moorhead mill, which will test Vesconite Hilube on its refinery operations and hanger bearings for its white sugar; and American Crystal Sugar’s Crookston factory, which will test HiTemp 150 polymer hanger bearings.
Sugar farmers cooperative Minn-Dak Famers Cooperative will test HiTemp 150 hanger bearings in its sugar mill. The cooperative is using bronze in its application, which it says lasts less than four months, compared with the two-year life cycle of the HiTemp 150 polymer bearings.
Further, a meeting with the engineers of American Crystal Sugar’s Hillsboro sugar mill generated positive feedback. Vesconite Bearings is proffering its HiTemp 150 as the ideal solution for hanger bearings applications. The engineers will analyse the polymer material and compare it with their bronze setup before deciding whether to proceed with testing samples.
In terms of testwork undertaken by mills, Swanepoel explains that Vesconite Bearings supplies free samples of the appropriate polymer product to interested parties, who test its quality and longevity in-house, thereby exposing it to real conditions and generating accurate results.
Swanepoel emphasises the importance of specifying the relevant polymer product for the correct application to ensure success and customer confidence.
Vesconite Bearings plans to build on its knowledge and success of its US projects by continuing to visit clients every few months once testwork has started to create more opportunities, and will then pursue other big global sugar markets.