The Essential Types of Industrial Processing Equipment

preventing recalls in food processing

The Industrial Revolution marked an important era in human history. For the first time, the things that we needed could be made in large quantities, quickly. As technology progressed, this included everything from canned food to clothing to furniture and more. Technology is continually progressing, and industrial processing equipment is becoming increasingly advanced. Let’s take a look at the essential types of industrial processing equipment, including the processes and machines that we rely on every day for the things we need.

The Essential Types of Industrial Processing Equipment

There are many, many different types of industrial processing equipment. Each industry is constantly working on improving processes and machines, making them faster and more efficient. In many cases, the industrial processing equipment also becomes more specialized. This means that different industries may use many different machines, each which are specialized for particular functions. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the machines that are used across many different industries, or those which are particularly important and have been used for many years.

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What is Industrial Processing Equipment?

When we talk about industrial processing equipment, what do we mean? As previously mentioned, this can include a wide array of different processes, industries and equipment. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the industrial processing equipment that is essential in turning raw materials into finished products or components. This won’t include equipment that is used to harvest raw materials, such as mining equipment, agricultural machinery, or petrochemical development.

Industrial processing equipment might include machinery in the following industries:

  • Food processing: Any food that isn’t raw likely undergoes some type of food processing, including pasteurization, canning, mixing, extrusion, emulsifying, frying and more.
  • Pet and animal food processing: Pet and other animal food processing also undergoes many processes to make it affordable and safe with a longer shelf life.
  • Equipment manufacturing: From cars to tractors to automated equipment and more, equipment manufacturing makes the machines that make other things.
  • Textiles: The textiles we all wear every day are mass produced quickly using large machines.
  • Electronics: Electronics manufacturing can be a delicate process, including circuit boards, processors, capacitors, resistors, semiconductors and much more.
  • Building materials: From lumber to concrete to flooring and much more, manufacturing building materials is an essential industry for both businesses and homeowners.
  • Other consumer products: Except for handcrafted products, everything else we use has been produced in a factory, usually by a combination of human workers and machines.

The Essential Types of Industrial Processing Equipment

Mixers

Mixers are a very broad type of industrial processing equipment. They’re used in food processing, animal food processing, chemicals, plastics, adhesives, pharmaceuticals and much more. There are many different types of mixers, with a wide variety of sizes and capacities, functions, designs and more. Some of these mixers blend ingredients together at high velocities with a high amount of power. Others are made to mix materials together gently and slowly.

A ribbon mixer is one of the most common mixers in food processing, and it can mix many ingredients together quickly and cohesively. A paddle mixer works similarly, but it can mix ingredients together with a gentler motion.

Extruders

From elbow macaroni and french fries to synthetic fibers to animal feed pellets and much more, extruders are an essential type of industrial processing equipment across many different industries. Extrusion pushes material through a die to create a particular shape. This fast, versatile shaping process is used to create millions of different products every day.

Welders

Welding machines are also highly diverse, with many different specifications depending on the application. Welding machines, either automated or operated by a person, are essential for metal manufacturing and the fabrication of equipment. From tractors to cars to presses to mixers and much more, it would be difficult to create larger equipment without welding machines.

Weighing Machines

From robust weighing instruments capable of measuring thousands of pounds quickly and efficiently, to delicate instruments capable of measuring minute amounts, reliable weighing machines are an essential type of industrial processing equipment. Without fast and accurate weighing instruments, it would be difficult to quickly process food, animal feed, chemicals, pharmaceutical ingredients, or any kind of bulk material.

Spray Coating

Spray coating allows manufacturers to add a liquid ingredient to a solid, which provides a wide array of applications. This might include a protective layer of paint over a finished product, a liquid ingredient like water or oil to a recipe, a vitamin mix to animal feed, a chemical wash over fabric, and much more. The ability to add a liquid without clogging, clumping, or erosion is an easily overlooked but very important type of industrial processing equipment.

Computerized Controls

From a PC to a PLC, computerized controls have brought a new step in the industrial era. While industrial processing equipment of every type previously needed a person to operate the machine, computerized controls can support complete automation. A person no longer has to be involved in monotonous or dangerous tasks. This also makes it possible to speed up a process or make it more accurate. With the right integration, computerized controls can be a powerful and revolutionary type of industrial processing equipment.

Choosing the most essential or important types of industrial processing equipment depends on many factors. There are so many different types of equipment that have made it possible to produce the items that we rely on every day. These are just a few of the versatile and powerful machines that help to make the things we need, and have revolutionized production over the last hundred years. With ongoing advancements, industrial processing equipment will continue to improve technologically and, hopefully, improve all of our lives as well.

7 Considerations to Select a Ribbon Blender

batch mixing system ribbon mixer

The type and number of blenders you choose for your process will play an important role in how fast and how well your recipe is mixed. There are a number of different ways to customize your ribbon blender, and it can be difficult to choose the right model. Here’s a few factors that will help you choose the right ribbon blender for your ingredients and process. We’ve updated this blog post in 2022 to provide more information and help you get the best ribbon blender.

7 Considerations to Customize and Select a Ribbon Blender

1. Size and Volume

Ribbon MixerThe volume and profile of the ribbon blender are the most important aspects to consider when selecting your ribbon blender. This will depend on the amount of material you are mixing, as well as the speed with which it must be mixed. In some cases, a very large blender might be suitable. In other cases, multiple smaller blenders can help you optimize the process. With multiple blenders, you can avoid a shut-down if something goes wrong, and you can also dramatically reduce the time needed to mix a batch.

The ribbon mixer should be filled to its swept volume to get the most efficient mix. The swept volume is the area occupied by the agitator. In order to get the best mix in the shortest amount of time the mixer profile is also important. The length of the mixer should not exceed 2.5 times the diameter of the agitator. Consider the length, width, height and volume of the vessel, as well as the agitator size, to customize your ribbon blender to the right size.

Design the ideal system for your ingredients.
Download the Engineer’s Guide to Weighing and Batching >

2. The Ribbon or Agitator Type

A ribbon mixer successfully mixes materials by agitating them with a corkscrew-like metal blade. The outer helix of the ribbon moves product in one direction, while the inner helix of the ribbon moves the material in the opposite direction. This movement of material from one end to the other provides a fast but gentle mixing action. If more shear is needed to change the ingredients’ characteristics, then the mixer can be run at a higher speed or other devices can be added to the mixer, such as high-speed choppers.

Some types of materials may work better with a mixer that uses paddles for the agitators instead of ribbons. This can be true of ingredients that have a high liquid content or those that are sensitive to shear. Selecting the right ribbon or agitator type is important for customizing the right ribbon mixer, or another type of mixer. The type of agitator you will need will depend on your ingredients, as well as the mixing time and mixer profile.

The following factors can help you determine what type of agitator to use:

  • Shear: If you are working with dense or viscous materials, your agitator may need a higher degree of shear. The speed of the agitator and the tolerances between the mixer body and agitator can increase the amount of energy that goes into the mix. Generally, more shear will require more horsepower.
  • Friability: Contrastingly, if your materials might easily break as they’re being mixed, you might use a gentler agitator, such as a paddle mixer. Mixing at a lower speed will also help this process, which we’ll discuss later in the post.
  • Single or double ribbons: Using mixers with two sets of agitators will decrease the overall mix time required for the process.  These mixers use ribbons, paddles, or sometimes a combination of the two. Using double agitators will also increase the horsepower required.

