Process Improvements to Increase Efficiency in Pet Food Processing

process verification in manufacturing

Increasing efficiency can mean many things. It might mean decreasing waste, lowering costs, improving speed, or increasing overall production. There are many ways to go about this. These improvements can also be difficult to compare or analyze. In this blog post, we’ll discuss a few of the most readily available process improvements specifically in pet food processing. These improvements can help to decrease waste, improve process speed, and improve overall efficiency at your pet food processing facility.

Process Improvements to Increase Efficiency in Pet Food Processing

Optimizing Liquid Coating Systems

Liquid coating systems present a number of challenges to pet food processing facility managers, as well as opportunities for improving efficiency. Pet food facilities working with liquid coatings that are high in fat content, like many dry pet food processing plants, often struggle with clogs and pressure backups. Liquid coating nozzles can easily become clogged in these situations, requiring frequent cleaning, maintenance and replacements. Overall, this requires downtime and eats into production time. Pressure backups also reduce the equipment’s lifespan. When clogged nozzles do not coat products evenly, this can also result in product defects and losses.

Comparing Liquid Coating Equipment

Finding the right liquid coating process and equipment can increase the efficiency of this process dramatically. Your coating system must be designed to suit your liquid coating product, as well as the surrounding processes. The liquid coating must also have enough time and opportunity to evenly coat the product and properly absorb.

Considering alternative liquid coating solutions can help to optimize coating quality, reduce maintenance, and even speed up the process. Even making slight alterations to the mixing process, such as reducing screw conveyor flights or introducing pitched paddles can increase the mixing action and improve the uniformity of the coating. If the spray nozzles are consistently causing problems, consider a system that bypasses spray nozzles, such as a spinning disk atomizing system.

Automated Micro Ingredient Systems

Some pet food formulas require the addition of micro ingredients, such as vitamins and minerals. A reliable system for adding micro ingredients can help to reduce waste, improve organization, reduce process time, and improve tracing. Adding ingredients by hand introduces the opportunity for waste and error. Automated micro ingredient systems allow you to measure ingredients quickly and exactly. With the right micro ingredient systems and tracking system integration, you can also save time on FSMA-required lot tracking.

Scale Calibration

An important aspect of an efficient micro ingredient system is accurate weighing devices. When weighing small amounts of ingredients, accuracy is essential. Be aware of effects that can make your load cells inaccurate, such as temperature changes, load cell creep, interference, or a lack of calibration. Keep in mind that small mistakes in measurements can add up; a minor weighing error with as little as .5% overuse ultimately means wasting .5% of the total product purchased.

FSMA rules require that pet food processing facilities track and trace ingredients, just like food for human consumption. Automated ingredient systems can help trace ingredients from the start of the process until the finished product. A fully integrated system can keep necessary documentation and also work with your labeling system.

Process Improvement Assessments

Go through process improvements step by step, and compare all the costs and expenses equally. Remember to include not only upfront investment costs on one side of the equation, but also maintenance, training, or installation. On the other side, include all the benefits you’ll receive, such as process speed improvements, reduced waste, decreased downtime, and lowered maintenance costs long term. Take a look at the process improvements and efficiency upgrades that present the biggest opportunities first. Equipment or processes that are causing waste and delays should be examined first, as these will present the biggest opportunities for improvement.

With the right systems, equipment upgrades and process speed coordination, you can optimize the most essential aspects of your pet food processing facility. Assess each process first to find where opportunities exist. Prioritize each improvement, and take them on step-by-step, as opportunities become available.

Engineering Liquid Systems by Liquid Ingredient Characteristics

liquid coating systems design

The right liquid system can make food processing and production easy and efficient, while the wrong one can cause downtime, expensive maintenance and frustration. The optimal design of a liquid system is highly dependent on the characteristics of the liquid. Liquid systems that are designed with ingredient characteristics in mind perform better and last longer. If you are upgrading, altering or installing a new liquid system, understanding all of the characteristics of the liquid can help to prevent problems.

Engineering Liquid Systems: 6 Liquid Ingredients Characteristics You Should Know

The best source of information for these liquid characteristics is your liquid ingredient supplier. Your supplier may not have all of this information, and some of it may not be relevant, depending on the ingredients you are working with. Obviously, working with common ingredients such as a brine solution will require less consideration than uncommon ingredients, like a liquid adhesive. Still, even many common ingredients can cause problems with liquid systems over time if their characteristics are not well understood. Talk with your liquid systems manufacturer about the following during the design phase.

