Food for thought

13 Sep 2017

British Fluid Power Association and British Fluid Power Distributors Association member companies FPE Seals, MP Filtri UK and IMI Precision Engineering outline some of the current key areas of discussion within the food and beverage industry and consider how to aim to achieve optimum performance.

Like the manufacturing sector in general, the food and beverage industry is reliant on the continuing efficiency of its plant and equipment in order to deliver customer orders both on time and to the right specification. However, while it is widely recognised that any unscheduled equipment downtime is obviously very expensive and unwelcome, John Crofts (Business Development Manager for FPE Seals), considers that some manufacturers still do not fully appreciate the importance of sourcing parts that are best suited for the specific type of machinery in question.

On the positive side, when it comes to seals, Crofts believes that sourcing practices amongst manufacturers’ are now moving in the right direction. He makes the point that in the recent past, many manufacturers within sectors such as food and beverage were more interested in buying sealing products based upon price as opposed to buying higher quality parts that last longer and extend the Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF).

Crofts adds that there was also less of a focus upon planned maintenance and optimising periods of uptime. “However, to some extent, this attitude is now changing as differences in ‘seal quality’ are better understood,” he says. “Those companies that still choose to source on price rather than appropriate levels of quality usually pay more in the long term. There’s always a cheaper product, but is it the one that you need? It can take a maintenance engineer many costly hours to strip down a machine  and replace a seal that may  only cost a few Pounds. Surely, then, it has to be worth spending more on a seal that is going to last 10 times longer?”

Service and maintenance

Continuing with the machinery reliability theme, Stephan Brueckl (Director Food and Beverage at IMI Precision Engineering), reminds us that the food and beverage industry uses the kind of fast-actuating rotary machines that are required to produce high-volume goods. “These machines are becoming increasingly fast in terms of operation,” he says, “and with this increased speed there is also an increased need for a suitably robust service and maintenance regime that will ensure maximum uptime and equipment reliability. Downtime is all the more damaging for these fast-producing manufacturers.”

Brueckl also states that products used within the machinery need to be proven to be reliable, not just at the beginning of their operational life but throughout their lifetime. “Many products, such as pneumatic actuators, work well for a period of time when first installed, but then their performance can deteriorate quite quickly,” he says. “So, what is needed are products that can increase service life and thus reduce maintenance costs. For example, IMI Precision Engineering’s new ISOLine pneumatic cylinder range is designed to offer a system that provides these advantages. This range also introduces the IMI Norgren Adaptive Cushioning System (ACS), which automatically adjusts the cylinder cushioning for changing loads, thereby removing the need for manual screw setting”.

Importance of hygiene

Another non-negotiable focus within the food and beverage industry is hygiene. Brueckl makes the point that to avoid contamination it is critical that all machinery parts used in the production process – that is to say, all parts (such as pneumatic cylinders and valves) that directly or indirectly come into contact with the food and/or beverage products during the filling process – are constructed of corrosion-resistant, non-toxic and non-absorbent materials.

Similarly, Geoff Grant (Product Manager for MP Filtri UK), also emphasises the importance of cleanliness in the food and beverage sector if the required health and safety standards are to be realised. “In most circumstances, much of the equipment used within this sector needs to be operated in strictly controlled environments, with use of stainless steel equipment and appropriate hygienic clothing worn by the workforce,” he explains. “This is to ensure that microbial contamination is kept to an absolute minimum in-line with FDA regulations etc. Therefore, any technology that can offer proven, efficient cleanliness monitoring is an important consideration. For example, different types of particle counting solutions for everything from monitoring contamination in the hydraulic system through to monitoring contaminant levels in the ambient air.”


In the case of production-related or packaging-related machinery, Brueckl observes that many companies are aware of the importance of ‘total cost of ownership’ and look to take this to the next level. Also, in places such as Europe, Brueckl has seen a drive among many of the larger manufacturers towards deploying fully automated machines within their premium factories. “Of course, with this extra equipment there is also the need for an even more proactive predictive maintenance strategy,” he says. “Again, the main point is that these companies need to be in a position to better plan maintenance cycles. At the moment, many smaller companies still focus on the cost of investment and decide to continue to rely mainly on traditional man-power rather than a greater level of automation.”

The Industrial Internet of Things and Industry 4.0

The theme of greater data connectivity and analytics is being increasingly discussed within manufacturing. Crofts also picks up this topic, commenting that if this type of technology also provides  more information to customers in terms of when to upgrade parts and equipment etc., then concepts such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) and Industry 4.0 have to be recognised as very valuable. “With the current shortage of skilled manpower across all sectors these types of automated processes can be very useful,” he says. “Many companies are so busy running the machinery that they haven’t a lot of control over how machines could be run more effectively, or how to maintain them more efficiently. Accordingly, the automated provision of high value information is of great value to them.”

With the increasing importance of maximising machine uptime, Brueckl also comments that there is a strong argument for deploying more ‘connected’ technology in order to better monitor the current condition and performance of plant and equipment. “This is where the Industry 4.0 concept, and the tools that can make it a reality, can play an important role through, for example, greater use of sensor technology, IT and analytics software.” 

Grant states technology that can facilitate Industry 4.0 is something many companies and equipment suppliers are looking at increasingly keenly. “This is totally understandable if it can help companies in sectors such as food and beverage achieve greater operational and maintenance efficiencies through greater information connectivity and analysis,” he remarks. “However, before adopting Industry 4.0 many companies still need to educate users regarding the basics of a given system – for example, the essential information needed to understand how a hydraulic system is designed, built and operated.”


Crofts maintains that it is important for end user companies to have a very good understanding of their processes, not only in order to operate their machinery efficiently, but also to be in a position to provide suppliers with detailed information so that the right parts can be supplied when required. “As a supplier, we need to listen carefully to the customer and also ask the customer for full and accurate application information to enable supply of the correct seal” he says. “Correct selection and supply not only enhances reputation and trust between both parties, but also improves production efficiency”.

Developing the knowledge theme, Grant believes that there is a need to understand the basics of maintaining this system; and to this extent, users should recognise the importance of things such as contamination monitoring. “Unfortunately, in many cases contamination monitoring is still seen as a luxury and an added cost rather than being embraced as something that can actually save money.  Such savings are realised through increased uptime and system efficiency facilitated by the adoption of a more effective maintenance regime, not to mention the benefits related to keeping a production environment clean,” he says.

Advice and guidance

Grant emphasises that recognised industry bodies such as the BFPA can provide advice and guidance on the best technical solutions and associated product suppliers. “Such bodies can also provide training or recommend training organisations able to bring the workforce up to the required level of understanding with regard to hydraulic, pneumatic and other related equipment. They can also ensure that operatives are aware of the required hygiene standards and how to meet them” he concludes.

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