3. Mixer Construction Materials and Finish

Ribbon mixers are made from both mild and stainless steel. The materials of construction will depend upon the ingredients that are being mixed and the how those ingredients are going to be used. For example, in the case of food-grade ingredients, the mixer should be stainless steel with special finishes so that it can be easily cleaned and sanitized. If the ingredients are corrosive, then stainless steel would also be a good choice, since mild steel would be dissolved by the ingredients over time. However, your materials or process may require other materials or finishes. If your materials are not susceptible to foodborne illnesses, these finishes might not be necessary.

Quite often, the exterior of the mixer or non-contact areas of the mixer can be made from mild steel and painted. The interior of the mixer is usually not painted, since it could contaminate the ingredients being mixed. A mixer can also be lined with a material to enhance it’s performance. This is typically seen when a material is abrasive and would prematurely wear out the interior parts. Or, if you are working with corrosive materials, another finish may be required. Your ribbon mixer can be customized with a range of materials, finishes and paint to suit your facility.

The following are popular materials and finishes in ribbon mixers:

  • Various weld finishes from standard welds to sanitary
  • Industrial enamel paint or epoxy paint
  • Stainless steel food grade
  • Abrasion resistant linings such as ceramic and UHMW plastic

4. Horsepower

Most ribbon mixers operate at around 20 RPMs, though mixers with dual agitators or wider ribbons will require more power. A general rule of thumb for medium-density material in a single-agitator ribbon blender is 10hp per ton of material being mixed. To select a mixer that is both effective and efficient, use a motor with the appropriate horsepower. The supplier of the mixer can help with motor sizing and type. Selecting a motor that is too powerful can mean adding extra expenses, but underestimating the motor power can mean that the mixer cannot be started under load.

5. Discharge Gate

How your ingredients exit the mixer is also important when customizing your ribbon blender. The cycle time and downstream processes will partly determine which ribbon blender is best. Some processes may require complete, immediate discharge. In this case, a full-length drop bottom discharge gate would be ideal. Other processes may require gradual discharge or a tighter seal, and a slide-gate may be better in these cases.

The most common types of discharge gates for your ribbon mixer are:

  • Drop bottom: A drop bottom discharge gate will fully release materials in the mixer immediately. Though these gates work quickly, getting a tight seal can be difficult, especially when working with fine powders. This quick discharge can cause dust to escape into the air, so proper venting of the mixer is needed.
  • Pneumatic Slide Gate: A slide gate will allow a set amount of material to escape, which can be helpful for measuring, batching, or bagging processes following mixing. These will also have a tight seal to prevent powder from escaping.
  • Multiple Slide Gates: If you are looking for a faster discharge rate as well as a tight seal, you can use multiple gates to speed up the process, while still preventing powders from escaping.

6. Ingredients Characteristics

A list of ingredients characteristics will help you and your engineering partners design the ideal ribbon mixer. Different types of ingredients will mix and separate faster, may damage the mixer, or may be damaged by the mixer. A list of ingredients that you’re using as well as the key characteristics of each ingredient will help to ensure that the ribbon blender is designed to mix your recipe properly.

Knowing the following ingredients characteristics will help you design the ideal ribbon blender:

  • How many ingredients you’re using
  • The type of ingredients, including powders, liquids, or pastes
  • Bulk density
  • Adhesion
  • Freezing and melting point
  • Particle size and variation
  • Friability and shear sensitivity
  • Flammability or explosive qualities

7. Facility Requirements and Constraints

Your ribbon blender must fit in your facility and fit alongside your existing equipment. Making a few notes about your facility requirements and constraints will help to ensure that your ribbon mixer fits perfectly with your existing equipment. Making notes about your production needs will also help you determine your mixing time, and how fast you need your mixer to operate. This can also help you determine the mixer profile and design, as well as how many mixers you might need to meet your optimal production time.

It’s helpful to know and record the following information about your facility requirements and needs.

  • The total space available for the ribbon blender
  • The surrounding machines and equipment
  • Weighing devices that might be used upstream or downstream from the mixer
  • How much you need to mix, how quickly
  • Flammable, explosive, or other safety concerns

Choosing the right ribbon blender and customizing features to suit your process and materials means getting the perfect mix. With consistency and accuracy built into your process, you can eliminate many concerns and problems both upstream and downstream. Work with a supplier who can help you customize these features to suit your process and provide testing to ensure you have the right fit. If you’re interested in ribbon mixers, APEC has horizontal ribbon mixers suitable for nearly every application.

Optimize your design
Download the Engineer’s Guide to Weighing and Batching >

Industry Advantage: APEC’s Horizontal Ribbon Mixer

APEC’s in-house engineers and fabricators have successfully designed an innovative, high-quality horizontal ribbon mixer for processing animal feed, pet food, snack foods, and more. We take great pride in our equipment’s capabilities, and we are confident that our horizontal ribbon mixer will give your processing plant the advantage it needs.

A Solid Foundation

The end-to-end mixing action of a double-ribbon agitator ensures an even blending of ingredients, leading to a more balanced and higher quality mix. Solid spokes mounted to a durable center shaft eliminates the chain, which simplifies maintenance, unlike chain and sprocket arrangements that are found on other mixers. The main shaft is supported by either a ball bearing flange or spherical roller bearings.

This solid foundation provides an essential horizontal ribbon mixer base for many different industries. A variety of customizable options allow you to select a ribbon blender that will work best for your ingredients, facility and needs.

Customizable Options

As previously mentioned, there are many aspects to consider to configure a ribbon mixer that will work best for your needs. Building off the solid foundation and standard features, you can customize the APEC horizontal ribbon mixer in many ways to suit your needs.

APEC offers a wide range of custom horizontal ribbon mixer options, including:

  • Ribbon Mixer Size: the ribbon mixer dimensions can be customized to suit your facility and the space you have available, as well as the surrounding equipment.
  • Capacities (Swept Volume): The ribbon mixer profile, capacity and speed are both important considerations to ensure that your ribbon blender can properly mix your ingredients in the optimal time frame.
  • Horsepower: The mixer size and swept volume, as well as the ingredient characteristics, will impact how much horsepower your mixer will need.
  • Discharge gate: Choose a discharge gate that works best for your surrounding equipment, including a full-length drop bottom, standard pneumatic-end slide gate, optional center-pneumatic slide gate, or multiple slide gates.
  • Finishes: Choose from standard weld, industrial enamel, or stainless steel food grade, as well as any paint specifications.
  • Motor: With the horsepower and mixing capabilities calculated, you can get a motor that is energy efficient and effective. The motor can also be explosion-proof, which can be particularly helpful when working with powders or dangerous ingredients.
  • Weighing: The ribbon blender can integrate with a load cell weighing assembly and other weighing instruments as needed.

