Join Spiroflow UK Managing Director James Podevyn for a walk-through of design features for hygienic requirements across Spiroflow equipment. James will take us through design features on a Spiroflow conveyor, bulk bag unloader and more.
Why is hygienic design important?
The hygienic design of production equipment is essential in controlling the microbiological safety and overall quality of produced goods. Any equipment designed to fulfill a part in the food or pharmaceutical production process is designed with dust-minimizing features and interior and exterior quick-clean capabilities.
Since food manufacturers comprise the largest percentage of Spiroflow’s customer base, we have an in-depth understanding of the industry’s hygienic requirements and its primary goal of avoiding microbes, particles, and chemicals from causing cross-contamination issues. Spiroflow’s production equipment, including conveyors, bulk bag unloaders and sack tip stations share standard safety features such as quick release devices and other exterior hygienic design requirements.
Hygienic Feature Highlights
Our bulk bag dischargers are specifically constructed with a diamond configuration to avoid flat exterior sections where dust and particles can settle and cause contamination. The interior operating enclosure is sealed to ensure dust requirements are maintained, and a hygienic bag neck clamp protects against dust escaping for operator safety. This feature also ensures the inside of the machine is easily cleanable at all times.
The hopper beneath the bulk bag discharger is designed so no spaces can harbor bacteria or particles that could then cause cross contamination issues. These design features also make it much easier to clean than traditional hopper configurations.
At the bottom of discharger where it connects to the conveyor system is a quick release device, which are present throughout all Spiroflow products that require hygienic design.
On sack tip stations, operators can remove the tube or spiral from the bottom of the conveyor system in mere minutes, and all have safety switches which plug directly into the panel and make for easy cleaning.
As you move towards the outlet on the system, its rounded design was specifically created to avoid small areas where bacteria could be housed, which in turn makes it as easy as possible to keep clean while in use. With some models, the entire unit can be lowered down to arm level to enable the operator to clean every part of the machine.
Once the sealed hatch is removed from the outlet of the unit, the operator can also clean the interior of the machine as needed. Sealings help to avoid accumulation of dust and microbes, so it must be gap free while being used operationally. Even the smallest of crevices can hold a large number of microbes which in turn can contaminate the product.
Each of these hygienic design features works to eliminate the risk of cross-contamination within the food and pharmaceutical production process.
Spiroflow equipment fits a full range of hygienic requirements and can be customized to your application’s specific needs. We are constantly adapting our machinery to meet new regulations and ever-evolving industry standards. Contact us today to see how we can help meet your hygienic process requirements.
This our last installment in Spiroflow’s 4-part blog series: “Making Manufacturing Shifts: Adapting During COVID-19 & Beyond.” Our previous series installments have covered the shift to remote site management, increasing production line capacity and shifting manufacturing lines to make different products.
Shift #4: Modifying Packaging Lines: Commercial to Household Demand
Life at home means more use of household products and groceries. As the pandemic continues to keep workers away from office buildings and minimize allowed capacity at restaurants, grocery and household, or small, packaging has become more in demand. For manufacturers who have traditionally sold bulk packaged food, ingredients and products to commercial buyers this shift has proved challenging.
What industries have had to adapt their packaging lines during COVID-19 events?
Food and beverage manufacturers are seeing the greatest impact of this shift. To give an idea of the extremity and suddenness of this change, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture said in April that before the pandemic, about 50% of food was made and consumed by its population outside the home. Since the pandemic almost all food is eaten at home.
In fact, it was packaging, not supply, that prevented many grocery stores from being able to stock their shelves.
“So much of our food packaging has been in the commercial scale, commercial size and not enough, as we’ve learned, when everybody shifts to eating at home,” said PA Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “Food service buys 20 pounds of bacon in a box. Consumers want a pound at a time. So they’ve made those kinds of shifts.”
In the UK, Foodservice Packaging Association Executive Director Martin Kersh echoed packaging challenges and their impact on the supply chain. “[Government] needs to understand how integral packaging is to the food supply chain,” said Kersh in April. At the time, supermarket sales had increased almost 800% due to lockdowns and packaging executives were feeling the increased demand for household food and beverage packaging products. Somerton-based Kingsmoor Packaging’s Managing Director said that his organization was ready to take on the shift “even if that means fully re-aligning our manufactured output to meet customer’s changing requirements.”
