How to Clean a Bucket Elevator

Gough Engineering has designed and developed elevators that are easier to keep clean by making it easier to remove the buckets from the chain with a unique mechanism for disassembling the bucket from the chain. 

Regular bucket elevator maintenance and a well-organised cleaning regime is key to ensuring your machine is working to its full capability, and disruption in production is kept to a bare minimum.

One of the most common questions we get asked here at Gough Engineering, is “how do I keep my bucket elevator clean?”

Bucket elevator cleaning has always been a challenging task, which is why we have designed and developed elevators that are easier to keep clean by making it easier to remove the buckets from the chain with a unique mechanism for disassembling the bucket from the chain. Essentially, this gives the cleaning operator easier access to buckets, chains and the inner mechanisms, making the process simpler and more effective.

Considerations for bucket elevator maintenance

The appropriate method used to clean your bucket elevators depends on a number of factors:

    • Types of materials handled – bucket elevators handle a multitude of different materials, from fine powders to harsh chemicals. As a result, some bucket elevators will require a more intense cleaning regime than others.
    • Elevator components – the material the bucket elevator is made from should be considered during the cleaning process. Materials include Polypropylene (FDA approved and typically used in the processing of food and drinks), metal detectable polymer, smooth stainless steel and rigidised stainless steel (rigidised buckets have a dapple on the bucket surface and are commonly used for ‘sticky’ applications such as fruit salads. Sticky goods are less likely to stick to corrugated surfaces).
    • Hygiene – bucket cleaning requirements differ depending on whether hygiene or cross-contamination is an issue.
    • Machine usage – bucket elevators that run for long stretches at a time will ultimately require a more thorough cleaning schedule but at longer intervals.

Preventing spillage

Consideration should be taken before purchasing a bucket elevator into spillage prevention since spillages are the single most common reason for unnecessary cleaning, maintenance or machine failure.

            • Product feed – it is crucial to ensure that the feeding arrangements at the inlet are properly set up. The inlet requires properly chuteing to ensure that there is no product spillage at the loading stage. Product should be spread evenly across the width of the bucket to avoid over-filling, or swinging buckets and clipped product as a result of large mounds of material. It is important that the right feeder is used for your elevator set up.
            • Discharge – control system can be put in place to eliminate product spillage caused by the bucket trajectory at the discharge stage. These systems include control chutes, level sensors, level control systems and bucket weight and volume monitoring. If this is a problem you are experiencing, speak to Gough Engineering to discuss control systems for your application.

Bucket elevator cleaning process

  1. Acquire and train skilled cleaners

Machine owners are responsible for ensuring that they have skilled cleaners who are properly instructed and trained on the removal and replacement of the buckets, and who follow a routine procedure laid out by the machine owner.

A regime needs to be in place to ensure that the cleaning operator has been trained. There should also be a clear process laid out to ensure the cleaning methods used are in keeping with the application of the machine, the scheduled times, and machine handling operations.

  1. Bucket removal

With Gough bucket elevators, the chain mechanism can be easily removed from the bucket with joining links located at regular intervals. Each bucket elevator is slightly different, so it is best practice to refer to your product manual for detailed instructions on how to remove the bucket. 

  1. Cleaning methods

  • Alcohol wipe – this method (of cleaning the buckets and components) is recommended for deeper cleans where hygiene is a factor, or there is a change of flavours in the next material to be handled. A thorough wipe-down with alcohol by hand is the best way of getting rid of grease, dirt and contaminants.
  • Hygienic cleaning – in many applications, fully hygienic cleans are recommended. Buckets and components are removed and cleaned in an industrial washing machine. This wet-clean application is not ideal for food  processing environments unless components are thoroughly dried before being replaced - wet areas can cause a build-up of bacteria that can be harmful when ingested.
  • Steam cleaning – steam is a good alternative to hygienic wet-cleaning as it reduces the amount of time required for drying - although it may not be as thorough as a wet clean. The materials handled will determine whether this is the best method for your application
  • Vacuuming and air cleaning – compressed air cleaning forces dust or dirt, that can cause the bucket elevator to clog or jam, out of machine components. Vacuuming can be included within your regular serving schedule and is particularly useful for dusty applications where fine product is being handled.
  • Bucket cleaning rack or stand – larger manufacturers keep a full stock of replacement buckets. There is a door at the back of the elevator and, provided access is there, buckets can be removed and immediately replaced with clean ones. Dirty buckets can be individually cleaned and replaced in the stock pile ready for the next cleaning schedule.
  • CIP system – in applications where wet-cleaning is preferred, such as chemical applications, an optional clean-in-place (CIP) system should be installed within the bucket elevator to automatically clean the machine at regular intervals using a chemical foam or water-based wash. CIP systems should not replace a regular machine cleaning schedule and are not advised in food applications.
  1. Full bucket elevator clean and maintenance

In order to keep your machine running at its fullest potential, professional machine maintenance and cleaning should be arranged at intervals. Annual maintenance is recommended, however, the maintenance schedule should be determined by the machine operator dependent on machine usage and application. 

If you require a full bucket elevator clean at the time of your regular maintenance or service, speak to Gough’s Maintenance Specialists no less than three days’ prior to your appointment.

Importance of a regular bucket elevator cleaning regime

Maintaining a regular cleaning regime is essential to ensure that the equipment is hygienic, cross-contamination of product, in particular allergens, is avoided and dust is kept to a minimum for optimum machine functionality. Aggressive products, like salt or minerals, can act as an abrasive which affects the life of some of the key components. The chains, in particular, can be compromised as a result.

White plastic chains are commonly used in food applications due to their very open structure which makes them easy to wash -  the build-up of grease and contaminants is minimised. However, if buckets are over-filled and product spillage occurs, and buckets are exposed to high temperatures, chain warping can occur and tipping mechanisms can be compromised. The better the machine is cleaned and maintained, the longer the life of the equipment. Parts replacements can be costly and repairs result in unnecessary downtime.

Unmaintained machines will eventually break. Speak to our Maintenance and Service Specialists for expert advice on maintaining and cleaning your bucket elevator.