1. PH: Acidic vs Basic

The pH scale measures how basic or acidic an ingredient is. Liquids with a pH near 7 are neutral, and this won’t be an important consideration for liquids with a neutral pH. However, liquids that are highly acidic, with a pH close to 0, or highly basic, with a pH close to 14, can present problems. Strong acids or bases should be stored in containers that will not corrode or react with the liquids. These can also be very hazardous to workers, and safety precautions should be clearly displayed around storage containers or liquid systems carrying these substances.

2. Process Temperature

Temperature can change liquids in seemingly subtle ways. When working with large volumes over long periods of time, these subtle changes can have big effects. Colder temperatures can make liquids thicker and more difficult for pumps and flow meters to work with. Warmer temperatures can have the opposite effect, making the liquids move faster and potentially metering too much. This is particularly important for liquids with a high oil or fat content, such as those containing palm oil or fish oil. Fats and oils can change density by as much as a percent for every 25 degrees F change in temperature.

3. Solution vs Suspension

A solution is a homogenous mixture with no visible particles, while a suspension is not fully dissolved and has small particles present. Suspended abrasive solids can wear away pipes over time, even if they are made from stainless steel. Wear-resistant coatings can help to reduce maintenance in these cases. If the suspension in the liquid system is used in food, it is also important to consider good manufacturing practices, so the small solids do not become lodged in tight spaces and become havens for bacteria.

4. Chemical Interactions

Chemical interactions can create dangerous reactions or simply ruin the substance. The most common chemical interactions to be aware of are those involved with water or air. Cyanoacrylate, for example, will become solid almost immediately if it touches water. It is also important to consider humidity in these reactions, as high humidity conditions can trigger reactions with water. Another chemical reaction to consider are those with common cleaning chemicals, such as bleach or ammonia. If liquid systems are cleaned with these chemicals, it is important to know how the ingredients may react with them. Finally, copper alloys causes fats to oxidize, so ingredients with high fat content should not be used with systems containing copper.

5. Viscosity

Viscosity can be considered a measure of a liquid’s “thickness” or how easily it flows. This metric is particularly important for the pump and flow meters on the liquid system. Some pumps will clog and wear down easily when working with thick liquids. A sine pump is ideal for thick liquids with suspended solids, particularly for foods such as pie fillings, jams and salad dressing. These types of pumps are gentle and predictable, allowing thick liquids and suspensions to flow without damage to the recipe or the pump itself.

6. Food Grade Applications

Liquid systems used in food processing must be held to a higher standard than others. As previously mentioned, food-grade liquid systems must be completely sealed to prevent particles from accumulating in small spaces. This includes welded joints and screws as well as hermetically sealed weighing devices. Liquid systems involved in food processing must also be easy to clean, either through clean-in-place processes or through disassembly.

There are many considerations when it comes to designing liquid systems. In our next blog posts, we’ll discuss liquid system pumps and meters in more detail, and how to choose these mechanisms based on liquid characteristics.

7 Tips to Maintain GMP for Food Safety in Manufacturing

Good manufacturing practices (GMP) help to reduce risk and prevent illness and injury throughout the supply chain. CFR Title 21 Part 110 lays out GMP for food safety in manufacturing, covering a range of activities from packaging to processing to storage and more. In some areas, the document provides explicit instructions about GMP. Other areas are less clear. In this blog post, we’ll discuss GMP in food manufacturing equipment design, as well as the facility design, to get a better picture of risks that are especially common or easy to overlook.

7 Tips to Maintain GMP for Food Safety in Manufacturing

1. Proper Welding Practices

Whether you are working with liquids, powders, or bulk solids, proper welding practices are essential for all equipment. Sanitary design requires that there be no hiding places were moisture, dust, and particles carrying foodborne illness pathogens could accumulate. This means sealing any cracks or hollow areas. Some of these are obvious, while others are easy to miss. The following are just a few examples.

