Impactful Opportunities for Automation in Food Manufacturing

Pairing Sunair Co.’s high-quality equipment with the most impactful automation opportunities within the food manufacturing industry—across the packaging, production, sanitation, product tracing, and quality control phases—enables companies to realize significant operational efficiencies and cost savings.

ice cream food production line

Published April 07, 2022   |   8 minute read

When it comes to food manufacturing, automation technology is quickly emerging as one of the fastest-growing sectors of the industry, with no signs of slowing down. The food automation market is expected to experience compounded annual growth of 9.5 percent from 2020 to 2027, according to a market research report by intelligence and analytics provider Meticulous Research

This expansion is largely due to a significant increase in manufacturers adopting and implementing more automated solutions within the industry than ever before, the report states, and it’s easy to understand why. Utilizing automated equipment is an effective way to standardize production processes, ensuring uniform procedures and optimal product quality.

A food and beverage manufacturing plant is composed of sub-processes such as storage, production, sanitation, preserving, and packaging. Realization of production goals also depends on the ability to achieve consistent, reliable, and efficient sanitation and maintenance of a plant’s tools and machinery. Operations, engineering, and maintenance teams would be wise to focus on the research, specification, and selection of the most suitable pump equipment that can help them achieve and maintain reliable plant operations, as well as increase automation, safety, and efficiency. This can sometimes be the difference between exceeding budget or dealing with a very expensive breakdown. Sunair Co. is an experienced, knowledgeable, and dependable supplier with a proven track record of success who can help guide you to  high quality food and beverage industry pump solutions that will enable you to achieve and surpass your goals.

Here are some of the most impactful opportunities to incorporate automated solutions into your operations: 

 

Packaging 


This is one of the most automated areas of food and beverage manufacturing, for great reasons. Besides its sheer volume and projected growth—with a 2021 market research report by corporate analysis and data provider Fortune Business Insights forecasting a 5.9 percent compounded annual growth rate in global food packaging market size by 2027—this is also an area with high potential risk for human error. Specialized equipment designed specifically for associated tasks helps guarantee streamlined internal processes and improved efficiencies, while additionally simplifying and making your operations safer and more efficient than manual packaging. 

Automated systems enhance overall performance by enhancing production speeds and volumes, reducing downtime and bottlenecks, and improving product safety by limiting exposure to contaminants. 

Packaging’s high-speed, high-volume, repetitious nature, and stringent health and safety requirements are especially amenable to automation. In fact, when properly implemented, automation has been shown to increase productivity in palletizing, for example, by up to 20 percent, compared to manual processes, according to an article by Food Logistics, a food production industry publication. 

 

Production Lines


Manufacturing companies are investing in automation and robotics technology more than ever to modernize their production lines, improve operations, ensure better, more consistent quality, and maintain standards in compliance with state and federal regulations. 

Automation and robotics are widely used on food production lines to achieve speed, efficiency, safety, and  precision. Automated production lines consist of a series of preprogrammed workstations connected by a transfer system to simultaneously and efficiently perform specific tasks. They are typically adaptable to changing production needs, with automated sensors providing ongoing feedback throughout the process to help maintain efficient operations and discover deviations or problems to be corrected. Robotics play an increasing role in automation because they are optimal for pick-and-place tasks, and can consistently and efficiently manage a wide variety of products with high precision, including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, seafood, and meats, among many others. 

Despite the high level of automation, manual processes remain throughout a food production facility. Pumps can play a key role in helping plants achieve increased efficiency and safety by automation of various remaining manual processes. 

For example, many mixing processes require plant operators to manually load ingredients into tanks. This often requires climbing to the top of a vessel to dump or pour ingredients into it. Conditions are typically slippery, cramped, and hot, and packages are heavy, bulky, and awkward to handle. This manual process exposes workers to unsafe conditions and injury, either from slips and falls or due to poor ergonomics. It can also lead to off-spec products because ingredients are often added inconsistently or they might be dumped in all at once, instead of added gradually, which is difficult under the above conditions. Spent ingredients may also sometimes remain within and require removal from a vessel, as is typical of the brewing and distilling industries with spent grains, hops, and yeast from mash and lauter tuns. Removal of these spent ingredients may currently be a manual process, particularly in smaller plants. 

Pump technology can be implemented to improve the safety and efficiency of this manual process. For viscosities up to 600 cP, a plant should consider the following:

Q-Pumps In-Line Mixer model QIM provides efficient in-line mixing that is engineered for a variety of applications, such as powder mixing and lump disintegration, crushing hard solids, emulsification, or for chopping soft solids into smaller particles.

Q-Pumps Dry Blender model QDB couples an In-Line Mixer with a table, hopper, and integrated valve for the operator’s convenience. The hopper provides the operator with an easily-accessible location at grade level from which to add dry ingredients to a tank. The design of the system also ensures ingredients are fed consistently into the process, and the QIM provides the appropriate type of mixing or blending. 

For thicker products up to 100,000 cP, the Q-Pumps High Viscosity Mixer model QVM should be considered. The QVM incorporates a Q-Pumps Twin Screw model QTS into the QIM pump system. The QTS twin-screw creates the required suction or powders and liquids, and makes the mixing process inside the QIM pump faster and easier.

The Q-Pumps Twin-Screw QTS pump is also ideal for unloading ingredients from drums, another process that is often manual. Particularly for products that are not self-leveling, where operators may currently be scooping or using hand-held wands coupled with air-driven diaphragm or piston pumps, the Q-Pumps Drum Unloading System model QDU vastly improves unloading times, increases product recovery rates, and reduces waste. The QDU is perhaps the world’s most advanced drum unloading system and its consistent, pulsation-free operation provides a substantial increase in efficiency and reliability, including in cases where drum unloaders using air-driven diaphragm or piston pumps are already in use. 

