Van Holten's Pickles Connects with Safety and Savings

May 1, 2009
One company's solution to an electrical safety challenge provided an easier and safer way to connect and disconnect pumps, conveyors and other equipment.

Van Holten's Pickles was founded in 1898 and has been producing individually wrapped Pickle-in-a-Pouch products since 1939. The company produces approximately 18 million individually pouched pickles annually. Originally located in Milwaukee, the company moved to a larger plant in Waterloo, Wisc., in 1956, where it recently opened a new 53,000-square-foot facility.

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. According to Arland Wingate, project engineer, the heat and harsh atmosphere ruined the plugs because the brass contacts often corroded together.

Safety also was an issue because of the potential for a worker to insert or remove a plug without first verifying deenergization at the local disconnect switch. Wingate said the company does not hardwire most pumps and conveyors because being able to quickly disconnect and reconnect equipment for repair or replacement helps minimize downtime. Electrical safety during equipment change-outs also was a concern.

According to Wingate, Van Holten's Pickles 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 plugs and receptacles meet NEC requirements for a motor “line of sight” disconnect. In addition, the plugs' safety shutter and internal arc chambers prevent exposure to live parts and arc flash. “When I first saw them, I thought they would work well for us, but we weren't ready to change everything over,” says Wingate. “The new plant gave us an opportunity to include the conversion in the budget, so we made it our standard.”

As Wingate points out, the company has been in business for 100 years. “I try to look at the long term when I buy things for the plant. 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,” he says.

Wingate also liked the idea of not having a separate plug and disconnect box. “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,” says Wingate. The plugs easily are 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. He says, “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.”

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 of the plugs and receptacles 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.

Wingate reports that the company plans to triple the size of its tank yard and will convert it to the decontactors as part of the project. “We will use them on pumps and conveyors, and also the low-pressure blowers we use to help move product along,” he adds.

Bill Fortman, PE, MBA, is the marketing manager for Meltric Corp. ( in Franklin, Wisc.

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