5 Ways to Improve Safety in Bulk Material Processing

workplace safety regulations for grain and pet food 2018

Bulk material processing is an essential part of many different industries, from chemical manufacturing to farming to food to pharmaceuticals and many more. However, bulk material processing also presents many unique hazards that claim thousands of lives each year. Improving safety in bulk material processing not only means saving lives, but also making processes more efficient.

5 Ways to Use Automation to Improve Safety in Bulk Material Processing

1. Improved Storage Design

It’s easy to assume that storage containers are all alike. A storage container merely needs to hold material and discharge it properly, which generally isn’t considered a complicated process. However, when working with thousands of pounds of any material, complex problems can arise. The design of the storage container can significantly affect safety in bulk material processing.

There are a number of issues to consider when it comes to storage design in bulk material processing, including:

  • Storage container collapse, such as silo collapse due to uneven filling
  • Spoilage and contamination due to uneven filling, discharge or faulty construction
  • Weak points in inlet or discharge valves or gates, resulting in material flooding
  • Improperly designed outlets changing flow patterns in unexpected ways

Understanding the material’s characteristics—including how susceptible it is to certain flow problems, such as bridging, ratholing, and separation—can help to optimize storage design and eliminate some hazards. With an understanding of how the material flows and the conditions which make it likely to stick, aerate, clog, flush, freeze, congeal etc., equipment designers and operators can also identify dangerous conditions before they become hazards.

2. Preventing Grain Entrapment and Engulfment

Entrapment and engulfment, usually involving grain silos or bins, is one of the most dangerous incidents in bulk material processing. This occurs when workers walk across the top of stored material within a container, and a void or weak point in the stored material collapses, creating a type of sinkhole that either traps or completely swallows the worker.

The seemingly harmless grain creates numerous complex problems for freeing a trapped or engulfed worker. Studies indicate that a person cannot escape the sinkhole by themselves if they are entrapped above the knee; at waist-high levels, formal rescue attempts are required, and full engulfment usually results in suffocation in minutes. Due to the friction created by grains, simple pulling force usually cannot extract someone from the sinkhole; the force required to pull someone free when trapped at waist-high level can also fracture their spine. Gasses produced by spoiling grain, heat extremes in the bin or silo, and further danger of entrapment also complicates rescue efforts, and has killed first responders.

Despite the improvements in many areas of bulk material handling and processing, the incidence of entrapment and engulfment in grain silos and similar situations has not improved in recent years. A record-setting 51 entrapments occurred in the U.S. in 2010, with a disproportionate number killing or injuring children under the age of 18. Hundreds more are affected around the world.

This phenomena again involves storage containers and the unexpected problems that can result from bulk material storage and flow. The best form of prevention is zero entry into the storage container. When grain is stored at the appropriate moisture level in a properly-designed container, it will flow freely, eliminating the need for entry. Education on this problem can also show workers that, though the grain appears solid enough to walk on, invisible sinkholes can exist anywhere.

3. Mitigating Dust

Bulk material processing often means handling powders and materials with small particles, which can result in dust and powder around the facility. Once again, this is a seemingly harmless substance which can actually be very harmful. Dust and powders present health risks through inhalation, and risks of fires and explosions.

Powder or dust fires and explosions continue to cause hundreds of deaths and injuries in America, and thousands more worldwide, every year. When the right concentration of dust and oxygen occurs in a closed space and something ignites—a spark from a machine, a cigarette, even a static spark—a dust fire or explosion can occur.

Mitigating dust is the best way to prevent dust ignition and combustion. Since dust can occur at many different points in the bulk material handling process, it takes ongoing diligence to reduce dust and improve safety in bulk material processing.

Dust mitigation includes a range of devices, including:

  • Fugitive dust removal systems around bulk bag unloaders and hoppers
  • Skirting around conveyor transfer points
  • Washdown systems for cleaning equipment
  • Using respirators to avoid inhalation

4. Using a Job Hazard Analysis

Different bulk material processing and handling facilities present different hazards. The best way to improve safety at your bulk material processing facility is to assess risk beforehand and create a culture of safety.

A Job Hazard Analysis can help to reveal unique dangers at a facility, draw attention to these risks, and identify ways to reduce these risks. Job Hazard Analysis is similar to, but much shorter than, a hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) assessment for food safety.

A Job Hazard Analysis includes:

  • Breaking the job into steps
  • Identify the hazards of each step
  • Identify ways to reduce or eliminate these hazards

5. Create a Culture of Safety

Safety on the job site often begins in a reactive way, where incidents on the job are assumed to be simple accidents or the result of a lack of attention from a single person. This is not an effective way to address safety concerns, which often stem from systemic problems, not individual accidents.

