Food processing poses some unique manufacturing challenges. Chris Callander offers some insights into how they can be overcome.
The most critical aspect of any food and beverage production facility is hygiene. This presents a number of challenges to manufacturers of the machinery and components used in these applications.
The ability to effectively clean food processing lines is one vital requirement. As well as the materials components are made from – to ensure they can cope with aggressive cleaning agents – their design is also an important consideration. Brian Coyle, Product Manager at HARTING, explained: “Our Han F+B range of connectors has been specifically developed as a suitable product for the food zone 2 and splash zone. Part of the development of the range centred around the design of the connectors themselves.
“The Han F+B connector has a smooth finish which prevents impurities and bacteria from accumulating. The large nooks and the surface of the connector also meet the European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group (EHEDG) guidelines which allows cleaning & disinfecting agents to flow unhindered.”
Hygiene considerations also come into play when dealing with waste removal, an area progressive cavity pump specialist SEEPEX addresses with its range of products.
Key in this area is that waste material cannot come into contact with any aspect of a high care area. “Production waste can be removed in enclosed systems using PC pumps,” commented Tim Kaye, Northern Area Manager for SEEPEX UK. “Open hopper pumps with a feed auger and macerating knives chop and pump food waste in a single operation, reducing waste volume by up to 60% with OPEX costs considerably lower than vacuum or compressed air systems. Products such as reject whole fruit and vegetables, poultry (DOA, heads, feet, necks) and even ready meal packaging are hygienically removed through pipework from high care to low-risk areas.”
The properties of ingredients used in food processing applications can also require consideration when specifying equipment. Heat exchangers are one example of where this is the case.
Matt Hale, International Sales & Marketing Director at HRS Heat Exchangers, outlined the situation: “Heat exchangers have many uses in the food industry, including pasteurisation and sterilisation, general heating and cooling, evaporation, concentration, remelting and more.
“The simplest forms of heat exchangers are plate heat exchangers, but for more viscous substances, non-Newtonian fluids, products containing particles and processes requiring high levels of heat transfer, tube-in-tube heat exchangers may be a better option. Tubular heat exchangers come in different forms, including corrugated tubes to increase product turbulence, preventing fouling and improving operating efficiency.
“For high fouling and viscous fluids, scraped surface heat exchangers are also available in both reciprocating and rotary versions,” continued Matt Hale. “These allow different products to be handled carefully, maintaining quality characteristics or increasing product mixing, while also being highly efficient.”
“Our comprehensive range of corrugated tube and scraped surface heat exchangers are designed to ensure suitable product handling (whether you need gentle handling or vigorous mixing) while preventing product fouling on the tube wall, which reduces heat transfer efficiency.”
Product quality is also a consideration in certain pumping applications. Sheer sensitive products can change viscosity when placed under stress by a pump. In many cases, this can affect product quality if not factored into the design of a food processing line.
“The low shear action of the PC pump preserves the integrity of shear-sensitive products such as yoghurt, cream, yeast, ice-cream and sauces,” commented Tim Kaye. “This removes the need to add costly additives downstream to restore product texture and appearance.
“PC pumps can also handle solid particles without damage. The cavities formed between rotor and stator are neither compressed nor contorted in operation, so ingredients such as fruit or vegetable pieces can easily be transported.”
Food and beverage companies are increasingly looking for solutions that allow them to embrace flexible schedules and smaller batch productions, meaning processes must become adaptable to meet these demands. As a result, the ability to quickly attach and detach in-line process machinery is vital if costly production downtimes are to be avoided.
Brian Coyle commented on how the HAN F+B range supports this requirement: “A benefit of our connector range is its modular design. This means power, data, and signal can be provided under one connector solution. Being plug and play, our solution reduces production stoppages as users can add, remove or change hardware with almost no interruption. This also means that the set-up time is shortened as well.”
The ability to minimise production downtime is critical in the food and beverage sector. The cost of downtime can be high, with lost production, wasted products and ingredients alone having the potential to cost thousands.
While much attention is paid to preventing unplanned downtime, with techniques such as condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, keeping planned maintenance periods as short as possible is also important, with the potential to affect a facility’s bottom line positively.
Matt Hale outlined how heat exchanger selection can support the reduction of downtime: “Maintenance and servicing requirements will vary according to the type of heat exchanger, its design, and how it is used. More important than the actual maintenance requirement is how easy maintenance is. For example, how complicated is it to access key components and what are the costs of routine spare parts such as seals and gaskets? For double and triple tube heat exchangers, is it possible to remove individual tubes without dismantling the entire unit, and is it possible to service parts of the unit without shutting down the whole process?
“By default, HRS heat exchangers are designed with all of these considerations in mind from the outset. In turn, this reduces cleaning and maintenance requirements, keeping the exchangers running for longer and reducing costs.”
Food processing is one of the most challenging aspects of manufacturing, but it is clear that there is a wide range of suppliers, including HARTING, HRS Heat Exchangers and SEEPEX, with solutions that can overcome them.