Bottlenecks in the food supply chain due to small packaging shortages has been a common theme through coronavirus shutdowns. The dairy industry in particular has struggled to package milk at outlets once focused on providing milk to food service establishments and schools – and don’t have consumer friendly jugs in stock. Similarly, the brewery industry, which used to stock bars and restaurants with kegs on tap, is now focused almost entirely on bottling and canning. In the UK, alcohol sales have increased 291% during the pandemic and resulting lockdowns – and one can assume that increase has been mostly in the sale of bottles and cans.
One grain and milling industry expert confirmed to Spiroflow that production has been increased to full capacity at a number of facilities, but that the main impact of COVID-19 was to increase small packaging capabilities as demand has shifted from commercial to household packaging quantities.
The food industry is not the only industry challenged with getting products on shelves due to packaging.
In the UK, between March 9-15, 2020, home improvement and gardening retail grew by almost 50% compared to the same period in 2019. More time spent at home has heightened homeowners’ awareness of home improvement projects deferred and thus increased purchases of DIY home improvement materials once mostly packaged in large quantities for contractors and construction companies. Building materials and paint are just a few of the DIY products that home improvement stores – which were deemed essential businesses by the US and have remained open with restrictions in the UK – have been selling more of during the pandemic.
Before coronavirus the lion’s share of toilet paper – the now symbol of coronavirus panic buying – largely went to the commercial market – office buildings, college campuses, airports. Aside from the commercial product itself being inherently different (read: thinner), toilet paper was typically shipped on large pallets vs. being wrapped in groups of 18 or less in branded shiny packages as is typical for the household variation. For those manufacturers to shift to the residential toilet paper market, they will have to shift to consumer packaging and likely make many other changes up the production line, including to the product itself.
Hand sanitizer manufacturers, who once packaged the product in large cartridges to stock commercial hand sanitizing stations, are adapting packaging lines at lightning speed. “We are seeing a significant increase in requests for filling of hand sanitisers into various formats – sachets, bottles and pumps – and all wanting them tomorrow,” said UK-based Complete Co Packing Business Development Manager Jeff Parry.
How can Spiroflow help us to update our existing production line for small packaging?
Packaging occurs at the end of the production line, but changes to packaging may require accommodations across production line equipment. If COVID-19 has necessitated a change to your packaging lines, Spiroflow can help update your material transfer process to accommodate.
Our engineers can recommend the best transfer method of your product to the infeed point for your packaging machine so that the product arrives in the right amount and condition for small packaging. Spiroflow bulk bag unloaders can discharge products by either volume or weight and Spiroflow conveyors transfer the product without degradation for optional condition and shape for consumer packaging.
What are other considerations for shifting production lines from commercial to consumer packaging?
- Labeling – Packaging of household and grocery items have different labeling requirements than commercial packages. In many cases, shifting to consumer packaging may require additional approvals from the FDA and USDA. To help overcome this challenge, the FDA has issued temporary guidance to provide flexibility in packaging and labeling requirements to support food supply chains in getting food to consumers.
- Small Packaging Supplies – The small packages themselves must be manufactured and are in short supply. Even if manufacturers are able to update your production line to fill small packages with the product, there may be challenges in sourcing the small packaging. 12-count egg carton shortages have been an example of this challenge during COVID-19 events.
- Distribution – Shifting from commercial to household products often will mean manufacturers must find new buyers. While demand is high, the time it may take to establish new relationships and contracts may mean perishable products going bad or household supplies sitting in warehouses. In some cases, this challenge may make a strategy of shifting production lines to meet household demand a risky endeavor.
Thank you for reading! If you need support with modifying your process and production line to accommodate a shift to small or commercial packaging, Spiroflow engineers can help. Contact us today to discuss the most effective way to shift your production line during COVID-19 and beyond.
This is installment #3 in Spiroflow’s 4-part blog series: “Making Manufacturing Shifts: Adapting During COVID-19 & Beyond.” In this blog, we look at the current requirements for social distancing and how remote site management via equipment monitoring software and IIoT technology can assist in facilitating this critical pandemic restriction.
Shift #3: Remote site management via equipment monitoring software and IIoT technology
Today, we look at the provision of remote monitoring and how Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology is being rapidly adopted by manufacturers during COVID-19 to maintain productivity from a safe distance and embrace off site equipment management.