Transitioning to a climate of safety responsibility, first individually and then as a group, is the best way to improve safety in bulk material processing, or any facility. When the team takes ownership and feels responsibility for the safety of everyone and believes that zero injuries is possible, all team members have the best chance of maintaining safety.

4 Considerations for Choosing a Powder Handling Machinery Manufacturer

Working with powders can be a challenge. When your powder handling machinery is designed properly, you can not only improve efficiency, but also improve safety, reduce expenses, and extend equipment longevity. Getting the right equipment starts with finding the right manufacturer. When you’re looking for a powder handling machinery manufacturer, here are a few considerations.

4 Considerations for Choosing a Powder Handling Machinery Manufacturer

Experience with Your Industry

Powder handling and processing equipment spans a wide range of industries. Working with a powder handling machinery manufacturer that has experience in your industry will help to jumpstart thorough and high-quality equipment design.

Different types of powders have different flow rates and patterns, pose different hazards and risks, and often require unique equipment or precautions to work with. This may require unique dust collection systems to manage combustible dust, special conveyor systems to prevent flow problems, special weighing systems with the right level of sensitivity and accuracy, and more. Working with an experienced machinery manufacturer will help to ensure these unique aspects are taken care of.

High-Quality Materials

Different powders also work best with different materials. For example, powders for food processing work best with food-grade stainless steel. Powder handling equipment for food must also be constructed with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), such as proper welding techniques, sanitation requirements, hermetic sealing, and more. Or, some powders may be especially susceptible to humidity, maybe display caustic qualities, may accumulate static electricity, or other factors. Working with the right type of steel, plastic, or other construction materials, as well as experience with the right welding and construction techniques, can help to ensure that the machinery is suitable for the materials.

Weighing Instruments

Powders can present interesting challenges for weighing and measuring. Those that are prone to flushing can be difficult to measure without the right gate on the hopper or measurement device. Micro ingredient or trace ingredient powders must be measured with exact tolerances, and require careful measurement and calibration. Working with a powder handling machinery manufacturer that also has access to different types of measurement equipment and weighing instruments is also helpful.

Dust Suppression

When working with powders, dust suppression and containment are especially important. There are many different ways to contain, prevent and mitigate dust, and which you choose will depend on the types of powders you’re working with. Working with a machinery manufacturer who also has experience working with these powders and these dust suppression systems will help to improve your overall equipment design.

Some dust suppression types include

  • Preventing aeration by eliminating material freefall
  • Atomized mist to control larger dust particles across wider areas
  • Compressed air dust collection systems around hoppers
  • Conveyor skirting to reduce dust around conveyance

With the right design behind your powder handling machinery, you can prevent common problems and make sure your system is optimized for your materials and processes. Make these considerations as you look for a manufacturing partner. Ask your potential manufacturers about previous work, references, materials they are familiar with, supplies for dust suppression equipment and weighing instruments, and other specialty equipment. This way, you can be sure that your system is made for your needs and made to last.

Bulk Powder Handling Equipment with the Quickest ROI

improving bulk powder processing

Working with materials in bulk can present challenges that aren’t presented by smaller amounts. Powders also present many handling challenges. With the right bulk powder handling equipment, you can minimize problems while also improving efficiency. Choosing the right equipment improvements can help you maximize ROI. Let’s take a look at the bulk powder handling equipment with the quickest ROI.

Bulk Powder Handling Equipment with the Quickest ROI

Bulk Bag Unloader

A typical bulk bag or supersack holds a ton of material. If you’re working with individual 50 lb bags, that’s the equivalent of 40 bags—that’s a lot of time and energy spent moving, opening, and pouring bags. For this reason, transitioning to bulk bags is one a bulk powder handling equipment upgrades with the quickest ROI.

Working with a bulk bag unloader, you free employees from repeatedly opening and dispensing smaller bags. Though bulk bags certainly have their own hazards, these are avoidable with the right design. Contrastingly, it’s more difficult to avoid repetitive stress injuries from repeatedly loading and unloading 50 lb bags. Supersack unloaders are also designed to deal with dust and debris, reducing dust exposure to employees as well. Transitioning to bulk bags will also save significant time and make your process more efficient.

Automated Controls

Automation provides a number of opportunities to improve efficiency, when it’s properly planned and installed. Finding bulk powder handling equipment upgrades with the quickest ROI means first finding areas of inefficiency. If you are currently operating mixers, feeders, scales, or other processes with manual controls, automation can help these processes work in tandem, reduce error, and simplify record-keeping.

With automated controls, the next process will begin automatically when the previous process is finished. Or, these processes can work simultaneously, minimizing downtime and optimizing the process speed. Synchronizing controls with your scale will improve accuracy by eliminating the possibility for human error. Connecting the automation process with your record-keeping system will also reduce error in your records and improve record-keeping efficiency.

