Case Study

Gear drive upgrades increase equipment efficiency in phosphate processing facility

The Primary Challenge

Phosphorus is essential for life; it is present in every living thing. When the element is mined from underground phosphate deposits, it is processed through a pipeline and mixed with sulfuric acid to create essential products like crop fertilizers, animal feed and additives for human food and supplements. Uninterrupted production is crucial to optimizing the world’s food supply.

A producer operating the largest integrated phosphorus mine and processing facility in North America recently experienced sporadic unplanned downtime due to an aging gearbox in one of its mill’s centrifugal air compressors. The mill, or “dry end” of the operation, is where the facility starts processing phosphate ore into fertilizer.

The 40-year-old gearbox began to fail due to extreme wear in a high-contamination environment. The facility’s location near North Carolina’s Atlantic coast also subjected the equipment, which was covered but still open to the elements, to saltwater contaminants.

After the original equipment manufacturer unsuccessfully attempted to repair the gearbox multiple times, the producer reached out to Philadelphia Gear for repair support. Upon inspection, Philadelphia Gear experts discovered the root of the problem. The application’s high speeds led to extreme vibration that created cracks in the gearbox’s cast iron housing.

Sean Pinckard, territory account manager at Philadelphia Gear, notes that repairing cracked cast iron is possible, but extremely difficult. And the fix is usually temporary.

“When the gearbox failed and the compressor was not operational, it cost the company about $50,000 an hour,” Pinckard says. “They reported losing some significant business as a result of the downtime.”

The Solution

Philadelphia Gear recommended replacing the old gearbox with a new one, explaining that the initial up-front investment would be more cost effective than ongoing repairs over the long term.

The new gearbox was designed to fit into the existing footprint so no additional reconfiguration of adjacent equipment was required. The upgraded unit included advanced technology for vastly improved durability, performance and uptime. Features included:

  • Upgraded gearing – improved gear ratio for more efficient operation
  • Advanced lubrication pump – provided more precise lubrication for less oil use
  • Bi-rotational sleeve bearings – enhanced shock resistance and reduced vibration
  • Fabricated steel housing – delivered superior stress relief and the ability to weld cracks if they do appear
Old phosphate calciner

Philadelphia Gear provided onsite technical assistance to install the new gearbox, along with a five-year warranty on the unit.

“We also repaired an additional five gearboxes that were in much better condition than the first, and worked with the mill maintenance engineer to stock critical spares of components that will fit in both the new unit and the repaired units,” says Pinckard. “It’s all about helping the customer solve their technical challenges in a way that keeps them running cost effectively.”

Key Results

Philadelphia Gear’s 130 years of gearbox manufacturing expertise helped the customer replace an obsolete gearbox without having to make expensive changes to the compressor’s entire drivetrain arrangement. The phosphate facility now considers the new Philadelphia Gear gearbox its official specification for this application going forward, and plans to eventually replace all its repaired units with the new, upgraded gearbox design.

New Philadelphia Gear phosphate calciner
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