Let’s take a look at the current situation with regards to the global pandemic and its effect on businesses.
Global catastrophes tend to bring everything into focus, and are often the catalysts for adopting change. Much like 9/11 proved to the world that terrorism doesn’t just happen in distant lands, and the 2008 economic crisis showed that even the richest amongst us weren’t invincible, COVID-19 is once again making us think twice – but this time, we’re wary of each other and concerned for our health and well-being.
As it has made its way across the globe, the pandemic has left a permanent scar on the infrastructure and commercial heart of most countries. Those still in lockdown in some capacity or another are busy preparing themselves for the post COVID-19 era, a setting that may be characterised by a deep recession with social distancing restrictions that look to become the ‘new normal’. This has resulted in us embracing technology more than ever and has made us look at interaction in a different way. For example, instead of asking “can we meet in person?” we might soon be asking “can we do this online?”.
In our previous blog (#2), we talked briefly about the use of remote monitoring to enable management and other operational leaders who would not otherwise feel safe coming on site to continue to be productive from a physical distance. Let’s take a minute to dive a bit deeper.
IIoT refers to interconnected sensors, instruments, and other devices networked together with computers’ industrial applications, including manufacturing and energy management. This connectivity allows for data collection, exchange, and analysis, potentially facilitating improvements in productivity and efficiency as well as other economic benefits. Relevant data could include machine runtime hours, safety infractions, pinpointing production bottlenecks, motors operating at higher amps, vibration, temperature, unusual spikes or issues on site that may cause failure, i.e. critical issues which normally would require on-site human intervention.
By utilising IIoT technology, Spiroflow has created a system that helps our customers to better connect to and act in response to their data. The initiative is called ‘Spiroflow Active Monitoring’, or SAM for short. Designed for monitoring the current range of Spiroflow process equipment (but can easily include non-Spiroflow systems), SAM uses sensor-based technology to remotely deliver key performance related, safety and operational benefits.
SAM is built into the standard electrical panel on Spiroflow’s machinery by an in-house team of skilled electrical engineers and connected remotely via 4G/5G or Wi-fi. By monitoring equipment performance, the system can remotely provide the customer with a custom dashboard of graphs showing amalgamated data from all available sensors. And depending on a customer’s specifications, the data will show live trends based on pre-set variables. All data collected will be stored online and will be subject to high levels of security. There is no need for engineers to visit a customer’s premises to leverage SAM, thereby eliminating the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Remote monitoring offers an extensive software package for fault finding and analysis of the system components, detecting and documenting potential safety hazards, understanding overall system health, and gaining visibility into equipment status and machine efficiency, from anywhere in the world from a multitude of devices. The system comes with all the necessary tools for configuration and administration, which are included as standard.
Where previously an engineer would be called to rectify a fault, SAM will first clarify the problem via the internet, intranet, or mobile data and quickly analyse faults that can be isolated in extensive nets, with the causes being specified. This allows for quick and precise remedial measures to be implemented remotely, meaning that reaction times are considerably reduced and costs for internal and external staff can be optimised. Additionally if the requirements of a system change, these can be discussed with us, and any software changes can be also done completely remotely by us.
Here are some real-life examples of SAM being used by manufacturers.
We have had manufacturers leveraging SAM for over a year now, including ourselves where we set up all our test equipment, and to practice what we preach we have our full plant on SAM to monitor everything from our electricity and compressor usage to CO2 levels in every office.
Using a custom dashboard, key individuals could remotely monitor the data from anywhere in the world and compare each manufacturing process performance against the other. The move also provided global streamlining of their manufacturing costs as bottlenecks could be pinpointed and overall efficiencies improved.
Another major improvement included the reduction of downtime with planned, predicted maintenance. All manufacturers are aware that at the very core of making high profits is an accurate, high quality and reliable production. If a machine stops working in the middle of a shift and there are no critical spare parts on site, this can result in costly delays. By using remote monitoring technology, sensors are continually reporting data back to the right people and can notify them before critical failure.
Often in manufacturing, if the correct action is not taken at the right time it can be detrimental to production and result in a disproportionate loss of profits over a planned maintenance. With 82% of asset failures occurring randomly, Spiroflow’s SAM in this case, will indicate how and when the failure occurred and will learn from this event, enabling it to predict future events more accurately. Furthermore, with knowing the optimal time to replace wearable parts, production can plan for the correct amount of spares stock to be held, ensuring no overstock, but having the right amount available for predictive maintenance. Given the current COVID-19 restrictions, being able to accurately hold sufficient spares represents a major benefit to any operation.