Two-Speed Scale Operation

Major scales take time to fill, and often fill quickly. As a scale reaches its desired weight, this fast filling speed can quickly result in overfilling. Overfill alarms can stop the process and a very overfilled bin can even cause product defects. To prevent overfilling, the feeder will often jog, which not only slows down the process but also overworks the drive. Two-speed scale operation helps to prevent jogging and overfilling. With a variable frequency drive, you can equip the scale to fill at two speeds, a bulk rate and a dribble rate, so the scale will fill more slowly and stop at the right time.

Automatic Routing

Bulk powder handling equipment equipped with automatic routing can also offer quick ROI. Automatic downstream or upstream routing helps to ensure that ingredients or finished products find their way to the right bin.

With manual routing, the system will stop when the selected bin fills and an employee is engaged in another activity, such as dealing with an overfill alarm. It may take several minutes for the employee to route the system properly. In this time, production will stop. Automatic routing will prevent this problem. It will also automatically track lot numbers, bin numbers and raw ingredients, making tracking and tracing much easier and more efficient.

Micro Ingredient System

Adding trace ingredients or micro ingredients to a mix with several macro ingredients presents a number of challenges. Your weighing and batching systems are most likely designed with macro ingredients in mind, requiring micro ingredients to be added by hand. Like most manual processes, this takes time and generally isn’t very accurate.

A micro ingredient system can make your bulk powder handling system more efficient and more accurate. You don’t have to worry about where to store partially used bags of ingredients, there’s no adding extra scoops or accidentally leaving a scoop out, or cross-contamination between the scoops. A micro ingredient system will measure and dispense the ingredients you need automatically, and can even track this activity to simplify record-keeping.

There are many ways to upgrade bulk powder handling equipment and improve plant efficiency. Which of these upgrades offer the quickest ROI will depend on your facility’s current equipment, and where you see the best opportunities for improvement. If you have questions about bulk powder handling equipment and automation, contact us. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.

Using Automation to Improve Bulk Material Handling Efficiency

powder flow control problems and solutions

From the first assembly line to the complex robotics in use today, automated equipment is designed to make processes more efficient. Efficiency may mean optimizing equipment uptime, reducing unexpected downtime, or simply making a process faster. Automation in bulk material handling can be used at many different stages of production and with many different materials. Here’s a few of the ways you can use automation to improve bulk material handling efficiency.

Using Automation to Improve Bulk Material Handling Efficiency

Automatic Routing

Automatic routing helps to make upstream and downstream processes move more smoothly. Automatic downstream routing will ensure that the finished product makes its way into the correct finishing bin. Automating this part of the process can help to improve the overall efficiency of the system by removing human error and delays. If an operator is dealing with another task and isn’t available to route the system properly, the bin will fill and the process will halt, as the material has nowhere to go. Automatic downstream routing will divert the material to the next bin as soon as the previous one fills, so the process moves on smoothly.

Automatic upstream routing works similarly, except with raw ingredients instead of finished material. Automated upstream routing moves raw materials into the correct bin as it’s being delivered and dispensed. Both of these automated processes improve bulk material handling efficiency during processing, but also make record-keeping and track and tracing much more accurate and efficient as well.

Warehouse Tracking

When receiving materials into a warehouse, first-in-first out usage is essential to prevent spoilage. However, this can be a challenge to maintain, as new shipments are generally piled or stacked on top of the old. An automated system can help to improve this process by showing exactly where the oldest materials are located on the pick list. When your routing, tracking and controls systems communicate, employees can easily see which bag, box or bin should be used next.

Machine Monitoring

Automation can improve bulk material handling efficiency by increasing uptime, but also by reducing unexpected downtime. One way to accomplish this is through preventive maintenance and machine monitoring. This not only prevents unexpected shutdowns due to machine error, but can also help to prevent dangerous events that put plants and employees in danger.

As a mixer, grinder, conveyor, or another device runs, sensors can monitor this activity and alert operators of problems. The most common ways to accomplish this is through amp draw, vibration, and temperature. A sensor might monitor amp draw to detect when a motor is working too hard. This might mean the load is too heavy or the material is too thick, which might occur if the material in the process changes, the material gets wet and sticks to the machine, the scale is off and dispenses too much material, the motor is in need of maintenance, or there may be another cause. Though the sensor won’t diagnose the problem, it will show that a problem exists before the motor overheats and breaks down completely.