APEC has horizontal ribbon mixers suitable for nearly every application.With the right customizations, your horizontal ribbon mixer will run more efficiently, provide higher output, and require less maintenance. This allows you to focus less on your machine and feel assured that your product meets your (and your customers’) high standards and expectations. With each component being custom designed, engineered, and fabricated in-house, you’re sure to get exactly what you need to consistently deliver a product you can be proud to offer. To learn more about how our innovative and durable horizontal ribbon mixer can give your processing plant an advantage, contact APEC today!

The Best Automation Upgrades for Feed and Pet Food Processors in 2022

Improving efficiency in 2019 is a top priority for many feed mill and pet food processors. Automating processes or upgrading existing automation is often the way to maximize efficiency gains, but it can be difficult to know where to start. This roadmap of feed and pet food processing automation upgrades can help you move in the right direction. We’ve updated this list for 2022 to help feed and pet food processors find the best automation improvements this year.

7 Automation Upgrades for Feed and Pet Food Processors in 2022

1. Process Time Optimization

The most efficient feed or pet food process automation aligns all process times, including filling, weighing, discharging and mixing, for all ingredients. While exact timing is difficult given high-speed and low-speed estimates, and other variance, machines should not be sitting idle for long periods. There are many ways that you can improve the process time of the bottleneck machine in order to meet the timing of the upstream or downstream processes.

If your mixer is idle, consider dividing ingredients into two or more weighing and filling stations, using a different faster weighing mechanism, or using a larger feeder for faster filling. If your scales or hoppers are idle, optimize your ribbon mixer by; dividing mixing between two or more mixers, using a larger mixer, using a drop-gate for immediate discharge, or using a larger motor to speed up mixing.  

Benefits of this Automation Upgrade for Pet Food Processors and Food Manufacturers in 2022

Process time optimization can require substantial investment from food and pet food processors, but this upgrade also has a high payoff potential. Working with the highest level of efficiency allows your plant to simply produce more products in a shorter amount of time. If process time optimization involves adding another mixer, you’ve also created a redundancy. In the event that your first mixer requires repairs or encounters a problem, you don’t have to shut down operations completely. If your current mixer is outdated, worn out, or not performing as well as it used to, this automation upgrade also gives you an opportunity to fix a problem. There are many automation upgrades available for pet food processors and food processors, but this is a good upgrade to consider first.

  • Speed up production
  • Create redundancy
  • Replace worn-out or outdated mixing equipment

Get the secrets to feed mill and pet food automation systems design. Download the Engineer’s Guide to Weighing and Batching >

2. Scale System Improvements     

It is possible, with the right scale and weighing strategy, to speed up this process without sacrificing accuracy. A variety of different weighing systems exist, with versatile features to suit your facility and your ingredients. With a mass-flow continuous weighing system, you can measure your ingredients accurately without actually creating any pause in the system. By using roll-over tubs, slide gates or butterfly valves, you can eliminate delays in the discharge phase. If you’re using conveyors due to facility height restrictions, you can weigh and measure materials while moving them. If your scale system is holding up the rest of your process, consider this feed and pet food processing automation improvement first.

Benefits of this Automation Upgrade for Pet Food Processors and Food Manufacturers in 2022

Finding the right type of scale can help to improve efficiency dramatically, while also reducing product defects. In some cases, it’s possible to weigh ingredients without introducing an extra step. If you are using conveyance to move materials from one part of the processing facility to another, it’s possible to weigh ingredients at the same time. Regularly assessing your scale instruments can help you avoid costly errors. If, for example, your macro scale is consistently overfilling by 2%, that’s essentially 2% of your major ingredient wasted, which adds up. Even if you don’t make improvements or changes to your scales, regular calibration and maintenance will help to keep them accurate.

  • Increased accuracy
  • Reduced ingredient waste
  • Improved product quality
  • Improved efficiency

3. Ribbon Mixer

If you haven’t looked at your mixer in several years, this can be a viable upgrade to improve plant efficiency. With low shear, fast mixing times, and a streamlined design, ribbon mixers eliminate many mixing problems, like dead zones and overmixing, that other mixers create. When you upgrade with a ribbon mixer, you can reduce mixing times and improve total output, but this may require altering downstream processes to match the new mixing time. A ribbon mixer can also reduce maintenance costs and downtime.

Benefits of this Automation Upgrade for Pet Food Processors and Food Manufacturers in 2022

A ribbon mixer is one of the most versatile automation upgrades for pet food processors and food manufacturers alike. These machines appear fairly simple, however certain mixer design specifications can optimize their performance and speed. If you are considering adding a ribbon mixer for the first time or replacing the mixer you already have, optimizing its design can help to improve the overall coefficient of variation and therefore the end production quality. Keep in mind that different materials have different mixing requirements; very sticky or thick mixes will require more mixing power while powdery or friable ingredients will require a gentler mixing action. With your ribbon mixer optimized for your ingredients, you can reduce maintenance needs, energy costs and product defects, while increasing efficiency and production.

  • Reduce maintenance costs
  • Reduce energy costs
  • Reduce product defects
  • Increase efficiency
  • Increase production

4. Mistcoater

Applying uniform liquid coatings to pet food and other animal feed is a challenge that many processors are not sure how to address. Materials often stick together during coating, they aren’t coated evenly, the spray nozzles require too much maintenance, or the process simply takes too long. Upgrading your liquid coating system to a Mistcoater can solve coating problems and speed up your process. Instead of using spray nozzles which easily clog  and only coat materials on one side, the Mistcoater atomizes liquids using spinning disks and coats material evenly as it falls through the mist.

Benefits of this Automation Upgrade for Pet Food Processors and Food Manufacturers in 2022

Some liquid coatings are relatively easy to apply, while others can be quite challenging. If liquid coatings are frequently wearing down machine components, stopping production, or they aren’t coating the product uniformly, this upgrade can save you hours of time and substantially reduce costs. This is a particularly helpful automation upgrade for pet food processors, since many pet foods use liquid coatings with high oil and fat content, which can quickly clog spray nozzles.

  • Reduce clogging
  • Improve coating uniformity
  • Reduce maintenance costs
  • Reduce downtime

Get the secrets to feed mill and pet food automation systems design. Download the Engineer’s Guide to Weighing and Batching >

5. Micro Ingredient Automation

Hand-adding small amounts of ingredients is a temporary solution that can quickly become a permanent part of the feed or pet food processing system. This is also an inefficient and inexact technique that can quickly introduce errors, workplace hazards, complicate lot tracking, and disrupt the recipe. Automating this process will ensure uniformity and remove delays or hazards posed by hand-adding. Upgrade to a micro ingredient automation system and your micro ingredients will be a seamless addition to your overall recipe.

Benefits of this Automation Upgrade for Pet Food Processors and Food Manufacturers in 2022

Micro ingredient automation can quickly simplify additions of vitamins and minerals. Since micro ingredient systems measure ingredients exactly, instead of relying on hand-added scoops, there’s less opportunity for error and also less waste. The micro ingredient system can also integrate into the existing process time, so there’s no need to add extra steps or extend the process time. Finally, the micro ingredient system removes a manual task from the overall operation. This can help to reduce the number of employees working in close proximity to each other, which became particularly concerning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will likely continue to be a concern into 2022 and beyond. This is a useful automation upgrade for pet food processors and food manufacturers working with many different types of trace ingredients.

