Efficiency — how to optimize it? And waste — how to minimize it?

These questions fuel nearly every decision made today in the world of business and industry, from financial planning to industrial design.

Companies want to avoid wasting both tangible assets — water, energy, product — and that great intangible — time. And then, of course, there’s money.

But companies often go to great lengths to achieve greater efficiency or savings in one of these areas, only to find that they’re sacrificing efficiency in another.

With over 25 years experience in the food and beverage industry, Jeff Sporer has spent plenty of time witnessing the waste versus efficiency struggle firsthand. Originally trained as an engineer, Sporer is now Global Sales Manager for pumps and valves in the food and beverage division of SPX FLOW, a global industrial company. SPX FLOW manufactures a wide array of engineered products including pumps, valves, homogenizers, mixers, separators, dispersion equipment, and heat exchangers under its many world-renowned brands.  

When we asked Sporer what significant changes he’s seen during his time in the industry, he told us that, increasingly, there are two major resources that companies want to handle more efficiently: money and water. Sporer believes that the equipment SPX FLOW manufactures can help companies be more efficient with both of these critical resources.

In this article, we take a look at how new developments in equipment automation, particularly with clean-in-place (CIP) technology, optimize resources across the board. We also explore how reducing waste now — particularly around water usage — might prepare companies for resource shortages to come.

Automation: Helping to Preserve the Bottom Line

Sporer recounts that when he began working in the food and beverage industry, companies invested in new equipment based on what it offered in terms of its applications. Over time, however, he has seen purchasing decisions become more and more financially driven. Companies want to make sure that when they invest their money in new equipment, their investment “will have a strong payback in the marketplace.”

Automation technologies have proven to be one of the most appealing investments for those who control the purse strings. Automation goes a long way toward improving process efficiency, which results in reduced maintenance time and employee downtime. And that means financial savings.

Food Engineering’s 2014 State of Manufacturing survey supports Sporer’s anecdotal evidence. Almost half of the food and beverage processors surveyed said they’d prioritize purchasing automation technologies including motion/motor control hardware/software and programmable logic controllers (PLCs).  

The Benefits of Clean-in-Place Technology

Historically, when it was time to clean equipment, plants needed to shut down the whole operation to clean everything. It simply wasn’t possible to run cleaning solution through a system at the same time as a process was running elsewhere in the system. That meant employee downtime and a loss in throughput.

Automated clean-in-place, or CIP, technologies remove those barriers to efficiency. And while it may be the PLCs that control the overall processes, it’s the “nuts and bolts” — or, rather, the valves and spray nozzles — that make CIP work.

Sometimes a seemingly small adjustment can optimize CIP systems. For example, Bryan Downer, vice president of sales at CSI Designs, a CIP system builder in Springfield, MO, touts rotating spray ball technology. He found that simply replacing static spray balls with rotary devices — at negligible expense, compared to the overall cost of a tank — cut CIP time by up to 70%.   

Some CIP technology even allows cleaning to occur without disrupting regular production. For example, Sporer is enthusiastic about mixproof valves, which allow process piping to be cleaned while the production process continues.

Mixproof technology, which has been around since the 1990s but has only become standard more recently, allows separate streams to run through one valve, without fear of contamination. An atmospheric air break between the processes ensures sanitary operation. This means that even if a seal leaks — which, according to Sporer, eventually always happens — product won’t cross-contaminate with the cleaning solution. Sporer particularly recommends the APV valve Delta DA3+. This top-of-the-line product features a seat-lift function that eliminates the need to spray the leakage chamber.

Sporer estimates that mixproof technology increases productivity by 20% to 40%, depending on the process activity and how long the plant runs. If, for example, a plant used to run for 20 hours and then shut down for 4 hours for cleaning, the plant can now be in production around the clock — an uptick in efficiency that’s nothing to scoff at.

