Van Holten's Pickles has found an easier and safer way to connect and disconnect pumps, conveyors, and other equipment by using combination plug/receptacle and disconnect switches. The Meltric Decontactor Series switch-rated plugs and receptacles 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. The devices also cost less than conventional connectors over the long term.
Founded in 1898, Van Holten's Pickles has been producing individually wrapped Pickle-in-a-Pouch products since 1939 and currently produces approximately 18 million individually pouched pickles annually. Originally located in Milwaukee, the company moved to a larger plant in Waterloo, WI in 1956, where it recently opened a new 53,000 sq ft facility.
Pickling Process Leads to Failures
Previously, Van Holten's connected the many pumps and conveyors in its plant 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 was also an issue because of the potential for a worker to insert or remove a plug without first verifying deenergization at the local disconnect switch.
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 changeouts 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.
Less Costly Alternative
The new plant provided an opportunity to upgrade and standardize on the Decontactor plugs and receptacles.
"When I first saw them, I thought they would work well for us, but we weren't ready to change everything over," Wingate explains. "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 oftentimes 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," he says. "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."
Integrated Disconnect Switch Another Plus
In addition to the long-term cost savings in replacement plugs, the Decontactors' integrated disconnect switch appealed to Wingate.
"I liked the idea of not needing a separate plug and disconnect box," he says. "It not only costs less, but 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." Decontactor plugs are easily locked out by inserting a lock through a hole in the plug shroud.
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.
"Over the past year, 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," he says.
Most of the applications are on 440 volt power, with some on 230 volt equipment. In addition to the production equipment, the company uses some Decontactors on maintenance equipment such as welders and saws. It also has installed several 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.
Future expansion to help Van Holten's keep up with growing demand is focused on the tank yard, where "long-range plans include the installation of an additional 150 tanks," Wingate reports. Power pedestals with four Decontactor receptacles each are used throughout the existing tank yard for quick connection and disconnection of pumps and blowers, and also for portable conveyors that move the pickles from the trucks and load them into the tanks.