  • Reduce waste
  • Improve accuracy
  • Improve process time

6. Reprogrammable Controls

When mixing times change, micro ingredients are added, or processes change, your computer or PLC is the one to control those changes. Often, that means rewriting the logic using the manufacturer’s proprietary code, often requiring a visit from a technician. If a number of automation upgrades are on the horizon, you can save time with a reprogrammable logic controller with a user-friendly interface.

Benefits of this Automation Upgrade for Pet Food Processors and Food Manufacturers in 2022

As machines become more sophisticated and increasing levels of technical expertise become important in pet food and food manufacturing, as with all types of manufacturing, proprietary code and similar obstacles to improvement will become more and more costly. Finding employees who can understand and work with ladder logic may already be a challenge, but a proprietary programming system creates an obstacle to improvements that only the OEM can solve. Controls that use text-based questions and an easy-to-follow interface will be able to adapt and make improvements much faster, and without the cost of a special technician’s visit.

  • Simplifying automation improvements
  • Ability to adapt operations quickly

7. Super Sack Unloader

If your daily ingredient usage exceeds 250 kg, whether for major or minor ingredients, upgrade to a super sack unloader instead of individual bags. This will not only decrease packaging and materials costs, but it will also improve efficiency and reduce workplace hazards with the proper super sack unloader design.

Benefits of this Automation Upgrade for Pet Food Processors and Food Manufacturers in 2022

A super sack unloader is another automation upgrade for pet food processors and food manufacturers that can help to significantly save time and money. A super sack or bulk bag unloader is one of the simplest and most common automation upgrades. It’s often one of the first upgrades made at many facilities that are newly introducing automation. It’s important to have a safe and sturdy super sack unloader frame to make dispensing ingredients easy. Once this frame is set up, processing facilities can save time and money.

  • Reducing packaging materials and costs
  • Improving efficiency
  • Reduce injuries from heavy lifting individual bags

 

As you consider the best process automation improvements at your feed or pet food processing plant, start with the processes that take the most time, introduce the most error, or repeatedly create downtime and maintenance costs. You’ll see the greatest benefits from correcting these issues first, and this will pave the way for achieving optimal system production later on.

7 Ways Feed Mill Automation Drives ROI

feed mill automation ROI

In any industry, automation is based on goals: solving problems, minimizing risks, and reducing costs. The same is true for feed mill automation. There are a number of ways that feed mill automation can improve the end product and solve or reduce problems throughout the operation. Though some facilities may automate all processes at once, step-by-step automation is also a viable option. Feed mill automation can drive ROI in the following ways, and many of these benefits may occur simultaneously, depending on which process or processes you choose to automate. We’ve updated this post in 2021 to provide more information and some more specific examples of these automation improvements.

7 Ways Feed Mill Automation Drives ROI

1. Reducing Labor Costs

Automation not only ensures that tasks are completed consistently, but also eliminates the need for manual operation. Repetitive tasks no longer require physical labor, and free up manpower for more sophisticated and important jobs. Automation can also protect workers from safety risks, either by removing them from dirty or dangerous environments, or by putting reliable safety controls in place.

Example:

In a manual batching operation, there may be one or multiple scales filling as workers monitor them. As the scales fill, the workers start and stop the process until the scale is filled to a desired amount. During this process, the worker must monitor the process the entire time, or risk over-filling the scale. Making this process efficient either requires multiple workers monitoring multiple scales, or requiring one worker to monitor multiple scales and increasing the likelihood of error. With feed mill automation controls, the system monitors the scales, and one worker can monitor, calibrate and maintain the system.

Reduce error and improve efficiency. Download the Engineer’s Guide to Weighing and Batching >

2. Enhanced Production

Enhanced production is one of the most common factors driving ROI in feed mill automation. With the right design and maintenance, automation can streamline processes and remove the need for breaks and pauses. The right machines can also work at a faster rate.

Example:

Feed mill automation drives ROI by making it easier to run multiple processes at once, and reducing error between each process. For example, a batch mixer must run for a set time period to fully mix major, minor and micro ingredients together. If the batch mixer runs too long, the ingredients can start to separate, and the system runs less efficiently overall. A worker in charge of monitoring the batch mixer can easily become preoccupied with another task, such as monitoring or managing another machine, helping another employee, cleaning up a spill, or many other things. The batch mixer will continue to run until the worker starts the next process. This ultimately delays all upstream and downstream processes too. Feed mill automation helps to prevent overruns and ensures each process flows smoothly into the next.

3. Measurable Regulatory Compliance

Feed mill automation can simplify regulatory compliance for rules like the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), among others. Track and trace is an important part of FSMA compliance, but can be difficult to accurately implement without systematic controls. Tracking lot numbers manually not only introduces error, but takes up workers’ time and energy. Lot tracing can easily be automated, and it will greatly improve accuracy. With a reliable, automatic system in place tracking where your ingredients came from, what they went into, and where the product ultimately went, you can reduce liability and meet compliance requirements with minimal costs.

Example:

Accurate measurements are important for maintaining product quality as well as FSMA compliance. In a manual feed mill operation, accurate measurements are often reliant on record-keeping done by machine operators. A worker might fill a scale, record the amount on a chart, and weigh the next ingredient. However, this presents multiple opportunities for error; accidentally recording the wrong amount, marking the wrong line on the chart, accidentally skipping an ingredient, and many other things. With system automation, these amounts can be automatically and exactly recorded.

4. Consistent Testing

To prevent moisture, toxins and other substances from ruining ingredients and the finished product, proper sampling and testing is essential. With automated sampling and testing, you can gather uniform, accurate information about ingredients and products. Detecting excessive moisture in ingredients from the start will prevent product from being contaminated, and allow you to hold suppliers accountable for defects. Detecting aflatoxins and other harmful substances in ingredients also reduces liability, as well as product loss. With feed mill automation for testing and sampling combined with automated track and tracing, any problems with ingredients or products can be accurately recorded.

Example:

While an automated system cannot require that a test be performed, it can provide reminders that help to reduce error. While it’s easy to forget an important test when things get hectic, or skip it to save time, it’s harder to do when the system explicitly asks if a test has been performed. A simple mechanism like a checklist helps to reduce humor error and reduce the incidence of deliberately skipping a step. For example, adding a test confirmation reminder for aflatoxins upon receiving a corn shipment can help to reduce the chances of using contaminated ingredients.

5. Reducing Batching Errors

Batching is one of the most common areas for feed mill automation, and often offers the highest initial ROI. By automating your batching and mixing processes, you can substantially reduce error and variation. When your recipe is programmatically controlled, corn, soy, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other additives are each exactly measured. With an easily re-programmable controller, you can even change the recipe without significant downtime.

Example:

Microingredients present some of the biggest opportunities for error. Since microingredients are required in much smaller amounts than major or minor ingredients, even seemingly small errors can be significant. In manual systems, microingredients may be added by hand to the mix. It’s very easy to miss a scoop, scoop the wrong ingredient, or add two scoops, especially when a process is repetitive and fast-moving. Microingredient systems measure and add these ingredients automatically, reducing errors significantly.

