Authors: Tom Voth and Christine Hoffman
The convenience of packaged food and beverages continues to drive growth in this industry. In fact, the U.S packaged food market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.1% from 2021 to 2028. The automation of food packaging processes has helped companies keep up with demand and ensure packaged food is fresh for customers.
One of the primary technologies used in food packaging automation is pneumatics. Pneumatics technology, including pneumatic valves and air actuators, is clean, reliable and easy to maintain. The latest advances in the hygienic design, machine safety and energy efficiency of pneumatic products are some of 2022’s biggest trends in packaging automation.
In food and beverage packaging, the components used in packaging machinery must meet stringent regulations for food contact and be robust to stand up to repeated washdown procedures. The latest valve systems, like those used in vacuum packaging applications, have the highest protection class and a number of cost-saving features that make cleaning easy.
Traditionally, valve systems required cabinets or other enclosures to protect sensitive components from wet or harsh application environments. While stainless-steel cabinets provide necessary protection, they can be expensive. Today’s valve systems are cabinet-free washdown products that have been specifically designed to offer the same level of protection while improving cylinder performance – without the added cost of an enclosure. This improves response times and increases energy savings in packaging applications due to less compressed air needed for each cycle of the valve. Having shorter compressed air lines from the valve to the cylinder equates to less volume to fill and exhaust, improving cylinder performance.
These valve systems are designed for easy cleaning and built from robust, hygienic materials that can withstand aggressive chemicals and high pressures used in washdown processes. Emerson’s AVENTICSTM Series CL03 Clean Line Valve System, for instance, has no joints or gaps and uses stainless-steel components and polymers appropriate for high-pressure washdown using aggressive chemicals.
The CL03 has also earned an IP69K rating, the highest protection class. Products that achieve this rating provide protection from dust and high temperature and pressure washdown liquids, making them ideal for packaging and food processing applications where machinery must be thoroughly sanitized. It also uses NSFH1 (food grade) lubricant.
In addition to their hygienic designs, the latest valve systems are highly configurable to match the needs of each application and are compatible with a wide range of communication protocols. Some valve system suppliers have online configuration tools that make it easy for design engineers to quickly access CAD drawings, schematics, part numbers and related components. Many can be combined with pneumatic actuators; the CL03 can be coupled with Emerson’s AVENTICS Series ICS and Series M Cylinders in washdown applications.
For equipment that requires maintenance, there’s a growing trend among CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies to implement various forms of functional safety, most commonly adhering to ISO 13849. Whether it be a complete LOTO (lockout/tagout), or implementation of the “minor servicing exception”, the most common method to render pneumatic components “safe”, is to release the pneumatic energy. The preferred component to implement this “safety function”, is a redundant safety exhaust valve, that can be part of an air preparation assembly that feeds the compressed air to a machine, or section of a machine.
As determined by risk assessments, a large percentage of such regular equipment incursions require a Category 3 PLd safety solution to render equipment safe. Category 3 PLd solutions need ant circuits to complete the safety function. The RSEV achieves this safety rating by using redundant valves and diagnostic coverage (e.g., spool position monitoring) to ensure that stored energy in the form of compressed air is exhausted. When a device such as a safety gate is triggered, two safety outputs are sent to the RSEV. Should one valve fail, the redundant valve will still complete the safety function. The diagnostic coverage will raise an alarm so action can be taken to address the failure before resuming operation.
Some redundant safety valves, like the RSEV from Emerson available with AVENTICS Series 652 and Series 653 Air Preparation solutions, have a built-in soft-start function. Upon start-up, this function fills at a reduced rate of 60 – 70% of final system pressure before opening fully. The slow buildup of pressure/force, as actuators move to their home/start position, prevents damage to components and equipment.
Decarbonization continues to be a trend in nearly every industry, food and beverage included. Reducing energy consumption is a very high priority for packaging companies, and CPG manufacturers are searching for ways to better control energy use in their facilities. As a result, many are outfitting new machines and retrofitting existing machines with air flow sensors.
Compressed air consumption is a significant source of energy use in packaging applications. If left undetected and unaddressed, compressed air leaks can waste substantial amounts of energy and money. Air flow sensors that continuously monitor compressed air flow in real time can help operators detect and address leaks earlier, minimizing energy loss and improving sustainability.
By continually measuring process parameters, including pressure, temperature, mass flow rate, volumetric flow rate, flow velocity, total mass, total volume and energy, sensors can help operators track air consumption and energy use. Operators can then use collected data to locate and address potential issues, such as leaks, before they occur. By preventing leaks, facilities can improve energy efficiency while reducing downtime and costs.
Air flow sensors are suitable for facilities of any size, at any point in their digital transformation journey. Some air flow sensors, such as Emerson’s AVENTICS Series AF2 Sensor, allow operators to see data at the machine level and enable facilities to keep collected data within their own IT network without connecting to the cloud. Facilities can also connect sensors to a gateway to access additional insights. Air flow control valve manufacturers experienced in digital transformation can help facilities decide what is most suitable for their individual needs and goals.
A Higher Level of Performance
The latest trends in food packaging automation give packaging companies the opportunity to ensure that the machines in their lines meet the highest machine safety, energy efficiency and hygienic standards.
For more information about the pneumatic technologies that make achieving this level of performance possible, visit https://www.emerson.com/en-us/industries/automation/food-beverage.