This example is pre-pandemic clearly, but the main takeaways are the ability to track data remotely without involving engineers on-site, which more than satisfies COVID-19 social distancing restrictions and the positive impacts on production, with limited downtime and critical failures becoming obsolete. The custom SAM dashboard created for the customer could be accessed by anyone they choose via phone, pda or laptop anywhere in the world.
If your equipment is several years old, can SAM be retrofitted?
Yes. SAM can be retrofitted to either existing Spiroflow machinery, or alternative machines from another manufacturer.
Please get in touch to find out how remote monitoring can make your business more efficient, post-COVID-19 OR as another mechanism that helps us embrace technological change.
Stay tuned for Part 4 in our “Making Manufacturing Shifts” Series, the modification of packaging lines for small packaging capabilities.
This is installment #2 in Spiroflow’s 4-part blog series: “Making Manufacturing Shifts: Adapting During COVID-19 & Beyond” In the first installment of our series we talked about how manufacturers that have seen a decrease in product orders are pivoting to produce in-demand products like face masks and hand sanitizer. In this blog, we will address the second shift we are seeing: modifying existing production lines to increase capacity for manufacturers who have seen an increase in demand.
Shift #2: Modifying Production Lines To Increase Production
Today, we will address those industries – food & beverage, snack foods, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, among others – that are seeing products fly off shelves and orders increasing.
Why is it happening? What are the unique challenges within the context of global lockdown?
Let’s take a deeper look at two industries challenged with maintaining supply during coronavirus.
The global pulp and paper industry – read toilet paper – has ramped up operations to keep up with panic buying and resulting supply chain shortages. At the P&G plant in Albany, Georgia, which produces Charmin toilet paper, some employees went from working 5 to 7 days a week to help keep pace. U.K.-based toilet paper manufacturer Essity said in March it boosted output to meet higher demand for products. Toilet paper manufacturers, for the most part, have been able to source more material and keep up – to the point that they’ve been willing (ie. so that they don’t create an oversupply when the panic buying stops).
Our second example – food processors – is a bit more dynamic when it comes to buyer behavior. Processed foods, which have a longer shelf-life, are becoming more popular with buyers looking to minimize their number of trips to the store to prevent exposure to COVID-19. With regard to social habits, social distancing is here to stay (or at least to some degree) for the foreseeable future. It’s likely that the upward trend in manufacturing orders for long-lasting, frozen, snack and processed foods is as well.
Snack foods, in particular, are seeing an increase in demand due to the majority of children staying at home for the remainder of the school year and people working from home who are now also more likely to eat and snack at home during the day.
And while some buyers are opting for more processed foods, other buyers are shifting their behavior towards organic, fresh ingredients. In the UK, organic food delivery service Abel & Cole has seen a 25% increase in sales, largely driven by their delivery service option, but boosted by an increase in demand for healthy, safe foods. In the U.S. Whole Foods supermarket has had to limit the number of online orders it can accept due to the surge in demand. Why the sudden change? The COVID-19 conversation is putting health at the forefront of consumer demand and organic foods are thought to be healthier and safer. However, many of the materials that European and North America organic food companies use to manufacture these products largely come from Asia, Latin America and Africa – meaning there is a lag in the time it takes to increase production. Adding to the challenges are the limited number of organic farmers – and the time it takes for a new farmer to go through the certification process is prohibitive when the need is immediate.
As these examples highlight, coronavirus has created a sudden and unplanned increase in demand in certain geographies. Add to this challenge problems staffing sites, maintaining on-site social distancing protocols, adhering to government regulations and a heightened focus on process cleanliness and hygiene – and it’s easy to see how manufacturers have a lot more to think about than just adding new equipment to their production lines when it comes to increasing capacity.
Hygienic solutions are of utmost importance during COVID-19. How do you keep your conveyor and dry bulk material handling equipment clean while it is running almost constantly?
Opt for hygienic process equipment design that both prevents contamination and that allows for easy, fast regular cleanings.
