The food and beverage industry in the UK is worth over £95billion* and accounts for over 50% of all retail sales, making the supply chain one of the most expansive and specialist in the UK.
Keeping the cogs of the food machine turning at a pace that satisfies the appetite of retail giants, contract caterers and consumers is no mean feat, yet it is often the case that with all the state-of-the-art technology involved in the food production process from ‘field to fork’ in bakeries, dairies, breweries, fruit and vegetable canneries, and animal feed …it is the humble solenoid valve that keeps the food engine running.
A solenoid valve has a simple mechanic designed to shut off, release, dose, distribute or mix fluids. In the food industry they are most frequently used to control the flow and direction of fluids, as well as being an absolute necessity for any operation that requires batch control such as in bottling plants and canneries.
The solenoid also drives pneumatic and hydraulic systems, flush systems, control cylinders, fluid power motors and helps control and energize the operation of larger industrial valves.
Solenoids can be found in almost any process operation that requires measurement, such as grouping and flow control so is essential, for example in the processing of condiments, sauces into jars such as mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup. They are also widely used in hot beverage dispensing equipment, such as coffee brewing systems to control flow into and out of drink dispensers.
Les Littlewood commented:
“Solenoids are very common place in the food processing industry and as such are a product line that our distributors require again and again. To cater for demand we have introduced a wide range of design options to offer greater choice, and more cost effective engineered solutions.
Our solenoid valve program currently includes valves for air, steam, oil, and gas, suiting a number of food processing applications.
The range also includes pilot operated, direct acting and high temperature valves with a variation of different diaphragm options.
The solenoid’s function of managing a variety of media including water, air, oil and steam along with their high reliability, long service life, good medium compatibility, low control power and compact design makes this line a best seller.”
In the food processing industry stainless steel is always primary choice of material as is doesn’t corrode, rust or stain, it has excellent hygiene properties and is able to withstand extreme temperatures from -25°C to +200°C.
Albion was one of the first companies to introduce a range of stainless steel valves and fittings, which conform to ISO 4144 standard, specifying the pressure-temperature ratings, dimensions and materials of stainless steel fittings.
Although it is commonplace for process engineers to assess system components for quality including valves, it is less likely that the fittings are checked in these inspections to ensure they conform to the industry standard.
Albion supports the industry standard and the focus it brings to quality in this sector, which has suffered in recent years as a result of not having clearly defined quality controls. Historically, there has been a huge diversity on quality and pricing for this product sector, often resulting in products being specified that were either unfit for purpose, over-spec’d, non compliant or over priced for particular applications.
Similarly, Albion recommends manufacturers of food processing equipment specify valves with ATEX approval as standard. Processing some food products like cereals, flours, animal food or powdered milk, tea, coffee will produce a dusty hazardous environment.
Dust can when mixed with air create a potentially explosive atmosphere that could be ignited by a spark or flame. So, for all hazardous environments it is very important that an ATEX rated valve is used.
Pneumatics also play a large role in the equipment used throughout the food and beverage industry. Often food processing equipment manufacturers rely on air control valves to make, dispense or preserve their food and beverage products such as wine, condiments, bottled water and other soft drinks.
When exposed to oxygen, perishable food items are susceptible to rapid deteriorating or spoiling. Nitrogen is used during food processing to prevent oxygen from reaching the food in order to maintain freshness. Nitrogen preserves taste, texture, and color during processing for a better quality when packaged and stored.
Albion’s range of butterfly valves are often specified in pneumatic applications, where gas flow needs to be managed – butterfly valves are simple, clever, reliable and extremely hard wearing.
They are designed to control the flow of gases by simple quarter turn rotation of a disk either manually or via pneumatic or electric actuation that either enables flow or prevents it, making them an ideal component to help preserve perishables.
With over 65 million mouths to feed, the UK’s food industry and must rely on the simple but effective mechanics of valves to keep industry machinery operating at maximum efficiency, and keep food production in line with population growth and demand.