6. Automatic Routing

Automation of the batching process is usually the first section of the feed mill to be automated, but the addition of downstream routing of material can enhance the payback of the system. If the system has to wait for the operator to setup the routing of material to the downstream packaging or load-out, then valuable production time can elapse while waiting for a route to be selected.

Example:

By reading the amps in use, an automated feed mill system can detect if a conveyor or bucket elevator is currently in use or if it’s finished and ready for refilling. This tells the system where to route the ingredients and helps to prevent delays in between. While an operator might route to the wrong bin or might be working on a different task when a bin is filled, an automated system will switch automatically to the right bin.

7. HACCP

Through most zones, feed mill automation makes hazard analysis and critical control points easier to regulate and monitor. By gathering more data, more often, with less manpower required, you can get holistic, up-to-date information about your production line. You can also eliminate risks altogether by automating repetitive tasks with a high risk of human error. Automated regulation ensures that critical control points are monitored at the same time, in the same way, with no exceptions.

Example:

If the belt on a conveyor or bucket elevator isn’t tracking properly, the bearings aren’t properly lubricated, or the machine is working harder than it’s supposed to, it can cause a spark. Since powders and dust proliferate in the relatively tight space of an elevator shaft, a spark can ignite a powerful and deadly fire or explosion. Automated feed mill systems use current and voltage monitors to track when the conveyor is overworking and either stop the system or require a maintenance check-up.

Before starting or continuing feed mill automation, plan and design your system carefully. Conduct ingredient testing to ensure that the system is suitable for your recipe, and be sure to factor any maintenance costs into your ROI calculations. With the right system automating the right process, you can realize a return quickly and eliminate risks at the same time.

8 Benefits of Automation for Businesses and Employees

benefits of automation

The costs of keeping workers safe in dangerous manufacturing environments is high and will likely continue to rise as the need for PPE and appropriate workplace distancing increases. In these situations, automation not only presents an opportunity to reduce costs and improve efficiency, but also reduce the human costs—workplace injuries and illness. While automation has always had the ability to disrupt labor markets, the benefits of automation to businesses and to human health and safety far outweigh their drawbacks.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits of automation in manufacturing, as well as examples of these benefits in automated bulk material handling, premix processing, traceability and more.

8 Benefits of Automation for Businesses and Employees

According to MIT, automation equipment has the potential to replace 3.3 workers in a given position in the U.S. While this can shrink labor markets, it also has the potential to create the distance between employees now necessary to prevent the spread of illness. Giving repetitive, dangerous, close-proximity work over to machines also has multiple benefits.

1. Reduced Direct Labor Costs

Reduced labor costs are one of the first benefits of automation that comes to mind. With the jobs of three or more workers completed by a machine, the costs of wages must be balanced against the costs of initial investment, upkeep and maintenance. With a proper maintenance schedule, a machine can continue operating effectively for many years for a fraction of the cost of three employees.

Example Benefits of Automation: Microingredient Systems

Automated microingredient systems are one example of highly beneficial automation improvements in bulk material handling and premix processing. These systems are designed to measure and dispense microingredients with precise accuracy and great speed. This eliminates the need for an employee to hand-add ingredients, and frees them to take on more important tasks.

2. Reduced Injuries

Looking at work-related injuries, manufacturing is one of the most dangerous industries, second only to social assistance occupations, such as emergency response. Research shows automation can reduce three out of the five leading causes of workplace injuries, including contact with harmful objects, heavy lifting, and repetitive stress injuries. In total, robots and automation equipment have the potential to reduce workplace manufacturing injuries by up to 72%.

Example Benefits of Automation: Reducing Heavy Lifting Injuries

One of the biggest benefits of automation in manufacturing or bulk material handling is the ability to take employees out of dangerous or physically stressful situations. In bulk material handling, an easy way to reduce heavy lifting injuries is through the use of bulk bags. With the proper bulk bag unloader design, bulk bags and fork lifts can offer a safer alternative to fifty-pound bags, while also making the system more efficient.

3. Reduced Indirect Labor Costs

In 2017, the National Safety Council found the total costs of workplace injuries amounted to $161.5 billion. This includes not only medical costs, but also costs due to lost time and administrative expenses. One of the benefits of automation includes reducing workplace injuries, and also reducing the associated administrative and paid leave costs. This also reduces other indirect labor costs, such as 401k benefits, overtime, sick leave and more.

Example Benefits of Automation: Bridging the Skills Gap

Costs associated with recruitment, hiring and training are another indirect labor cost that automation can help to reduce. These costs, as well as the costs associated with leaving essential positions unfilled, are well-known to manufacturers; by 2030, the skills gap in manufacturing is expected to leave 2.1 million jobs unfilled, costing up to $1 trillion total. Using automated machines in manufacturing, such as robot welding for select welding tasks, can help to decrease the total workforce needed, allow your business to continue growing without expensive recruitment, and allow talented employees to spend time on more challenging, engaging tasks that robots are not equipped to handle.

4. More Accurate Record-Keeping

While a person can easily mismark a sheet or push the wrong button, a machine that is installed and set up properly will always perform the task as directed. This is especially helpful when detailed record-keeping is mandatory, such as tracking required by FSMA and other regulations. When inaccurate record-keeping can create hazards, such as tracking and recalling tainted food, a machine’s diligent record-keeping can also help to protect consumers.

Example Benefits of Automation: Ingredient Tracking

Ingredient automation systems can be integrated with RFID and other tracking systems to ensure accurate, up-to-date record-keeping. This provides end-to-end traceability from raw materials to finished products, with no extra tasks required for workers, beyond the need to verify that the system is working properly. This is one benefit of automation in bulk material handling that not only removes tedious tasks, but also removes human error through mismarking or mislabeling.

5. Improved Consistency

Machines do not get distracted or side-tracked with another task, and there’s very little variability in a machine’s performance. This means the task will be performed the same way every time. From dispensing ingredients to assembling parts and everything in between, automation improves consistency across the process and in the final product, improving quality and reducing costs of product defects.

Example Benefits of Automation: Robot Welding

While humans have the unique ability to assess a process and make adjustments, a robot’s or machine’s main strength is its ability to repeat a task exactly, with no adjustments. Robot welding is one example of this automation improvement in manufacturing. With the ability to complete welds with tolerances as tight as ± 1 mm or better, machines can improve consistency, while the human welder can make more complex welds and adjust the joints, current, travel speed and take other steps as needed.

6. Increased Efficiency

A person cannot be expected to work continuously without breaks. A person also has limits to the speed with which they can work safely. A machine also has limits, though they’re much greater than a person’s. With proper installation and programming, automated equipment can work almost seamlessly together, running at the same time and all but eliminating downtime completely.

Example Benefits of Automation: Automated Routing

When one process is finished, the product must move downstream to the next process, until it’s bagged and shipped. And, for materials to move through a process effectively, they must move to the appropriate storage area. In some cases, this requires an employee to route material to the next process or move to the next bin when the first is filled. This not only presents room for error, but also introduces a shut-down condition if the employee is dealing with another task and is not available to route the material. Automatic routing is an easy material handling automation improvement that can increase efficiency dramatically.

