Increased safety, decreased cost

April 9, 2014
In this installment of What Works, switch-rated connectors lower maintenance and changeout costs while making LOTO easier and safer at craft brewer.
Figure 1. Bell’s Oberon is a wheat ale fermented with its signature house ale yeast, mixing a spicy hop character with mildly fruity aromas.

Bell's Brewery is a multiple-site production operation located in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It brews more than 20 beers for distribution across a 19-state area, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., through a network of more than 80 wholesalers. The demand for craft beer has been on the rise in the United States, according to the Brewers Association. With an industry growth of 15% by volume and 17% by dollars in 2012 compared to 13% by volume and 15% by dollars in 2011, Bell's Brewery has seen a corresponding growth for its products.

In 2012, Bell's Brewery produced more than 216,000 barrels and anticipated producing more than 250,000 barrels in 2013. “We have expanded beyond our original facility,” says Jeff Carter, facilities and utilities manager of Bell's Brewery. “We added twelve 800-barrel fermenters and a can line. We added Oberon beer in a 16-ounce can this year (Figure 1). And if two major construction projects aren’t enough, we are doing a large upgrade to our process cooling systems. So, we are always looking for ways to decrease our costs when sourcing materials and equipment.”

Figure 2. Bells Brewery limits the downtime of its grain handling equipment associated with maintenance and motor changeouts by eliminating hardwiring.

Bell's is a craft brewery that produces a full line of ales, beers, and stouts. It specified Meltric Decontractor Series switch-rated plugs and receptacles for its construction expansion project to connect and disconnect equipment as varied as grain handlers, conveyor motors, portable pump carts, and keg washers (Figure 2). The brewery has been using Meltric plugs and receptacles since 2006.

Prior to installing Meltric switch-rated connectors on its production equipment, Bell's Brewery used pin and sleeve connectors, requiring an additional line-of-sight disconnect switch. To reduce installation costs, Bell's Brewery decided to purchase the Decontractor Series switch-rated plugs and receptacles, which are UL/CSA-rated for motor-circuit and branch-circuit disconnect switching and are an approved NEC/CSA line-of-sight disconnect switch. “When we were planning our first cellar expansion, I was pricing the cost of three pump stations, which consists of two outlets with line reactors and disconnects, and two portable pumps,” explains Carter (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Portable pump carts are connected, combining the safety and functionality of a disconnect switch with the convenience of a plug and receptacle.

The Meltric line of switch-rated plugs and receptacles combine the safety and functionality of a disconnect switch with the convenience of a plug and receptacle. The integral switching mechanism allows users to safely make and break connections under full load and provide protection in overload and short circuit conditions (Figure 4). Their enclosed arc chambers ensure that the load is safely disconnected and that all live parts are isolated and inaccessible before the plug can be removed. This design shields users from potential arc flash hazards at all times while making and breaking connections.

Figure 4. Switch-rated plugs and receptacles can safely make or break electrical loads. The NEC-approved line-of-sight disconnect switch is shown here on a glass bottle labeling machine.

As Bell's Brewery’s production facilities have grown, so has its maintenance department, which now consists of packaging, facilities, and utilities departments. The switch-rated devices have the additional benefit of limiting downtime associated with maintenance and equipment changeouts by up to 50 %, since no hardwiring of connections is necessary. The spring-loaded, integral switching mechanism can disconnect a circuit simply by depressing the pawl where it’s then ejected in the off position in only 15 ms. The user only needs to rotate the plug and withdraw it from the receptacle to complete the disconnecting operation. In addition, the silver-nickel, butt-style contacts controlled by a spring-loaded integral switching mechanism eliminates reliability problems associated with contact mating and connection quality that are intrinsic to sliding friction contacts. “The time savings associated with prewired replacements will save us downtime, which is an added bonus,” says Carter.


The need to frequently lock out and tag out equipment for maintenance at Bell's Brewery is not only crucial for worker safety, but also a more frequent operation as the brewery has expanded its operations and capacity. “We use the lockout/tagout feature for our pumps,” says Carter. “All you need is a lock and insert it in the hole on the plug, The safety that comes with the lockablity is something that influenced our purchasing decision, as well.”
With a 5/16-in. lockout hole in the plug shroud, the device can be locked out by inserting a user-provided lock through the hole in the male plug. The lock on the disconnected male plug prevents insertion into the female receptacle and provides visual verification of deenergization.

Read more What Works case histories

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