Efficiency and Water

Efficiency is also about the most economic — and, increasingly — ecologically sustainable use of natural resources. And no resource is more essential and more endangered than water.

Sporer has noticed a particular surge in concern over water efficiency in areas where water is already a scarce resource, such as California and Australia. But efficient use of water is becoming a matter of global importance. In March 2015, the United Nations reported that if better management doesn’t come into play soon, the planet could suffer a 40% water shortfall by 2030. Sporer notes that, depending on region, companies currently pay $1 to $15 per cubic meter of water. As demand eclipses supply, the median price of water will inevitably tip to the higher end of that scale.

Water plays a role in nearly every aspect of the food manufacturing process. Not only is water used as an ingredient, but it’s also used for flush lines, cleaning, and heat exchangers. Luckily, water’s ubiquity means that there are many opportunities to make positive interventions.

SPX FLOW’s EcoPure centrifugal pump is a marvel of efficiency and water conservation, specifically targeted at reducing customer maintenance and utility usage. Magnetically driven pumps have been used in the industrial industry for 20 to 30 years, but these large, canned sets of magnets are very difficult to clean. Because of that, they don’t meet the strict sanitary standards for the food industry.

The EcoPure pump, on the other hand, is compact and so sanitary that it is 3A and EHEDG compliant. The pump vastly reduces customer maintenance time by eliminating mechanical seals — which were the number-one failure point in traditional pump design. The EcoPure’s only seals are static o-rings that seal the outside atmosphere. These seals don’t wear or fatigue in the same way as mechanical or rotating seals. Because of this, they require far less maintenance and replacement.

EcoPure from SPX Flow

EcoPure from SPX Flow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reduced maintenance costs, increased uptime, and less potential for contamination aren’t the only benefits of the EcoPure. It also saves water. While traditional mechanical seals need to be routinely flushed for proper cleaning, the EcoPure is designed to eliminate the need for a water line.

In addition to investing in specific equipment, food processors can also make holistic assessments of how to boost the efficiency of their water usage. Firms like Culligan Matrix Solutions help companies optimize water usage. For example, working with a beverage maker that wanted to narrow their “overall water-to-use ratio,” Culligan Matrix identified leaking valves and Nano-type membrane filters operating at lower-than-optimal efficiency, and helped the company begin to reclaim reject water for reuse.   

And while nobody can predict the future, food processors can get a handle on how increased water shortages might affect them. Tools like the Water Risk Monetizer can help businesses assess how water scarcity will impact them financially and logistically.

Efficient Futures

Food companies will continue to struggle to spend their money wisely and to operate more efficiently, and new challenges will continue to arise. Sometimes the imperative for savings can come into conflict with the desire for efficiency in other areas, for example, budgets.

Sporer has observed that whereas plant managers used to be easily able to sign off on $20,000 to $25,000 for new equipment, now they only have $2,000 to $5,000 at their immediate disposal. Even for these smaller purchases, they often need to make the case to their board. This is a product of what some call zero-based budgeting, in which every line item needs to be reapproved every year. As a result, many plants are running equipment almost to failure before replacements are approved.

Sporer doesn’t expect this trend to change anytime soon. But he does have some ideas about what managers might say to justify new purchases. They might point out, for example, the benefits of more efficient equipment:

  • Increased uptime
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • Reduced utility costs

When it comes to the last item on this list, at least, the world’s largest food and beverage companies are taking notice. Companies like UniLever and Coca-Cola have unleashed major water reduction initiatives. In fact, Coca-Cola had set a goal to be water-neutral by 2020 — they achieved that goal in 2015. The company “gives back” water used in its beverage production through replenishment projects around the world, and also through increasing water efficiency in its plants and returning water to the communities it works in through wastewater treatment.

For Sporer’s part, he believes that SPX FLOW will continue to manufacture the most efficient equipment on the market. Budgets may shift and food trends might cycle in and out of style, but the desire for efficiency is here to stay.