Shut-down conditions can also be prevented by monitoring vibration or the temperature of the bearings on a machine. For example, if a grinder, conveyor, or another machine is vibrating excessively, this might indicate an unbalanced load, a foreign object has entered the mix, or another part of the machine is in need of maintenance. A sensor will detect this issue and alert an operator automatically. Sensors monitoring the temperature of bearings can detect even more urgent issues. If bearings are not properly lubricated, or if they are damaged, affected by a foreign object, or another issue, they can overheat through excessive friction. In bulk material handling, especially with fine powders, this can become a fire or explosion ignition device. Temperature monitoring sensors will detect this problem before it becomes a hazard.

Coordinating Run Time

One of the biggest advantages of automation in bulk material handling is the ability to coordinate processes and machines. With automation and synchronized controls, you can coordinate each process to run simultaneously. This might include filling, grinding, dispensing, weighing, mixing, and much more. This will optimize your facility for maximum efficiency.

To coordinate each process, it’s important to consider cycle times, filling times, weighing times, and more. This often includes more than the process time itself, but also the time it takes for materials to fill, settle, and discharge. For example, if it takes 30 seconds to fill, measure and discharge each ingredient in a 10 ingredient mix, it will take 300 seconds total to weigh the material in the scale so the mixer could be waiting for the weighing process to complete. If the mixing time only takes 150 seconds, it will be idle half the time. To solve this problem and reach maximum efficiency, you might use two scales, each with 5 ingredients. Automated equipment and controls will make these processes work together seamlessly, with each starting and stopping automatically, at the right time.

Automation offers many ways to improve bulk material handling efficiency. Consider your processes carefully and take a close look at where your equipment is idle, or where you’re seeing inaccuracies or shut-down conditions. Most likely, this is where automation upgrades will make the best improvements.

Using Automation in Bulk Material Handling Systems to Overcome Labor Shortages

Recently, labor shortages have raised issues for businesses in almost every industry. As employers struggle to build production back up and reopen after closing during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding or re-hiring qualified workers has proven to be difficult. Though recent events have worsened the labor gap, the labor shortage is not new for many industries, as more workers retire and skills requirements increase. Automation offers solutions to some of these problems. Here’s how automation can help overcome labor shortages in bulk material handling systems.

Using Automation in Bulk Material Handling Systems to Overcome Labor Shortages

Super Sack Handling

Using smaller, individual bags in bulk material handling requires lots of workers’ time and energy. Moving to super sacks can help to keep the system running smoothly and reduce the manpower needed to run it. This is one of the easiest ways to start overcoming labor shortages in bulk material handling systems, and it can also help to reduce costs, speed up the process, and reduce injuries and liabilities for the remaining employees.

It’s important to install the right super sack handling equipment when making the move from smaller bags. Injuries from falling or unbalanced super sacks or improperly cut bags can endanger employees. Use the right precautions when handling super sacks, and get the right bulk bag unloader equipment to make sure the bag is anchored safely, and the material flows properly.

Accurate Measuring

Throughout the bulk material handling system, accurate measurements help to reduce error and reduce the need for human intervention. One person can take a few minutes to calibrate, test and verify measurement instruments, but it takes multiple people and much more time to fix mistakes due to inaccurate measurements.

Make sure the load cell that you’re using is suitable for the equipment and the material that you’re working with. The capacity and accuracy of the load cell must make sense with the amount of material you’re working with and the tolerances you need. Regular testing and verification can help to ensure that the load cell is accurate. If you’re measurements are consistently off, look for common problems that can affect your load cells and measurement instruments.

Automatic Routing

A material handling system with automatic routing will move materials from one part of the process to another, with no human intervention required. This helps to overcome labor shortages in bulk material handling and reduce the repetitive, monotonous work of moving material from one stage to another.

This is often one of the first processes to be automated. Waiting for an operator to set up and move material downstream to packaging and lout-out eats into production time, and can easily introduce error. Relatively simple programming and controls can automate this process and move material quickly to the next step.

Easily Reprogrammable Controls

If a process changes, your materials change, or you need to replace or upgrade a machine, the controls operating the system must change accordingly too. For many computers or PLCs, this requires a trained engineer. Working through ladder logic and proprietary programming can take hours, even for an expert. Using simple, intuitive controls that can be easily reprogrammable will help to reduce the time and expertise needed to make changes or improvements to your process.

Electronic Record-Keeping

Tracking ingredients, weights, lot numbers, dates and more are all essential for FSMA compliance, product quality and safety. Most likely, some parts of this record-keeping system are already automated in your bulk material handling system. Adding automated labeling and RF code tracking systems can help to simplify this process further, increase accuracy and free up workers’ time for tasks that need human attention.

There are many benefits to automation in bulk material handling systems, and many other industries and processes as well. If you’re struggling to fill positions in a process, but you’re not sure about investing in automation, go through an automation considerations checklist. When you consider all the factors involved, you’ll be able to make the most informed choice about growing your workforce or expanding your equipment.

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.

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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.