According to Matcon, significant changes facing food processors during the last 15 years have been generated by increased levels of consumer sensitivity – the most widespread being the separation of potential allergens (proteins, egg products, nuts, etc) from other ingredients. Increasing ethnic requirements such as Kosher and Halal also limit the practicality of using conventional high-volume automated systems. These sensitivities also present a burden for manually-operated plants, as the human factor constantly needs managing to minimise risks.
Lean production theory offers a superb compromise – embracing sensible automation and providing almost instant changeover times by applying SMED (single-minute exchange of dies) principles. Smart manufacturing methods, correctly applied, bring benefits that far outweigh the apparent (and often non-existent) savings by relocating to cheaper-labour territories.
Waste avoidance is the key
In the world of lean manufacturing, waste avoidance is a driving philosophy. The reality for traditional food processors is often the opposite – waste everywhere: overproduction, operators and equipment standing idle, inventory and product storage, defects through human error or cross contamination, additional transportation costs, over processing and unnecessary movement of people and products between processes.
Costs associated with waste are enormous, leading to higher consumer prices and reduced profitability for producers. Moving the same wasteful process to a lower-cost economy is not a long-term answer. Matcon believes that smarter manufacturing without waste is the key to sustainable profitability.
Many answers to the challenges faced by food producers lie in the use of an IBC system that allows a greater degree of automation, while assuring batch traceability with ‘one batch, one dedicated storage and process vessel’. This enables fast product changeover and virtually unlimited flexibility. These solutions are by no means new – IBCs have been used for decades, but often of bad design resulting in dusty and labour-intensive plants. The trend shift has forced most significant powder handling system suppliers to focus development on modular IBC systems, resulting in rapid technology improvements.
Why use IBCs?
Typically, a mixer is separated from the process of formulating a batch and the time-consuming packaging of final goods, which in lean terms means non-value- adding operations (cleaning, loading and unloading the mixer) are carried out externally, allowing mixer availability close to 100% rather than 5 to 15% – the norm with traditional in-line systems.
With large productivity increases, the system becomes faster and easier to clean, prevents cross contamination and allows full batch traceability.
Whether packing into 25kg bags for business-to-business (B2B) trade or into consumer packs, traditional focus has been on the number of packs/hour with little or no consideration of the time taken to clean the line during product changeover. This approach is practically useless with today’s production challenges.
Cone valve IBCs can refill any packing system to provide consistent top-up without the need of a cross feeder. A well-designed complete consumer packing line can be wet-washed in less than one hour, compared to a full shift with traditional systems.
There are significant developments with B2B packing to simplify these systems. It’s now possible to pack directly from the IBC without a feeder, allowing complete end-of-line flexibility for minimal capital outlay. With an integrated sieve, a system can be cleaned in minutes, ensuring efficiency with the most diverse production requirements.
Going beyond fixed mixing technology
The benefit of charging and unloading the mixer with IBCs is self-evident. Today’s trend is to use the IBC as the mixing vessel, removing the need for on-line cleaning, loading and discharge of a fixed mixer.
IBC mixing has been used for decades across many industries to provide flexibility. The challenge, however, has always been how to deal with cohesive materials and even liquid addition. This has encouraged the development of new high-shear capabilities with IBC blending, pushing boundaries beyond those of fixed mixing technology.
With system flexibility and the elimination of a process inventory, one IBC mixer achieves two to three times the capacity of a conventional fixed mixer, reducing investment cost and space requirements.
Formulating a batch of 10 to 20 ingredients is time consuming and labour intensive. Small operations cannot justify investment for automation and simply try to improve working environments. Larger manufacturing plants face the challenge of handling a myriad ingredients. While big bags provide an appropriate distribution package for medium-size components they offer limited in-house process/dosing capabilities with virtually every product requiring its own dosing position no matter how frequently it’s used. This makes the plant impractical in size and cost.
By decanting big bags into cone valve IBCs, the same level of automation can be achieved with a tenth of the space and a third of the cost of conventional systems.
Matcon’s Flexibatch dosing system, combined with smart manual systems for frequently changing micro ingredients, radically reduces labour requirements in the formulation area. It also eliminates the risk of human error at this critical part of the value stream.
Equipment and system suppliers constantly innovate to meet the challenges faced by their customers. Lean thinking combined with new technology can dramatically improve businesses efficiency and profitability. By adopting a lean approach with the right technology, improved cash conversion times and reduced wastage could make it more profitable to re-engineer existing plants.
But lean manufacturing is a not just a physical change. The message has to be championed throughout an organisation and become its philosophy, not a departmental project.
PMD Packaging Systems
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