7. Freedom From Monotony

Automated equipment is ideal for repetitive tasks. A machine can be programmed one time and work quickly and consistently for the rest of its useful lifetime. By contrast, humans perform better when tasks are engaging, requiring critical thinking and multiple skill sets. Removing monotonous, repetitive and, often, dangerous tasks, allows employees to take on more challenging and important tasks. Machines should not be expected to monitor themselves, and trained personnel must be able to calibrate, test and verify that the machines are working properly.

Example Benefits of Automation: Automated Controls

Automated controls are designed to free employees from the monotonous task of moving material or products through the processing line. Without automated controls, employees may stop a machine when it’s finished, move the product to the next one, and start it. While this might only take a few seconds, it’s inefficient and introduces monotony that, when in close proximity to high-powered equipment, can be dangerous. With synchronized, automated controls, each process starts and stops automatically.

8. Continuous Improvement

With automated equipment performing the same tasks consistently, there are fewer variables to measure. This makes it easier to monitor a process and isolate problems. By placing sensors at key points in the process, managers can track variation and maintain accuracy, or make corrections to improve the process. With different workers performing a process in slightly different ways, it is more difficult to uniformly make improvements.

Example Benefits of Automation: Sensing Motor Overwork

Machine sensors have nearly unlimited uses, but one of the most common is the ability to reduce error and prevent shut-down conditions or potential hazards. Sensors monitoring amp draw on particular machines can detect when the motor is overworking. This can show when a load is too heavy and weighing instruments may be off. It can also reveal the potential for overheating or sparking, which can cause deadly powder fires or explosions. With hundreds of dust fires and explosions occurring every year, claiming hundreds of lives around the world, any potential to use automation to reduce these incidents is a powerful benefit.

Automation equipment can upset labor markets, however this equipment can also protect workers from hazards. Giving dangerous and monotonous tasks over to machines and reducing the total number of workers in a facility has the potential to reduce the spread of illness and reduce workplace injuries, while also reducing costs. For these machines to perform properly, installation and verification are essential. In our next blog post, we’ll discuss the “Trust, But Verify” principle and its importance in  automation.

Troubleshooting Pneumatic Conveyor Problems

Pneumatic conveyor systems are highly effective for transporting a number of different materials, across a wide range of industries. Working with many different materials, different environments and different applications, pneumatic conveyor systems also encounter many different problems. Let’s see how to troubleshoot common pneumatic conveyor problems and possible solutions that can bring the system back online.

Troubleshooting Pneumatic Conveyor Systems: Problems and Solutions

Pipeline Blockage

A pipeline blockage is one of the most common and troublesome problems that can affect pneumatic conveyor systems. This problem can arise in many different ways, so troubleshooting it takes time and patience. If pipeline blockages frequently occur, it’s helpful to note common elements. Does the blockage frequently happen close to start-up? Is the surrounding facility especially humid, warm, or cold? Was the system’s performance slowing prior to stopping, or was it sudden? Knowing these variables can help to pin down the cause of the blockage and solve it.

First, check the air mover, including air pressure and inlet air velocity, relief valves, air supply lines and filter. If the air velocity is too low for the material, it won’t move properly through the pipeline, and can form clogs. If the system is showing wear and tear or if it is not set properly, it won’t be able to move the material at the right rate.

Check the feed pipeline. If there is too much material feeding into the system, this can also create a blockage. The air mover is designed to handle a particular feed rate, and over feeding will reduce movement and eventually cause a blockage. Check the feeder controls and ensure that they are accurate. Track the material flow rate against the conveying line pressure to see if the material flow is consistently inaccurate, or if surges are occurring.

Erosive Wear

Hard, gritty particles can quickly eat away pneumatic system components, especially feeders and pipelines at bends. Erosion occurs through impacts, especially at high velocities, while abrasion occurs through friction when particles slide across surfaces. This creates challenges for both dilute and dense phase conveying.

Rotor tips in rotary valves are particularly susceptible to erosive wear, which can quickly cause air leakages. As air leaks, less air reaches the conveying line, which can cause a blockage. If the filtration system is not regularly cleaned and maintained, particles will enter the air mover and cause it to wear out prematurely.

Particle Degradation

Pneumatic conveying creates a number of forces that can break down particles more than necessary or desired. Impacts and friction against the pipeline and other particles can quickly degrade the materials, especially when the materials are fragile or friable. This not only degrades the quality of the material, but can also create fine powders that the pneumatic system is not designed to work with.

Since the particle velocity is higher in dilute phase conveying, where the materials are suspended in the air and not moving across the pipeline’s surface, moving to dense phase conveying can solve some particle degradation problems. If dilute phase conveying is the only viable option, reducing the number of angle of bends in the pipeline will reduce impacts, and can reduce particle degradation.

Condensation

Many materials in pneumatic conveying systems will clump together or stick to the pipeline if they absorb moisture. Condensation is a common culprit. In some cases, temperatures increase significantly during the day while the plant operates, and drop at night. These temperature shifts will cause condensation to form, which the material will absorb, causing it to clump or stick.

Trace heating or insulating parts of the pipeline can help to prevent this problem. Or, since this problem usually occurs during startup, blowing air through the pipeline for a short period before use can dry the pipeline out. If these solutions aren’t suitable, an air drying system may be required.

Dust and Hazards

Pneumatic conveying systems are totally enclosed, which can help to reduce problems with dust, which creates some of the biggest plant hazards across many different industries. Long-term, frequent exposure to any type of dust generally carries some negative health effects or risks, from lung problems to skin problems to fire and explosion hazards and much more. From seemingly harmless materials like flour—which can and has caused deadly explosions numerous times—to obviously harmful substances like blue asbestos, controlling fugitive dust in and around the pneumatic conveying system is essential.

Entry and exit points present particular hazards. Pneumatic conveyor systems often work with materials that are prone to create dust, which can accumulate around belts, bucket elevators, hoppers and other equipment at either end of the conveyor. Dust collection systems at these points are essential.

Besides containing dust, eliminating ignition sources is also vital. Electrical arcing between faulty lines is a common culprit for powder fires and explosions. Regular maintenance, inspections and replacements when necessary can help to prevent this.

The right pneumatic conveyor design can help to keep your plant running smoothly and safely. Work with an experienced equipment manufacturer to optimize this part of your system, and ensure it works seamlessly with the rest of your equipment.

Pneumatic Conveying Design and Materials

questions to ask manufacturers

Pneumatic conveying systems use air to create propulsion that moves materials from one place to another. Though other types of mechanical motion, like belt conveyors or screw conveyors, can be more efficient, pneumatic conveyors offer a number of advantages. When working with particular materials, pneumatic conveyors can also solve problems and reduce risks.

Pneumatic Conveying Basics

Pneumatic conveying must be completely enclosed. Since pneumatic systems rely on airflow, they won’t be effective if there is an airflow leak. For this reason, pneumatic conveying systems are particularly effective for materials that are very fine, such as powders and granular materials. These substances are common across a wide range of industries, from pet food processing and food and beverage industries to mining and chemical processing to renewables and many more. The applications and advantages of pneumatic conveying systems are vast, but proper pneumatic system design is essential.

