On bottling and primary packaging lines, direct contact between the machine and the things we put on our kitchen table is inevitable. That's why these processes are subjected to the absolute highest hygiene standards – and it's also why any equipment used must lend itself to easy and thorough cleaning. These requirements often present a stumbling block for innovative new solutions.
Production and packaging machinery used in the food and beverage industry must not only be easy to clean, but also highly resistant to aggressive substances. Powerful cleaning agents and scalding hot water are extremely effective at killing bacteria and germs – but over time can take their toll on machine components. These challenges are further compounded as the individualization trend gains momentum in the food and beverage industry. Machine builders and operators are under pressure to produce goods efficiently in small batch sizes.
"Consumers have shown a willingness to pay a premium for personalized products," explains Johannes Vitzthum, product manager for track technology at B&R. "And food and beverages are no exception." Real implementation of mass customization, however, has generally been hindered by one core fact that applies in every industry: Whenever you increase a system's flexibility, you generally decrease its overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). "Producers run the very real risk that individualization will come at the cost of profitability," says Vitzthum.
The goal of mass customization is therefore to keep the three factors of OEE – availability, performance and quality – at a level consistent with what can be achieved in mass production. In addition, manufacturers seek to maximize their return on investment (ROI) and to minimize their time to market (TTM) for new and improved products. "This is the only way to make mass customization a worthwhile investment," continues Vitzthum.
The obvious focus is on digitalization and software; but optimizing the way products are transported through the line is also a crucial part of the equation. This is exactly where intelligent track systems play an essential role in getting products to market faster and helping producers remain competitive. Track systems contain permanent magnets and other components, however, that must never come into contact with water or other liquids. This has so far made track systems out of bounds for the food and beverage industry. "The time has now come to equip food and beverage machinery to meet the new demands of its market," says Vitzthum.
B&R is now offering its intelligent ACOPOStrak system with IP69K protection. "The shuttles and segments of the new washdown variant are constructed of stainless steel, securely welded and resistant to corrosion," explains Vitzthum. The IP69K-rated ACOPOStrak is built for high-pressure washdown cleaning using hot water up to 80°C and fully protected against dust ingress.
Completely enclosed stainless steel housing prevents even the tiniest ambient particulate matter from penetrating into the interior of the shuttles and track segments. This keeps the permanent magnets perfectly safe, even during washdown. This high level of protection also makes it possible to transport corrosive products or operate the ACOPOStrak in corrosive atmospheres such as salt spray. All surfaces are chemically resistant. Aggressive cleaning agents are no problem for the IP69K-protected ACOPOStrak system.
What all of this means is that full-scale mass customization is now open for business, even under the demanding constraints of the food and beverage industry. "You're now able to install our intelligent track system in stand-up pouch filling machines, for example," says Vitzthum. "And that opens up some very exciting possibilities for product individualization." Stand-up pouches are primarily used for liquid and semi-liquid products, such as fruit purees and energy gels. Now customers can create their own individual assortments and produce them economically using ACOPOStrak. Not only does the system meet all cleaning and hygienic requirements, but the consumer gets exactly the product or products desired.
ACOPOStrak makes it possible to group mass-produced items such as bottled drinks into custom six-packs on the fly – three bottles of orange juice, two of apple and one cranberry juice – without any changes to the hardware. The magic that allows this to happen is the track system's unique high-speed diverter solution, which is purely electromagnetic and thus fully immune to mechanical wear. "Diverters split and merge product flows while the shuttles are running at full speed – without any impact on productivity," underscores Vitzthum.
Track-based transport makes machines more modular and flexible. They can easily be expanded simply by adding on new track segments and parallel processing stations for a substantial boost in productivity. B&R's IP69K-rated ACOPOStrak now allows industries with strict cleaning and hygienic requirements to enjoy all the benefits of the adaptive machine.
Author: Carola Schwankner, Corporate Communications Editor, B&R
B&R's flexible and intelligent ACOPOStrak system enables economical mass customization down to batch size one. At a speed of more than four meters per second, workpieces travel between processing stations on independently controlled shuttles. Electromagnetic diverters split and merge product flows, opening up endless possibilities for machine builders and operators to implement fully automated production of individualized products.