Food industry sanitation methods are notoriously abusive for equipment. That’s one reason food processing equipment is made of stainless steel — so it can withstand hot water and chemical washdowns and still maintain food safety.
But non-food contact surfaces need to cope with these conditions as well. As the industry continues to adopt automation technologies, one type of non-food contact equipment that’s making its way more frequently to the plant floor is electrical enclosures. To learn more, we spoke with John Carnevale of Rittal North America LLC, the largest manufacturer of electrical enclosures in the world.
Rittal was founded in 1961 by Rudolph Loh in Herborn, Germany. It now has 65 subsidiaries operating in 78 countries. Rittal has 15 international manufacturing facilities with over 5.3 million square feet of space and over 11,000 employees. Its North American arm is headquartered in the Chicago area, and the company has a manufacturing center in Urbana, Ohio, as well as distribution centers in Texas and Nevada. Carnevale has been with Rittal North America LLC in their US headquarters for two years as its Vertical Market Manager for Food and Beverage.
Inadequate enclosures risk water damage and contamination
Food safety and sanitation are among food manufacturers’ biggest concerns. As automation takes hold in the industry, companies are challenged with the cleanability of this new machinery. In particular, Carnevale says that the enclosures housing automation controls often take in water during sanitation processes. Most of the enclosures in use today have dead spaces in which food particles can get trapped making the enclosures difficult to clean.
Not only that, but hot, pressurized water combined with aggressive chemical cleaners “breaks down, degrades, and compromises the enclosure gaskets,” Carnevale adds. “Then once the gaskets break down, they allow water and food particles to get inside the enclosure.” The dark, cool interior of the enclosure is an ideal place for bacteria to thrive. If those bacteria start to spread to other parts of the plant, food products could be at risk of contamination.
Although bacteria like wet environments, electrical components don’t. Water getting into the enclosures can cause downtime as well as lead to costly repairs. Carnevale cites one survey finding that 86% of food industry participants experienced monthly equipment failure from water intake. “That's all due to the failure of those gaskets. It creates unnecessary maintenance time, eventually leading to lost productivity.”
Water-tight, fully cleanable enclosures designed with the food industry in mind
This is where hygienic enclosure design comes in. Carnevale estimates that manufacturers can reduce cleaning and inspection time of enclosures by 10% to 15% thanks to Rittal’s innovative hygienic design. Of course, with the average cost of a recall reaching $10 million, preventing food contamination is worth much more. “If you're trying to avoid food contamination, our product can help,” Carnevale says.
Here are a few of the design elements that Rittal’s enclosures feature:
- Internal hinges and silicone seals. These ensure there are no gaps between the door and the rest of the enclosure. Water stays out, and so does contamination. The silicone rubber gaskets are manufactured with FDA approved material and can be easily replaced in minutes.
- A sloped top that extends over the door of the enclosure. The slope keeps water moving down, away from the door. This prevents liquid from pooling or seeping into the enclosure from above. In addition to the brushed stainless steel material the enclosures are manufactured with, all the features of the enclosure and the accessories use hygienic design practices that are designed to shed water after the cleaning process.
Rittal’s enclosures also have an IP69K rating, which is the highest level of dust and water protection available. Carnevale says that this rating is more important than most manufacturers realize. He explains: “Right now, most people are using a UL-listed type NEMA 4X enclosure, and they’re calling that a waterproof or water-resistant enclosure. But it's not built for high-pressure and high-temperature washdowns.”
To be IP69K-rated, enclosures must remain impenetrable against heated and pressurized water from all angles. While traditional UL and NEMA ratings indicate a certain degree of protection, they don’t require enclosures to withstand the same level of water intensity during testing.
To keep electrical components from overheating, Rittal also offers a line of Blue e+ air conditioning units. “Manufacturers use many air conditioning units inside their factories for automation equipment,” Carnevale says. “Our Blue e+ air conditioners are very environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient, saving up to 75% in energy costs.”
Finally, Rittal offers protective covers to keep HMIs from having their screens damaged by high-temperature, high-pressure water. Rittal also has a full range of hygienic design accessories including enclosure mounting options, cable glands, and climate control products.
With FSMA calling for improved sanitation practices and equipment cleanability, now is the prime time for Rittal to showcase its protective enclosures for the industry. That’s exactly what they’ll be doing at PROCESS EXPO this October. Stop by Booth #455 to learn more.