The Effects of COVID 19 on Service and Third Party Maintenance in the Pellet Industries

The COVID 19 pandemic is putting stress on many industries. Wood pellets and animal feed are not affected by business lockdowns, due to classification as “essential critical infrastructure’. However, the crisis is exacting its toll. Distancing regulations, sanitary regulations and entrance restrictions complicate the daily business.

Wood pellet producers contribute essentially to the global energy demand with climate neutral renewable fuels that ensure base load heating and power. Therefore, wood pellet producers are identified as “essential critical infrastructure workforce”. Usually, wood pellet plants require a substantial plot area for scales, storages, production, administration and workshops. A typical 100k tpa wood pellet plant has an operating labor requirement of 10 to 14 day shifts and 4 to 6 night shifts. Thus, distancing regulations under normal operating conditions are easily met. A German wood pellet producer did not postpone the annual revision. The plant published the standards regarding health protection by the government. Additionally, it is addressing staff and third parties with intensified sanitary regulations. The PPE has been extended to disinfectants and facemasks. Every third party has to wait at the scale for companion by an employee. Offices can be entered only with prior announcement and safety orientation takes place in a separate area outside. Additionally, third parties have separate sanitary and lounge areas. An issue arises with accommodation. Since most hotels and restaurants are closed, the choice is limited. Hotels offer night’s stay only with proof of business in the area and have limited catering. Most restaurants are closed which complicates provisioning. Luckily, our Bathan service staff sees great solidarity and understanding, and is a warmly welcomed guest at the plant.

A glimpse into the animal feed industry

Animal feed producers use the same equipment as wood pellet producers. The pellet diameter for cattle ranges between 6 and 10 mm (0.24 to 0.4 in), for poultry between 2 to 6 mm (0.08 to 0.24 in). The raw materials however, are much softer and the production rate is up to 140 t/hr (e.g. CPM 9950). Animal feed producers are used to work under the current sanitary regulations, so not much has changed. The plants operate according to the preventive approach to food safety “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points” (HACCP) and use H1 certified food grade lubricants. The lubricants have to comply with FDA no. 21 CFR 187.3570 for lubricants with incidental food contact, and must be MOSH/MOAH free. Kunz Kunath, one of the largest animal feed producers in Switzerland, operating three Buhler pellet mills in Burgdorf, had the best monthly revenue in March 2020 in the company’s almost 100 years history. Due to COVID 19, many farmers were anxious and bought many times their usual volumes, which lead to 24/7 production in Burgdorf for the whole month of April to refill storages. The plant has a high level of automation, and therefore can easily comply with distancing regulations. Meetings, proceedings and visits have been postponed or held virtually. Stress on the equipment and machines is relatively small compared to wood pellet production. Therefore, third party services and maintenance can be postponed more easily. In these hectic times, longer relubrication intervals and significantly longer service life of roller bearings are key performance improvements.