22 January, 2019

Food for thought

27 March, 2018

British Fluid Power Association and British Fluid Power Distributors Association member companies FPE Seals, MP Filtri UK and IMI Precision Engineering outline some of the current key areas of discussion within the food & beverage industry and consider how to aim to achieve optimum performance.

Like the manufacturing sector in general, the food & beverage industry is reliant on the continuing efficiency of its plant and equipment in order to deliver customer orders on time and to the right specification. However, while it is widely recognised that any unscheduled equipment downtime can be costly both in terms of lost production, periods of staff inactivity and even compromised brand reputation if goods are not delivered on time to the customer, John Crofts, business development manager, FPE Seals considers that some manufacturers still do not fully appreciate the importance of sourcing parts that are best suited for the specific type of machinery in question.

On the positive side, in the case of parts such as seals Crofts believes manufacturers’ sourcing practices are now moving in the right direction. He makes the point that in the recent past many manufacturers within sectors such as food & beverage were more interested in buying sealing products based upon price as opposed to buying higher quality parts that last longer and extend the Mean Time Between Failure – the predicted time between failures of equipment during operation.

Crofts adds that there was also less of a focus on planned maintenance and optimising periods of uptime. “However, this attitude is changing to some extent now as differences in ‘seal quality’ are better understood,” he says. “Those companies that still choose to source on price rather than understanding the level of quality of parts required to ensure they are fit for purpose, usually pay more in the long term. There’s always a cheaper product, but is it the one you need?. It can take a maintenance engineer many hours to strip a machine down to replace a seal that costs a few Pounds. Surely, then, it has to be worth spending more on a seal that is going to last 10 times longer?”

Service and maintenance

Continuing the machinery reliability theme, Stephan Brueckl, director food and beverage at IMI Precision Engineering, reminds us that the food & beverage industry uses fast-actuating rotary machines that are required to produce high-volume goods. “These machines are becoming increasingly fast in terms of operation,” he says, “and with this increased speed there is also an increased need for a suitably robust service and maintenance regime that can ensure maximum uptime and equipment reliability. Any downtime can be very costly for these fast-producing manufacturers.”

Brueckl also states that products used within the machinery need to be proven to be reliable, not just at the beginning of their operational life but throughout their lifetime. “Many products, such as pneumatic actuators, work well for a period of time when first installed, but then their performance can deteriorate quite quickly,” he says. “So, what is needed are products that can increase service life and thus reduce maintenance costs. For example, IMI Precision Engineering’s new ISOLine pneumatic cylinder range has been designed to offer a system that offers these advantages. This range also introduces the IMI Norgren Adaptive Cushioning System (ACS), which automatically adjusts the cylinder cushioning for changing loads, so manual cushion screw setting is not required.”

Importance of hygiene

Another non-negotiable focus within the food & beverage industry is hygiene. Brueckl makes the point that to avoid contamination it is critical that all parts of machinery used as part of the production process – that is to say, all parts (such as pneumatic cylinders and valves) that directly or indirectly come into contact with the food and/or beverage products during the filling process – are constructed of corrosion-resistant, non-toxic and non-absorbent materials.

Similarly, Geoff Grant, product manager, MP Filtri UK, also points out that a high level of cleanliness is one of the primary requirements of the food & beverage industry in order to ensure the finished goods and produce are as hygienically safe as possible. “In most circumstances, much of the equipment used within this sector needs to be operated in strictly controlled environments, with use of stainless steel equipment and appropriate hygienic clothing worn by the workforce,” he explains. “This is to ensure microbial contamination is kept to a bare minimum in line with FDA regulations etc. Therefore, any technology that can offer proven, efficient cleanliness monitoring is an important consideration. For example, different types of particle counting solutions for everything from monitoring contamination in the hydraulic system used on equipment on the shop floor and filter testing, through to monitoring contaminant levels in the air.”


In the case of production-related or packaging-related machinery, Brueckl observes that many companies are aware of the importance of total cost of ownership and look to take this to the next level. Also, in places such as Europe, Brueckl has seen a drive among many of the larger manufacturers towards deploying fully automated machines within their premium factories. “Of course, with this extra equipment there is also the need for an even more proactive predictive maintenance strategy,” he says. “Again, the main point is that these companies need to be in a position to better plan maintenance cycles. At the moment, many smaller companies still focus on the cost of investment and decide to continue to rely mainly on a production workforce rather than a greater level of production automation.”

The Industrial Internet of Things and Industry 4.0

The theme of greater data connectivity and analytics is being increasingly discussed within manufacturing. Crofts picks up the topic, commenting that if the type of technology that can enable these benefits means providing more information to customers in terms of when to upgrade parts and equipment etc., then concepts such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) and Industry 4.0 have to be recognised as very valuable. “With the current shortage of skilled manpower within industries such as food & beverage, these types of automated processes can be very useful,” he says. “Many companies are so busy running the machinery that they haven’t a lot of control over how machines could be run more effectively, or how to maintain them more efficiently. So, the more valuable automated information provided that doesn't need to be manually collected is going to be a tremendous bonus to them.”

With the importance of maximising machine uptime, Brueckl comments that there is certainly a strong argument for deploying more ‘connected’ technology in order to better monitor the current condition and performance of plant and equipment within the food & beverage industry, among others. “This is where the Industry 4.0 concept, and the tools that can make it a reality, can plan an important part – for example, greater use of sensor technology, IT and analytics software,” he says.

Grant states technology that can facilitate Industry 4.0 is something many companies and equipment suppliers are looking at increasingly keenly. “This is totally understandable if it can help companies in sectors such as food & beverage achieve greater operational and maintenance efficiencies through greater information connectivity and analysis,” he remarks. “However, before Industry 4.0 adoption primary focus there still remains a need within many companies to educate users regarding the basics of a system – for example, the essential information needed to understand how a hydraulic system is designed, built and operated.”


Crofts maintains it is important that end user companies have a very good understanding of their processes in order not only to operate their machinery efficiently, but also to be in a position to provide suppliers with detailed information so that the right parts can be supplied when required. “As a supplier, we need to listen carefully to the customer and also ask the customer for full and accurate application information to ensure the correct seal is supplied,” he says. “Correct selection and supply not only enhances reputation and trust of both parties, but also improves production efficiency (we used to call this a win/win).”

Developing the knowledge theme, Grant believes there is a need to understand the basics of maintaining this system; and, in this regard, users should recognise the importance of things such as contamination monitoring. “Unfortunately, in many cases contamination monitoring is still seen as a luxury and an added cost rather than being embraced as something that can actually save money through increased uptime and system efficiency through the adoption of a more effective maintenance regime, not to mention the benefits related to keeping a production environment clean,” he says.

Advice and guidance

Grant emphasises that recognised industry bodies such as the BFPA can provide advice and guidance on the best solutions and suppliers to consider. “Such bodies can also provide training or recommend proven training organisations for the task of getting your workforce up to speed with understanding hydraulic, pneumatic and other related equipment better in order to ensure operation, maintenance and cleanliness are optimised,” he concludes.

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