  • Cracks between welded joints
  • Dents on horizontal surfaces
  • Threaded screws or attached parts
  • Concave handles or edges
  • Burrs or sharps
  • Stress cracks on hot surfaces

GMP for food safety also require the right welding techniques and materials. For example, the wrong welding technique on stainless steel can compromise the oxide layer that keeps it from rusting, or create tiny fractures that will ultimately cause the metal to rust or corrode. Welding together dissimilar metals is another problem which can cause cracks and corrosion. To avoid these problems when ordering food processing equipment, take a close look at the manufacturer’s existing systems, or talk to a previous customer.

2. Hermetic Sealing

As previously mentioned, there can be no hollow areas where moisture or particles can accumulate. But this applies to more than welded joints and drilled holes. This principle also applies to other attached components, including electrical components. Electrical components with delicate inner workings must be hermetically sealed. This prevents moistures and particles from building up inside, and it also allows the equipment to be thoroughly washed without damaging the electronics. One example of this is the hermetically sealed load cell. If the load cell is not properly sealed, it can quickly become inaccurate and it can be a harborage for bacteria.

3. Remove Attached Components for Cleaning

Some machines can be cleaned with a thorough spray or even CIP procedures, but others require some disassembly. Components such as mixing paddles and chopping blades which are attached using bolts or threaded screws must be properly removed from the machine before cleaning. The process for this should be clearly laid out, and all components should have a safe place to sit while they move through the cleaning process. This will ensure that the components are all cleaned properly, but it will also help to prevent losses of small screws or other parts.

4. Use the Right Cleaning Process

The ingredients that you work with as well as your equipment design will help to determine the type of cleaning solution and processes you need. The cleaning solution and process must be able to cut through residue and destroy bacteria without damaging machines. For this to work,

  • Remove stuck-on residue. A dirty surface cannot be sanitized, so stuck-on materials must be removed first. This might require a large, rough-bristle brush for stuck solids, or a finer scrubbing brush for thinner, stickier substances like sugars or oils. It might also require hot water, soap, or detergent to cut through the material.
  • Rinse: All equipment must be properly rinsed to remove stuck-on materials and soap. If this is not rinsed off, the next sanitation stage will not be as effective.
  • Sanitize: In the final stage, heat, steam or chemical sanitation eliminates microbes.

If you are working with corrosive cleaning agents, it is important to make sure they do not damage stainless steel finishes or possible weak spots, such as welded joints. It is also important to closely monitor the temperature and pH of the cleaning solution. At temperatures over 115°F, many liquid cleaning agents become a corrosive, harmful gases. At the wrong pH, other chemicals will not clean properly, or they may become more corrosive. Other liquids or gases may be ideal for cleaning, but contact or inhalation can be hazardous to people. It is important to make proper cleaning protocols clear and make sure all safety equipment, such as gloves or masks, are in full working order.

5. Properly Storing Harmful Materials

Cleaning agents, pesticides, machine lubricants, fuels, and other chemicals are necessary to keep the plant running smoothly. However, if these substances find their way into the product line, the results can be deadly. GMP for food safety requires that these toxic substances be stored separately from any ingredients or finished products. It should be nearly impossible for these substances to accidentally enter the product line, and very difficult to do so deliberately without attracting attention.

6. Check and Verify

Even when the system appears to be working well, you can only know for sure if you check. GMP in food safety requires regular checks to ensure that sanitation and safety are actually working. This process can seem redundant, but skipping it introduces real danger. All of the time and effort you’ve already put in to GMP will be wasted unless you’re sure that its working. Monitor the system and conduct inspections to ensure the system is working properly.

Verification processes will depend on your facility. This might mean checking chemical concentrations and pH of washing water or verifying system pressure. It might mean conducting microbial inspections, swabbing and test cultures. A simple visual test or checklist might be in order, or some combination of these things.

7. Strict Processes

Even GMP with perfect planning are useless unless they are properly carried out. A strict and detailed process helps to ensure that the procedures are actually working according to plan. Use detailed cleaning instructions and checklists to maintain consistency. Be sure to clearly mark cleaning tools, so they are not cross-contaminated (for example, using a floor scrubber for mixing paddles). Finally, make sure that employees understand why these processes are important. Employees who understand food safety risks and the purpose of a given task are less likely to skip processes that might otherwise be considered redundant or pointless. Finally, these processes should also be well-documented.