SEEPEX sanitary CS or smart stator SCT progressing-cavity pumps are ideally suited for spent grain removal applications, vastly increasing speed, safety, and efficiency; and addition of the SEEPEX smart-air injection SAI system allows conveyance over long distances. 

 

Sanitation 


A chief concern within food and beverage production is maintaining health and safety standards. The efficient and effective sanitation of a plant’s production lines is key to its ongoing operations, which makes sanitation another important segment of the production process ripe for automation.

Sanitation often involves the use of high pressure, high temperature liquids and chemicals that kill germs and bacteria and ensure cleanliness. These cleaning solutions can also be hazardous; therefore, implementing automated technology can help reduce related risks to your workforce, while guaranteeing your products adhere to industry health and safety standards. 

Pumps can either be Cleaned-in-Place (CIP) or Cleaned-out-of-Place (COP). CIP pumps can be cleaned without disassembly, while COP pumps require at least partial disassembly in order to be sanitized. Rotary lobe and circumferential piston-type pumps, commonly used for their ability to handle viscous products or products containing solids, can fall into this category. CIP pumps nonetheless require the presence of a separate, dedicated CIP pump which supplies cleaning solutions for sanitation. And COP pumps rely on manual application of cleaning solutions by various means. 

Q-Pumps Twin-Screw pump model QTS provides a highly versatile option to consider. Because of its positive displacement twin-rotor design, it is able to handle solids and high viscosities up to 1,000,000 cP. And because the rotors are non-contacting, the QTS can also operate at high enough speeds to serve as its own CIP pump, eliminating the need for a separate CIP pump, where one would not be needed otherwise.

Manual application of cleaning solution is achieved through use of spray guns off a high-pressure sanitation loop, fed either by centrally-located high-pressure sanitation pumps such as high-pressure pitot-tube style pumps as manufactured by Thomas Pump, or else by smaller, portable high-pressure pump skids that can be moved around the plant as needed, and which usually use piston or plunger-type pumps. In some cases, where complex machinery such as conveyors or cookers are cleaned with portable spray guns, spray manifolds can be designed and fabricated that clean more efficiently and consistently than manual cleaning. 

COP parts and components are often loaded into automatic recirculating-parts washer COP units, or they might be stacked onto racks and cleaned manually with spray guns.

Plants currently using portable pump skids may consider installation of a high-pressure sanitation loop and central sanitation pumps instead to improve efficiency and reduce maintenance costs.

Automation is also beneficial for optimizing your sanitation processes and managing resources, such as water and energy, to help factory operators clean their products more efficiently, while reducing expenses. Food processors incorporating automated sanitation solutions can expect a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in chemistry costs, according to an article by Food Safety Tech, a digital trade publication for food industry professionals. 

To that end, Sunair Co. also offers a variety of specialized equipment related to food handling, sanitation, and waste-water management.

Cornell Pump's specialty offerings include their distinctly designed models P and PP Hydro-Transport, whose sole purpose is pumping food products with the lowest product damage rates in the industry. These pumps are ideal for fruit and vegetable washing applications and in food production. Cornell Pump models W, Y, RB, and H series pumps are also ideal for frying oil.

Need NSF-certified pump equipment for drinking water applications? Sunair Co. works with leading suppliers of NSF-certified pumps, including Sulzer, DP, and National Pump. DP Pumps are also great for pressure-boosting, boiler feed, and condensate applications in the facilities section of your plant.

Albin Pump's peristaltic hose pumps provide superior performance for handling low shear sensitive food products and offer accurate and repeatable metering for additives, flavorings, and colorings, as well as viscous products containing solids, with hygienic food grade hoses in EPDM FDA, NBR FDA, and NR FDA which meet FDA expectations.

Additionally, Fybroc FRP fiberglass composite pumps are manufactured using FDA compliant materials.

Discflo's unique disc-type pumps are available in sanitary construction for pumping of shear-sensitive liquids and liquids with large solids or high concentration of solids.

AESSEAL offers a comprehensive range of cartridge seals and specialty seals designed to fit unique OEM equipment. AES also specializes in seal support systems including their patented EZ-Clean, which makes sanitizing seal support systems quick and easy.

Finally, AES bearing isolators (AKA bearing protectors) keep bearing oils and greases clean and dry while preventing lubricant leakage to the environment. Coupling bearing isolators with Des-Case desiccant breathers, which block moisture and other contaminants from entering your systems while filtering air and removing water vapor, powerfully combat lubricant contamination and naturally extend equipment reliability and operating life.

Automation provides many benefits for food and beverage manufacturers, from precise and reproducible product results to safer operations and greater efficiencies—saving time, money, and resources. While there are many opportunities to adopt this technology and incorporate its multiple benefits into your processes, always be sure you’re utilizing the highest-caliber equipment during every phase. 

These automated processes aren't effective if they're not paired with equally great equipment—from Sunair! 

Sunair would love to partner with you to help you achieve increased safety, efficiency, and automation either by applying the strategies discussed here or in other ways. We sell and service leading brands of industrial and sanitary pumps for production, facilities, and wastewater, as well as mixers, aerators, blowers, gas compressors, mechanical seals and seal support systems, high performance lubricants—including H-1 oils and greases—and gas compressors.

To learn more about our extensive list of top-quality products and services, or to get started outfitting your food and beverage operations, contact Sunair today.

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