Pneumatic Conveying System Types

Pneumatic conveying systems might use blowers, exhausters or other mechanisms to create air and transport materials from one part of the process to another. These different pneumatic conveying system types are generally divided by velocity and suspension. If the material is conveyed at a high velocity and suspended in the air, it is considered dilute phase conveying or suspension flow. Materials conveyed at low velocities aren’t suspended in the air, and are considered dense phase conveying or non-suspension flow. Most of these pneumatic conveying systems can be used for continuous flow applications or batch applications.

Dilute Phase Conveying

In dilute phase conveying, also called lean phase conveying, the materials are sucked through the pipe at a relatively high velocity. Nearly any material can be conveyed this way, though materials with larger particle sizes or higher densities will require high velocity. As the material shoots through the pipe, it contacts the sides, so this can be problematic when working with friable or abrasive materials.

Dilute or lean phase conveying may operate at velocities between 12 and 18 m/s. Fine powders may require velocity around 12 m/s, while fine granular material might require around 16 m/s. Dilute phase conveyor systems might operate through negative or positive pressure using a vacuum generator or pressure generator, such as an exhauster or blower.

Dense Phase Conveying

In dense phase conveying, the materials move along the sides of the pipe, and are not suspended in the air. Depending on the pressure, velocity, and the material itself, it may move through the pipe in varying ways. It might move in dunes along the bottom of the pipe, move in pulses through moving beds, or move in solid plugs between air gaps. Since this process is usually gentler, it’s better suited for more fragile or abrasive materials. Dense phase conveying is also better suited for longer distances and higher throughputs, where dilute phase conveying can become challenging.

Dense phase conveying typically operates at much lower air velocity, as low as 3 m/s in some cases. Since dilute phase conveying can easily cause damage to the pipe through erosion or damage to the particles through impacts, dense phase conveying has become increasingly popular for many different types of materials. Dense phase conveying also requires that the materials meet criteria for permeability or air retention, or the materials won’t move through the pipe. Some materials are conditioned prior to the pipeline feed point in order to meet these criteria.

Environmental Considerations in Pneumatic Conveyor System Design

When designing the optimal pneumatic conveyor system, it’s important to first consider your material’s characteristics. Understanding it’s density, flow rate, permeability, particle size, moisture content, friability and other key factors will help the system work most effectively and prolong its life.

There are other factors that are important to consider as well. The environment around the pneumatic conveyor system can affect its operation. Humidity and air temperature affect air pressure and velocity, which will change how the system works. As air temperature increases, the density of air decreases, which will affect the air mover. If the air is colder on startup, for example, and warms over time, the conveying air velocity will be lower to start with, which can block the pipeline.

Humidity around the pneumatic conveyor system can also create challenges. The water vapor contained in the air (humidity level) changes with temperature and pressure. If the air is saturated, a change in temperature or pressure will create condensation. If condensation comes into contact with hygroscopic material, it can ruin the material and damage the system.

Taking these considerations into account when designing your pneumatic conveyor system can help to improve efficiency and extend the lifetime of your system. Work closely with your equipment manufacturer, and give them detailed materials characteristics, process requirements, dimensions, and environmental considerations to optimize the system.

Screw Conveyor Design Basics to Optimize Your Conveyor

Two spray nozzles and a screw conveyor.

Screw conveyors are a simple, affordable and highly-effective material transportation method, when the conveyor is designed properly. The screw conveyor design can determine how quickly material moves through it, how the material is dispensed, and it can help to avoid problems, such as overworking the drive. Let’s take a closer look at screw conveyor design tips and tricks.

Screw Conveyors Design Basics to Optimize Your Conveyor

The basic design of a screw conveyor is simple, yet there are many ways to customize it. These screw conveyor design changes may appear to be subtle, however their impact on the overall functionality can be quite noticeable.

A basic screw conveyor uses a central shaft surrounded by screw flights. This mechanism is surrounded by an enclosure, which is open at either end to accept and dispense materials. Screw conveyors and screw feeders are similar in design, except screw conveyors are designed to transport material from one part of the process to the next, while screw feeders are designed to measure it as it flows.

Screw conveyor designs can be customized in many ways. The following are a few of the ways that manufacturers might customize a screw conveyor design to suit the needs of the application and materials. Note that this is not an exhaustive list; there are other ways to customize the screw conveyor to meet material handling needs.

  • Pitch: the distance between the screw flights
  • Shaft: the size of the central shaft, or the absence of it
  • Construction: what the enclosure, shaft, flights, and other components are made of
  • Capacity: how much material can move through the screw conveyor in a set time
  • Speed: how quickly the screw conveyor moves
  • Length: the total length of the conveyor
  • Incline: whether the conveyor must cover vertical distance, and how much

Screw Conveyors and Materials Characteristics

The characteristics of the materials being conveyed impact the screw conveyor design significantly. There are many different materials characteristics that can impact the design, but the most important are included below:

  • Flowability: Materials that flow very easily won’t require as much power to move, and will move faster. Materials that are more dense and sluggish will require more power, and will move slower.
  • Corrosive: Corrosive materials will eat away at the screw, shaft and enclosure if they are not made from a resistant construction. Certain stainless steel grades or nickel alloys are ideal when working with corrosive materials.
  • Abrasive: Abrasive materials will wear away at the screw, shaft and enclosure through friction. Abrasion resistant alloys will help to reinforce screw conveyors with these materials.
  • Angle of Repose: The angle of repose will affect the material’s flow at varying inclines. If the screw conveyor is transporting materials across a vertical and horizontal distance, this will be particularly important.
  • Special Characteristics: Many special characteristics can affect the screw conveyor’s operation and design, such as levels of moisture or oil, clumping, toxicity, stickiness, dustiness, flammability, explosiveness and more.

Flight Pitch, Number, Paddles and More

The pitch on the screw conveyor flights are an important consideration. At full pitch, the spacing between the flights is equal to the diameter of the feeder. At half pitch, the spacing between the flights is half of the diameter of the feeder. If the pitch across the flights is the same, pressure will build up towards the end of the conveyor. The pitch will also partially determine how much material moves through the feeder.

There are many ways to customize the screw conveyor pitch to adjust for the material characteristics, including the following:

  • Progressive or Variable Pitch: A progressive or variable pitch is generally ideal for drawing materials out of a hopper evenly. In this case, the spaces between the flights increases to draw the material out of the hopper.
  • Double flight: A double flight adds another spiral-shaped piece around the shaft to further increase the conveying power or amount. Double flight screw conveyors might also be progressive or variable pitch.
  • Paddles: Adding paddles between screw flights can help to make a more gentle mixing and conveying action. This is especially helpful for brittle or friable materials or those prone to clumping.
  • Ribbon flight: While a regular screw flight is solid all the way through, a ribbon flight has spaces between the flight and the shaft. This helps sticky or viscous materials move through the screw conveyor more easily.

Customizing your screw conveyor design can help to prevent material from getting stuck in the conveyor, prevent overworking the drive, and extend the useful lifetime of the conveyor. Carefully consider your materials, processes and facility layout, and work with an experienced manufacturer to design the ideal screw conveyor for your needs.

