01. July 2016

Reducing the cost of production downtime in the food and beverage industry

The cost of downtime Optimal manufacturing makes full use of the available production time. This also applies to the food industry with its processing/process technology and packaging areas. However, industrial food processing in particular suffers from especially high downtimes. The annual downtime exceeds 400 hours in many production lines, resulting in significant costs. Breakdowns lead to delivery delays, and subsequent orders suffer from backlogs. It often takes many management interventions, re-planning of processes or even changes in the distribution services to clear up the impact of such interruptions.

Minimal downtime is a crucial factor in company profitability. The main causes of downtime are unplanned breakdowns, planned maintenance, set-up times and cleaning. The system shutdown associated with one hour of maintenance can cost from 5000 to 50,000 euros, depending on the application.

Connectors versus hard wiring

One promising approach to minimising these costs involves using connectors rather than hard-wiring in the production environment. Whenever speed and reliability are critical, connectors offer a number of benefits compared to hard-wired solutions. End devices such as motors, frequency converters, heaters and ventilation systems supplied via connectors can be decoupled, interchanged and/or maintained significantly faster than comparable hard-wired devices. While a connector can be plugged in or disconnected in a maximum of 30 seconds, hard wiring takes an average of around one hour per connection. A plug-in connection is consequently more than 100 times faster than the hard-wired alternative.

Application example

This can be illustrated by a typical application involving the retrofitting of mixer hoppers for various end products. Here, any possible downtime can be significantly shortened by using connectors. Downtimes due to COP (Cleaning of Place), which requires the disconnection of electrical components, can be greatly reduced when connectors are used. In addition, if replacements for any substitute devices and components are kept on hand, downtimes are further reduced, a situation that is further improved by using the latest generation of interchangeable modular interfaces.

Pre-assembled cable harnesses are further important tools in the fight against downtime resulting from causes such as wear and tear, production-line reconfiguration or the commissioning of new machines. Plus, wiring harnesses that have already been assembled and completely tested have a substantially lower error rate than manually wired solutions.

Meeting hygiene requirements

Due to the strict hygiene requirements in the food industry (e.g. FDA21 CFR §177, EN-1672-2), the use of connectors in the food contact and spray zones used to be tedious in some cases and not implementable in some others, both for system manufacturers and operators. As a result, attempts to achieve greater modularisation in the systems used often failed due to the lack of appropriate connector solutions.

Now, however, optimised connectors designed especially for the food industry environment are available in the form of the HARTING Han® F+B series. In order to accommodate hygiene requirements, the patented design of these connectors employs particularly large radii and have smooth outer surfaces. The material that is used is a PP plastic that is resistant to ECOLAB-certified cleaning agents. When the cleaning agents for the material test were selected, it was ensured that they contained as many different relevant components as possible in order to cover the largest possible range of cleaners used in the food industry.

The connectors in the F+B series have been designed in such a way that no external dirt pockets can form. The design consequently prevents the adhesion of bacteria and system contamination. All plastics that are used also have FDA21 approval. The Han® F+B connectors’ protection classes IP67/IP69K are maintained even with daily cleaning using aggressive cleaners and high pressures.

The US FDA (Food & Drug Administration in the US Department of Health & Human Services) regulates the import and sales of products that are required to manufacture or process foods. For the approval, products are examined especially for poisonous components in order to reduce the risk to the consumer. All soft product components such as seals and closing elements are executed in a blue colour in order to simplify the detection of foreign bodies with the help of monitoring cameras, because other than a few exceptions this colour does not naturally occur in foods.

BUS, signal and power interfaces

The F+B range focuses on the optimal mapping of the customer interface. In particular, the connectors feature various possibilities for contact transfer. Currently 25 different inserts for connecting and transferring bus systems, signals and power (up to 40 A) are available. In particular, RJ45 interfaces allow the use of modern PROFINET architecture. This gives users maximum flexibility when they select connection components, which in turn saves time and money.

HARTING also offers users the option of having cables and interfaces pre-assembled to specific customer requirements. Here, cable-to-cable solutions with cable-to-cable hoods are also possible, in addition to housings that are fixed in place on the switch cabinet.

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