Sensor solves problem for mini plant projects

Hipex is a company that specialises in equipment for the food and beverage industry and therefore expects a high standard of service and quality when it comes to instrumentation.

One of its specialties is making pilot plants for companies so they can trial new products under real working conditions. Doing so saves companies money as they don’t have to shut down production lines to trial the production runs, and it allows them to make errors without having to waste a batch of produce.

Hipex mechanical engineer Jay Edward is at the cutting edge of the research and development aspects of these mini plants. He knows the intricacies involved in making these plants work and how the machinery and equipment used to build them has to be top of the range.

“It’s quite complex mimicking a production-scale plant on a tiny pilot plant. It is not without many complications. Most off the shelf components and instruments are designed for much larger capacities than we handle in our range of Mini plants. We had one instance when we made a plant for the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. We had a little batch tank and we needed level adjustment and control within the batch tank.

However, it had an agitator, it had steam, both pressure and vacuum at various stages of the process – all sorts of complications that would affect any instrumentation,” he said.
To solve the issue Edward contacted instrumentation specialist VEGA, who offered up a solution.

“It was the VEGAPULS 64 sensor that has this really great function in that it could learn to ignore the agitator so it didn’t affect the results,” said Edward. “It worked extremely well. It was a very small plant, but the whole system was complex and expensive. It went off without a hitch. Because it is an R&D device, the Department had people coming in from all over the place trialling products. With new operators all the time it had to be accurate, repeatable and reliable. It got a lot of publicity.”

VEGA’s area manager, Geoff Agg, who looks after the Hipex account, knew straight away how the company could help.

“It was really small pilot plant – the size of a kitchen table,” said Agg. “The 80Ghz liquid radar VEGAPULS 64 was a perfect solution for the application. As Jay said, it had steam, there were agitators in there, there was Sterilise in Place (SIP) involved at a high temperature. Once the radar was in place, it could adapt to all those different changes. There was a vacuum, liquid boiling, an agitator, and the aforementioned SIP, which took temperatures up to 135˚C – it could handle the temperature. Having an agitator spinning around meant we had to do false signal suppressions. It dealt with all those issues they had inside the vessel.”

“We did shop around and we looked at every possible way we could solve this problem,” said Edward. “The VEGAPULS 64 was the only one that did the job. It would not have been done without the radar. There were a set of conditions that couldn’t be met by any other traditional product.”

One of the reasons it is critical that the instrument met the specifications is that Hipex is an OEM, which means not only are local companies its competition, but overseas corporations are, too.

“A reasonable percentage of our business is export,” said Edward. “We compete with many of the international companies, both here and abroad. We do get a calls for local support, especially in these times we’re are in at the moment, so we can’t wait on responses from an overseas head office. Local support and product knowledge is key to our support and ultimately our customers’ success.”

A key factor in Hipex continually turning to VEGA for its products is that there is immediate support and comprehensive local knowledge about the complex instrumentation they offer. Overseas training of local specialists is key in this regard. Edward cites many examples where a lack of knowledge locally has resulted in delayed response’s to customer queries.

“Not only has VEGA been excellent with their support, but a comprehensive range of high quality instruments means that they are able to cover almost all of our needs,” said Edward.

Hipex has a lot of transmitters out in the field, which is why they require high quality products, local support that can respond in a timely fashion and a customer oriented organisation with the ability to provide backup.