Quick clean functionality of conveying equipment enables cleaning of your equipment without significantly interrupting your production line. Look for design simplicity, quick release connections and fewer parts to clean.
Additionally, you should look for hygienic equipment that prevents contamination, such as totally enclosed tubular conveyors for the movement of ingredients for food or medicines. To prevent unwanted downtime, another feature you should consider is a design that contains a seal to separate the drive system from the material in event of material leakage.
Staffing challenges during COVID-19 are making it difficult for sites to maintain increased production. So what options do you have?
First evaluate how much of your staff may be able to work remotely. While some on-site staff will always be a necessity for manufacturing operations, remote monitoring can enable management and other operational leaders who would not otherwise feel safe coming on site to continue to be productive from a physical distance. We will talk more about remote site monitoring solutions and how Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology being rapidly adopted by manufacturers during COVID-19 is likely to stick in our 3rd installment of this series.
Second, look for points in your process that could be automated by equipment so that your staff can be freed to focus on more high-value tasks such as process optimization. For example, if you have a manual bulk bag filling process in your production line, you could increase your filling rate and weighing accuracy by implementing an automated gain-in-weight solution, while decreasing the need for the total number of employees on site resulting in both output and productivity gains. Similarly for bulk bag unloading, a loss-in-weight bulk bag system would have the same benefits. Both of these solutions also reduce product spillage that can occur with manual operations. The end results can be dramatic increased total output, improved cleanliness and safety, reduced waste, labor costs and housekeeping time all combined delivering significant productivity gains and ultimately improving profitability.
Production line layout is another area where you can maximize efficiencies and free up staff to focus elsewhere. If your process involves multiple transfer points in order to change the direction of the conveyor due to site layout – there may be an opportunity to eliminate these transfer points by installing a flexible conveyor that can navigate any obstacles on your site floor and transfer material to multiple in-feeds and from multiple discharge points. This reduces the need for operator intervention at the transfer points and reduces the risk of product spillage and contamination.
The last opportunity I want to touch on today is in the automation of tasks related to the basic maintenance of equipment. For example, a drag conveyor that comes with an automated tensioning mechanism lessens the need for manual operator maintenance tasks. Look for equipment that is designed for low or minimal maintenance.
What equipment modifications can manufacturers make to increase production output quickly?
Flexible, mobile conveying systems allow you to modify your production line fast. While installation times vary by operation, a simple modification, such as a conveyor upgrade to increase hourly throughput or addition of a bulk bag filler can take place in under a day, in some cases in as little as a few hours. Spiroflow manufactures multiple sizes of flexible screw conveyors to easily fit your existing process.
Achieving an increase in production output may require an equipment-only upgrade, and thus there may only need to be a slight modification or no change at all to your control systems. Mobile equipment options can include integral control panels so that they can truly be unpacked for fast, “plug and play” capability.
Spiroflow engineers can help you to evaluate your specific requirements and suggest the most efficient way to modify your process to meet new demand.
It’s possible that manufacturing shifts during coronavirus may highlight opportunities to make more long-term modifications for process efficiency. So how do you create the most value from equipment purchased for increased production after COVID events are over?
Ensuring that you purchase flexible, mobile equipment can mean getting the most out of your investment. When making equipment purchases for short-term modifications, look for equipment that can be reused to improve your existing operations when things return to normal.
Any changes to your production line can be assessed in one of our test labs to get your modification right the first time and ensure that your new process delivers benefits beyond coronavirus events.
Making equipment modifications during COVID-19 comes with its own unique set of challenges. How can manufacturers ensure that operational changes meet new worker, product safety and compliance standards?
Look for “plug and play” options when considering new equipment thus reducing the need for outside vendors to enter your site. In this case, equipment can be ordered and shipped to your site ready for quick and simple installation and start up by your own crews.
In the event that installation, layout assistance or an installation inspection is necessary on site, make sure to send your equipment vendor any COVID-19 specific safety protocols, requirements, restrictions or procedures before they arrive.
Communication on safety protocols prior to the site visit is the key for ensuring worker safety while vendors work to install and commission new equipment on site. For our own Spiroflow staff, we make sure to reach out in advance to understand your site’s specific safety requirements. Once we arrive on site, we follow your guidelines strictly.
Stay tuned for Part 3 in our “Making Manufacturing Shifts” Series, the rapid adoption of remote site management for adherence to social distancing protocols.