Oat milk

According to market research released just this month, the global pea protein market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23.6% through 2025. And that’s not the only specialty ingredient that’s taking off right now. Soy protein, oat milk, avocado oil — all of these and more are enjoying increased popularity.

For more than 60 years, Flottweg Separation Technology has been helping food processors meet changing consumer demands while also improving the productivity and efficiency of their processes. To learn what’s new in separation technology, we spoke with Oliver Willmann and Lee Betkowski, who are both regional managers for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and food industries at Flottweg.

Continuous processing, food safety, and flexibility

Separation technology is widely used in food processing to separate solids from liquids or even from liquids to liquids. Centrifuges are found along production lines for everything from extracting oils and plant proteins, to recycling brewer’s grains, to processing fish and fish byproducts.

What all of these markets have in common is that processors are constantly looking for ways to improve productivity while also meeting today’s strict food safety requirements. For many processors, that means moving from batch to continuous processing.

“Customers often come to us looking for production increases or wanting to switch from a batch process to a continuous process to increase their processing capacity,” Willmann explains. “Not only that, but they want to decrease their equipment footprint and save money at the same time.” Flottweg provides benefits in all of these areas — their centrifuges run 24/7 with minimal operator input and are also comparatively small.

“Our equipment is also very versatile,” says Willmann. “It can handle a lot of applications and is forgiving compared to other technologies. This is useful for customers that need to switch between products and campaigns.”

Of course, all of this equipment must also be easy to clean. “In the food industry, cleanability is the top concern,” says Betkowski. “Centrifuges have cleaning challenges due to the nature of the design.” Flottweg solves these challenges by providing automated cleaning systems — with the press of a button, the machine runs through an automatic cleaning cycle to remove any residual product.

Processing flammable or oxygen-sensitive materials

Aside from a general productivity boost, many processors are looking for better ways to handle materials that may be flammable or otherwise sensitive to oxygen.

For these applications, Flottweg offers “gas-tight” (inert gas purged) machines. Betkowski explains: “A regular decanter centrifuge is non-gas-tight. There’s a gasket, but the material is open to the atmosphere, which means it could pick up oxygen. To prevent this, we blanket the entire machine in nitrogen and monitor the pressures within the machine as well as the seals. This protects anything from inside the machine from leaking into the environment and anything from the environment from getting into the product.”

Gas-tight machines are more complex and the overall integration into the process has to be considered, Betkowski adds, which is why not many manufacturers make them. “From a competitive standpoint, Flottweg has an advantage because we’re willing to take on these unique and very difficult applications.”

Flavor extraction is one such application because it uses ethanol, which is flammable. In cases like this, a gas-tight machine built for Class 1 hazardous locations (i.e., locations where flammable gases or vapors are present in sufficient quantities to cause an explosion) protects not only the product, but the workers and facilities as well.

The right technology for every application

Gas-tight centrifuges aren’t the only equipment that makes Flottweg unique. The company offers a variety of machines tailored for different applications, such as the Sedicanter®, a special decanter for soft sediment.

“We’re the only company in the world that manufactures this type of machine,” Betkowski says. “It’s a modified decanter centrifuge that offers much higher g-forces than a standard decanter. That, along with the overall geometry, enhances performance to help with difficult separation applications.” The Sedicanter was originally developed for the German brewing industry, but it’s now being used in other applications, like yeast suspensions and soy milks.

Flottweg also makes disc stack separators, which can isolate very fine particles in a very short time. By offering three types of technologies — decanters, the Sedicanter, and disc stack centrifuges — the company can meet any and all separation needs. “No other company has the ability to do that,” Betkowski says.

So, if you have an application that requires separation, how do you know which technology to use?

“We do a lot of lab studies and pilot testing,” Betkowski says. “Any time a processor comes to us with a new application, we start with lab studies, where they’ll send us a half-liter sample of the material they want to separate. This tells us with about 80% effectiveness which technology will be most appropriate. Then, we send engineers and pilot machines to the site to run trials. Based on those results, we recommend a solution. This is how we approach every job — working closely with the client to make sure they get the right machine for their application.”

As more workers retire and the industry loses institutional knowledge, processors are relying more heavily on these types of collaborative partnerships with their OEMs. “More and more clients are coming to us asking us how to design their processes for greater efficiency,” Willmann adds. “We have a very large process group with process technicians and engineers who go out to customer sites to help them design and optimize their processes.”

This dedication to excellence is why Flottweg has been in business for so long, and why there are more than 13,000 Flottweg decanters/separators installed in manufacturing facilities across the globe.  “We have a lot of people with a lot of knowledge,” Betkowski says. “We rely on their expertise to help us innovate and provide the solutions that will best serve our clients.”

If you’d like to tap into that knowledge and learn more about how new separation technologies can benefit you, be sure to visit Flottweg at PROCESS EXPO this October. They’ll be in Booth #2743.