Optimise your dry ingredient processing

Online Editor

Jessica Stank from APEC provides expert tips for reducing downtime in dry ingredient processing.

Reducing downtime is a priority for almost every dry ingredient processing facility. From food and pharmaceuticals to industrial materials and more, reducing downtime means improving production and minimising errors. Jessica Stank from APEC (Automated Process Equipment Company) explains that with a streamlined process and a few precautions, operators and engineers can reduce downtime in dry ingredient processing and keep their  facility running smoothly. Here she gives five tips for doing just that.

Optimise the mixer to suit your ingredients

Your mixer is one of the most important pieces of equipment when it comes to optimising uptime and reducing downtime in dry ingredient processing. When set up to suit your ingredients, it will work quickly and produce a great product. There are a few ways that you can optimise your mixer so it works continuously, and with minimal downtime.

First you must assess your ingredients. With a good understanding of how your ingredients flow, whether or not they’ll stick or clump together, and what environmental conditions they might be susceptible to, you and your engineering partners will be able to better customise your mixer.

One of the important customisations to make on your mixer is the discharge gate. A drop-bottom gate, for example, will discharge ingredients quickly, but this isn’t ideal for ingredients that are prone to flushing and aeration. Slide gates or butterfly valves may be better for these ingredients, since they generally have stronger seals, but they won’t discharge as quickly.

If your ingredients are likely to clump together, your mixer may require a stronger motor, or it may need choppers to break up the mixture. Materials that are fragile and might lose their texture in the mixer might benefit from a paddle mixer, or a mixer working at a slower speed. But as we’ll explore, reducing downtime and increasing productivity doesn’t always mean optimising speed.

Coordinate process schedules to reduce downtime

The fastest mixer is not necessarily the best one. If the mixer is idle while the feeder or scales are working, then it is not reducing downtime. It is important to coordinate the timing of various processes in order to actually reduce downtime in dry ingredient processing.

For example, compare the cycle time of your mixer and your weighing and discharging systems. If your mixer is running faster than these processes, extra speed won’t do much good. Trying to manually override automatic protocols in order to speed up certain parts of your process is never a good idea. Doing so can cause downtime owing to problems with the programming. It can be counterproductive to manually override a slow area only to end up on the phone with tech support with a system that is completely down. Coordinating process times from the start is always the best bet. Trust the equipment to do its job.

Optimise scales to improve the process time

Major ingredient scales are one process that takes time to work and might not coordinate with your mixing time. One way to improve the process time of your scale is to use a variable frequency drive. With a variable frequency drive, your scale can fill at two speeds. The scale can fill up quickly at first, and then fill slower as it reaches full capacity, so it doesn’t overfill. This will not only help to prevent overfill alarms, which will cause downtime, but it will also help to prevent the feeder from jogging, which can cause damage and unscheduled downtime.

It is also important to make sure scale calibrations are on your list of preventative maintenance tasks. Scales need to be re-calibrated every so often to ensure their pinpoint accuracy. This is something that is often overlooked, but it can eat away at profits and create inconsistencies if not monitored and addressed on a regular basis.

Anticipate and Eliminate flow problems

Different ingredients, depending on their characteristics can be especially susceptible to different flow control problems If you anticipate these problems, your ingredients will move through your system quickly and without an issue.

For example, ingredients that are prone to sticking or clumping, especially in humid conditions, might cause a worker to hit a feeder in order to work out clogs. However, this can cause damage to your equipment and unnecessary downtime and it can reduce the working lifetime of the feeder. Instead, it’s more helpful to introduce vibration or movement into the feeder to break up clumps and prevent clogs by design.

Bin agitation can also be great help, especially for ingredients that tend to bridge or rathole and in environments that cause clumping and sticking. This can be done through mechanical agitation, vibration, or air. If your environment is prone to static electricity, it is also a good idea to ensure everything is properly grounded.

Plan maintenance

It is important to anticipate downtime. While it does eat into production, this is negligible compared with the cost of unexpected downtime. Managers, workers, customers, suppliers and everyone involved in production can work with the scheduled shutdowns that are required to complete routine preventative maintenance.

Keeping a regular maintenance schedule is one way to prevent downtime in dry ingredient processing. This means making  time and creating a system of accountability for maintaining packing and seals, checking lubricant levels, checking cords and electrical connections, checking the tension on the drive system belt or chain, cleaning intervents, and cleaning up excess powders or debris.

Jessica Stank is with APEC.