GMP in food safety has helped to reduce the spread of foodborne illness and make facilities safer for everyone. Considering food safety GMP as you design a new facility or make upgrades to an existing one can help to make everyday processes faster and easier.

Batch Process Control: No Programming Required

batch process control

For many operators, batch process controls are a black box—it’s unclear what’s inside them, how they’re programmed, or how exactly they control the rest of the system. This presents problems for both operators and engineers. Making even a small change or upgrade requires a service call, or someone on staff with programming knowledge. To service multiple systems or brands using custom languages, engineers need a library of programming knowledge on top of mechanical expertise. Many operators and engineers wonder why batch process controls can’t be accessible, as well as functional and durable. Is it possible to control and change the system with the functionality and integrity of a PLC, without an extra layer of complexity?

Batch Process Control Simplified

No Programming Required

It’s a common scenario: you want to update your process, change a recipe, or replace a machine to improve your product or process. Your field service tech or your own engineers are buried in ladder logic or proprietary programming. Making one process improvement shouldn’t take this long or cost this much.

Instead of learning your machine’s language, the computer should learn your language. The Batch Box integrated batch controller does it. BatchBox allows technicians or operators to install, program and reprogram the entire batch mixing, weighing and measuring process with word-based commands. A simple interview process removes the layer of complexity that makes batch process control programming so inaccessible. The BatchBox controller asks you about your system in plain English, then takes care of the programming for you.

Program or reprogram your automated process system with no programming required.

Learn more about BatchBox

Complete System Control

Process visibility is a common problem for many manufacturers. Scale instruments control dosing and measurement, but can’t control metered liquids or mixing. PLCs can coordinate more parts of the system, but can’t communicate the results with operators. When it comes to comprehensive batch process management, there’s always a roadblock.

Upstream and downstream process visibility and control is essential. If one process isn’t correct, every subsequent process will also be off. The BatchBox solves this problem with complete system control built in. Mixers, metered liquids, feeders, scales, motors, alarms and every other part of the process are all connected and controlled from one secure, but accessible device.

Gather System Data

Simply controlling and coordinating ingredients and mixing is no longer enough. Optimizing your product and your process requires data: volume, time, maintenance, accuracy, quality and defects. However, an archive and database aren’t built in to the brains of most systems, leaving operators without any knowledge of their batch process system day-to-day.

The BatchBox is programmed to gather and archive batch process control data. From production volume to no-flow conditions, maintenance time, measuring accuracy, product defects and more, you have a full record of what your system is doing. If something goes wrong, you know what, when, and why. In the long-term, you have the tools to uncover problems and optimize your system.

Change Your Recipe At Any Time

Some recipes are tried and true, and stay the same for years at a time. But most of the time recipes change slightly; flavorings, vitamin mixes, colorants, and dozens of other changes. In order to accommodate all the ingredients and recipes that are required, you need a database, but traditional PLC’s do not have enough memory storage to accomplish this. Using an industrial computer in conjunction with a PLC rack of I/O gives you the best of both worlds. A system that is hardened for rough industrial environments, and a PC that is capable of storing all of the recipe and ingredient information.

Everything Off-The-Shelf

When upgrading your system controls, replacing a faulty board or making other periodic fixes, operators, technicians and engineers encounter a common problem; the parts or information they need is only in one place. This means accepting one price, one timeline and one configuration, no questions asked.

All control systems inevitably require some maintenance or repairs, but you do have options about how to make those repairs. The BatchBox is built with all off-the-shelf components, so you can make repairs or replacements at any time. This also gives you more freedom to shop around or select a dealer with the fastest lead times.

Value Added

Previously, PLCs and scale instruments have been black boxes, with only a few experts knowing what is in them or how they work. However, batch process controls do not have to be a mystery or a point of frustration. BatchBox is value-added technology giving end users simplicity and functionality, and giving distributors a competitive value proposition.

BatchBox is designed to work with the most popular existing equipment and scale instruments, including Mettler-Toledo, Cardinal, Hardy, Rice Lake, and many more. Designed with both end-users and distributors in mind, BatchBox allows anyone to become an expert on their batch process systems, with no extra training or tools required. Take a look at the spec sheet to learn more about BatchBox for your system or your customers today.