Protecting the quality of your food and beverage production

ifm is introducing some very technically advanced and quite revolutionary products to ensure the safety and quality of your valuable food and beverage products during manufacture and clean-in-place (CIP). Glenn Thornton, national product and brand manager at ifm, explains.

ifm has recently introduced new technology with a new approach to protecting your product with our advanced conductivity sensors. The importance of knowing the exact process points of your product are of extreme importance. When producing products such as milk, yoghurt, beer, wine, a manufacturer needs to know many details about the process cycle.

At the completion of a production run, there needs to be a cleaning process started with different fluids from water to cleaning fluids to decontaminate the process lines. There are a few key questions to keep in mind along along the way: when does the product finish and the cleaning flush begin? When has the cleaning fluid been introduced and then fully flushed through to be totally clean and ready for the next production cycle? Is there any cleaning fluid contaminating our packaged product? All this information is now captured by technology within the Industry 4.0 realm with smart data. The information gathered by the conductivity sensor is read with the possibility to record this data 24/7.

Now, I’ll explain the production process and where our conductivity sensor is installed. An example scenario: a production run of milk is now finished and the cleaning process begins. Water is now introduced to flush out any leftover milk which is the beginning of the CIP. But we don’t know where the water and milk are. Where is the transition from milk to water where I stop filling and start cleaning? Well, to date it has been time-based. To save from contaminating the final product, the filling is stopped early, wasting good product. There is actually a very clear point where the interface from water to milk passes through the pipe work.

Milk (and other products) have a high conductivity as compared to water, which is easily read by our conductivity sensor. Water is then flushed that has a low conductivity reading, which is very clear to our smart system that gives a very clear message back to the control system to show where this interface is, milk to water.

So now, the process needs to have the system hygienically flushed with a cleaning fluid which has a very high conductivity reading, where our sensor reports to the control system when it’s in cleaning mode. Now a final rinse is performed with water and the sensor provides a clear message that all cleaning fluid has been flushed and the next process can begin with safety.

As an added advantage, if product is running and cleaning fluid sneaks in accidentally, the conductivity will jump and report back to the system of the fault and warn or shut down production.

Some typical applications for the conductivity sensor are food and beverage in hygienic areas, e.g. water, milk, wine, beer, yoghurt, and CIP liquids. Some other applications are detection of rinsing processes in a process system, product monitoring, and detection of a change of medium, phase separation. The uses are ongoing from any industry such as contaminants in water cooling systems to protect against build-up of salts and minerals.

I would also like discuss where the technical advances are coming from and how technology can be a major contributor to food safety and production improvements. Our local food and beverage industry within Australia is one of the biggest producers, employers and innovators alongside mining and general manufacturing. There has been large investment over many years to make it one of the strongest industries in our country with products manufactured for local consumption and for a very strong export market.

ifm Australia is a proud participant by partnering with machine builders, OEMs and the very important manufacturers by not only supplying but innovating with cutting edge technology from the well-known phrase “Industry 4.0”.

The transition from standard technology up to factory automation and then onto Industry 4.0 connectivity and communication has been revolutionary. Industry leaders from plant managers, production supervisors, business owners, quality assurance and so on understand the need to have critical data produced from the factory floor transferred into the cloud to have a simple way to evaluate and then decide how to improve efficiencies, increase productivity, have quality assured products, and have known predictive machine issues reported before they occur.

It sounds big and difficult to get a grasp on the buzzwords or the ensuing technology but it is quite easy. As an explanation, in the past, we had a temperature sensor installed in our plant; it gave a basic temperature output to the control system – very basic, but we don’t know the actual health of the sensor with respect to accuracy. We would need to wait until a batch fault occurred and the product possibly got through the process and to into a customers fridge. Not a good outcome for any producer.

So, now ifm has introduced technology that has masses of data from the same sensor: temperature output, temperature diagnostics and accuracy, 24/7 sensor health, calibration status, manufacturer info, historian recorded (also 24/7), and even if the sensor is connected to the system, which adds a higher layer of security to plant operations. All this data is sent to the higher level computing systems. So, instead of having a simple temperature reading, the production becomes alive where complex decisions are being tracked and traced by smart programming.

With data from smart sensing technology the OEE, (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) is now available. Once all this data is captured, production schedules are fully known, as are production rates, throughput, waste and spoilage, planned and unplanned downtime, costing (including profitability). The OEE is a simple calculation of actual vs planned at peak performance. If we can find any small percentage point gains this will move straight to the bottom line of a business making them more competitive.