Connectivity specialist, HARTING, explains the requirements for connectors used in the food and beverage industry and explains how its products are able to deliver a solution.
Hygiene and safety are critical in the food processing industry. Machines and equipment must be easy to clean to prevent dirt particles and bacteria from accumulating and meet strict requirements for usage in the food industry. Standards such as EN 1672- 2 are intended to ensure that processed food is optimally protected against contamination.
The EN 1672-2 standard defines three distinct zones for food production, which differ in terms of contamination risks and the number of cleaning cycles required. Zone 1 is the food zone, where components come into direct contact with foodstuffs. Connectors are not designed to come into direct contact with food and are rarely positioned in this zone.
Zone 2 is the splash zone, which includes all facility parts and components that come into direct contact with food which does not return to the production process. Components here must be cleaned regularly using high-pressure washing and chemicals to avoid contamination. HARTING focussed on the hygiene requirements for this zone during the design and manufacture of the Han F+B range of connectors.
There are several innovations which make the F+B range the ideal solution. Firstly, all hoods, housings and seals are IP69K rated, so the connections are fully protected and resistant to the water jets used to clean equipment. They also have large nooks and surfaces in accordance with the guidelines of the European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group (EHEDG), which allows cleaning and disinfecting agents to flow unhindered.
The F+B range is also Ecolab-approved, meaning it is resistant to the highly aggressive cleaning agents used in the food and splash zones. As the housings are constructed from polypropylene, they conform to the directives of FDA 21. The entire portfolio can also function in a wide temperature range from -40 to +125°.
Connectors in the food and beverage sector must not react to detergents or other antimicrobial chemicals used during rigorous cleaning as they could affect the smell or taste of food, or even be harmful to health. Therefore, they must be corrosion-resistant, mechanically stable and constructed so that the surface of the material cannot be damaged.
The most common material used for connectivity in the food and beverage industry is high-alloy stainless steel, which is offered by the Han-INOX series. Plastic connectors must comply with the provisions of the regulation 1935/2004/EC, the Plastics Ordinance 10/2011 or the directives of the FDA 21.
The surfaces must have a high surface smooth finish to prevent bacteria and microbiological impurities from accumulating. Small nooks and crevices should be avoided because they reduce the flow rates of the cleaning and disinfecting agents, creating a hygiene risk. Finally, it’s important to undertake regular inspections of machinery to ensure there is no damage to seals, cabling or conduit caused by mechanical stresses.
As well as hygiene and safety considerations, plug-and-play connectors also help manufacturers keep production line disruptions down to a minimum and embrace flexible manufacturing.
In the past, a manufacturing floor was static. Machines were placed with the intention that they would perform the same tasks for the duration of their useful life. Now, manufacturing floors are frequently repositioned so customised products can be produced for customer-specific needs. With the addition of modular connectivity and machinery, floors can now be reorganised quickly to manufacture entirely different products.
Plug-and-play connectors make flexible manufacturing possible as machines can be disconnected and reconnected quickly without the need for skilled labour and with no risk of miswiring. Manufacturers no longer need to spend an entire day disconnecting a machine now that plug-and-play solutions exist.