How to Choose Liquid System Pumps

comparing liquid system pumps

Pumps are one of the most valuable and integral parts of a liquid system. Whether you are working with liquid systems in food processing, pharmaceutical products, chemicals, or something else, it’s important to get the right pump. Choosing the right pump for your liquid system design depends on the characteristics of the fluid, as well as metering, volume, continuous flow or pulsation, and other factors. Let’s take a closer look at the most common types of liquid system pumps.

How to Choose Liquid System Pumps: Comparing the Most Common Liquid Pumps

Centrifugal Pump

Centrifugal pumps use an impeller to generate centrifugal force and move liquids. These pumps are some of the most commonly-used across a wide variety of industries. However, when it comes to liquid systems in food processing, centrifugal pumps can run into challenges. These liquid system pumps are ideal for liquids with relatively low viscosity, such as water and light oils. Centrifugal pumps are also ideal for steady flow applications. Slippage or cavitation can occur when conditions change, so centrifugal pumps are not ideal when metering is required.

Diaphragm Pump

positive displacement pumpA diaphragm pump is a type of positive displacement pump which uses a flexible, reciprocating layer of plastic or rubber to change the volume of a chamber and force liquid through. While a centrifugal pump is designed to work continuously, a diaphragm pump uses a pulsing motion. This makes it ideal for metering liquids. Diaphragm pumps can also work with thick, viscous liquids and suspensions with abrasive solids. The pump drive can be pneumatic or electric, so it can be used in liquid systems installed in challenging environments as well.

Gear Pump

A gear pump uses the intermeshing teeth of gears to move liquids. These pumps are repeatable and capable of generating high pressures, so they’re suitable for many different applications. However, suspended or abrasive solids can wear down the gear teeth, so these pumps work best with liquids with high lubricity, like fats and oils. These liquid system pumps should not run dry, so it’s a good idea to use a sensor on the supply tank to shut off the pump when liquid isn’t present.

Sinusoidal and Progressive Cavity Pumps

Sinusoidal pumps use a wave-shaped rotor to create moving chambers and move liquid through. This pump is gentle and predictable, making it ideal for thick suspensions in food processing, such as pie fillings, jams and salad dressings. Though these pumps are more expensive than the previous models, they are also easy to maintain and highly effective for challenging, viscous liquids.

Progressive cavity pumps are similar to sinusoidal pumps in many ways. Progressive cavity pumps use a corkscrew-like rotor inside of a flexible sleeve to create moving chambers and move liquid. This pump also generates low shear and gentle force, so it works well with thick liquid suspensions.

Peristaltic Pump

A peristaltic pump uses a flexible hose and an outside rotor to move liquid through. This type of pump is most commonly used in medical applications; you’ll see this pump at work in heart-lung machines and hemodialysis machines. A peristaltic pump is ideal for medical applications because the liquid is completely enclosed. The rotor moves over the flexible tube, but never contacts the liquid, so there is no chance of contamination. For this reason, peristaltic pumps are often used in liquid systems producing pharmaceutical and medical products. They can also be used for caustic chemicals which can be contained by flexible plastics, but can react with other parts of the machine.

Peristaltic pumps operate with tight tolerances and very repeatable flow rates, so they’re ideal for metering exact amounts. The repeated pinching and flexing of the hose will cause it to wear out over time, so a regular maintenance and replacement schedule will be important when working with this type of pump.

General knowledge of the most common types of liquid system pumps will give you a better idea of what you’re looking for, and risks to look out for. As you compare liquid systems pumps, consider the characteristics of the liquid that you’re working with, as well as how you are metering liquids, and the surrounding environment. With the right type of pump, you can minimize maintenance, waste and downtime, increase accuracy, and install a high-performing, long-lasting liquid system.

6 Hidden Expenses Eliminated Through Automation

expenses eliminated through automation

The ROI calculation for automated systems too often comes down to direct labor costs versus the cost of automation equipment. However, there are many aspects to consider. The value and cost-savings realized through automation goes beyond direct labor. If you are thinking about adding or enhancing automation at your facility, consider how the following hidden expenses can be eliminated.

6 Hidden Expenses Eliminated Through Automation

1. Downtime

People are more sensitive to their environment than machines, and will need to rest more often in extreme temperatures or humidity. A person will also become tired or distracted when performing repetitive tasks for long periods of time. Socializing is also important to maintain good productivity and morale, and part of what makes a workplace more desirable. All of these things ultimately amount to additional downtime; required breaks, chatting between tasks, late starts and more. It’s unrealistic and, often, negatively impacts productivity to strictly forbid these types of downtime. However, a machine requires only enough downtime for maintenance. Eliminating these small breaks can add up quickly.

2. Error

People make mistakes. These mistakes might be small, within tolerances, or they might result in product defects and waste. In other cases, these mistakes result in more downtime or slow-downs to fix, or might even endanger other employees. Mistakes can also put expensive assets at risk and increase liability insurance costs.

Of course, machines will do as they are programmed. If they are installed, programmed and maintained correctly, a machine will perform a task within a margin of error every time. Ideally, a person will oversee and verify that a machine is working properly, and have the skills and expertise to fix any problems that arise.

3. Quality Control

Mistakes can cause problems with finished products, however contamination and adulteration are also concerns. Contamination can occur if an employee doesn’t wash their hands properly before handling products or ingredients, or isn’t wearing proper protective gear, such as hair nets. Adulteration occurs when an employee purposely changes a recipe, either adding too much or too little of an ingredient, or adding a foreign ingredient. Whether added deliberately or accidentally, some foreign ingredients, such as pest repellent or cleaning chemicals kept on-site, can be extremely dangerous.

Automation can help to keep recipes on-track with exact measuring, and prevent adulteration or contamination by reducing hand-add opportunities. This can eliminate a variety of costs and risks, including product and ingredient losses, lawsuits, liability insurance, lost reputation and lost sales, and more.

4. Indirect Labor Costs

Automated equipment will reduce total wage expenses, but that is far from the only labor cost. Indirect labor costs such as healthcare benefits, retirement benefits, sick leave, vacation, worker’s compensation, and more all contribute to labor costs, and can be eliminated with automation.

5. Lawsuits

Keeping employees and customers safe requires vigilance and attention to detail. A lapse in safety protocols, training, or a simple mistake can endanger human health and safety, and create grounds for expensive litigation. Taking humans out of harm’s way and automating especially dangerous tasks can help to reduce dangers and lawsuits by employees. Automating processes that are vulnerable to contamination can also help to reduce liability. When considering automation, take a closer look at lawsuits and hazards in your industry, and consider how these costs and risks might be eliminated.

6. Regulatory Compliance

OSHA, the FDA, the USDA and EPA all require that certain safety and quality control standards be met to protect employees, consumers and the public. Record-keeping is an important part of this process. Automating production, labeling, tracking, and cleaning processes can make record-keeping easier and more accurate. A person might forget to mark a sheet, mark the wrong column, or enter the wrong number into the system. A machine or a sensor can send information directly to the system, making real-time records that are accessible at any time.

To get an accurate ROI valuation on automation, consider all the costs associated with labor, quality control, liability and production. Some of these costs may be small and add up over time, while others may be big, infrequent expenses. Consider each carefully when making your decision, and consider how these expenses might grow or shrink in the future with production.