Maintaining hygienic conditions when introducing new equipment plants can be a challenge for food makers. However, as the case of a chicken processing plant which introduced new equipment from SEW-Eurodrive shows, it can be successfully achieved.
Food processing companies set high standards for cleanliness in their production facilities. While they can control their own production environment by implementing strict processes, the installation of externally sourced equipment that keeps the production lines rolling is a different matter.
To guarantee that these standards are met, the food processing industry and its suppliers typically adopt the hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) risk management methodology. The methodology can be applied at any stage of the food manufacturing process.
Many retail food sellers insist on their suppliers being certified by an independent organisation such as HACCP Australia or its international equivalents. It is not only the ingredients and food processing plants that require evaluation and risk analysis. If the equipment within the plants is certified as fit for purpose, this gives suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers alike extra assurance that the food that reaches our tables has been processed in a suitably hygienic manner.
According to John Gattellari, national industry specialist – food and beverage at SEW-Eurodrive, this certification is critical for the motors and gear units driving the equipment in food processing plants.
“SEW-Eurodrive realised this early on, and is endorsed by HACCP Australia in the manufacturing equipment category. Certification demonstrates that the mechatronic drive system Movigear type B variant for wet areas that we supply for these projects can be successfully cleaned by the high-pressure hoses and chemicals without any difficulty or detriment to the units,” he said.
In the wet areas and tightly-controlled clean areas of food-processing facilities, these standards are upheld rigorously.
Food manufacturers conduct their own audits and also bring in external auditors to ensure that their facilities meet their own standards and those required by the organisations they supply.
The auditors typically inspect the whole plant, paying attention to all systems and manufacturing processes, including those that govern use of the conveyors, motors and gear units.
According to Gattellari, the food industry now prefers drive systems that are HACCP certified. This is in addition to being easy to clean, reliable, and being able to meet the necessary technical and performance requirements.
Applying the knowledge
One site where this approach has been put into practice is the Golden Farms chicken processing plant at Geelong, in Victoria. Joe Cammaroto, maintenance supervisor at Golden Farms, now uses the Movigear type B drive system throughout the large facility, which employs around 400 people and processes up to 100,000 chickens a day.
He agrees that the cleaning step is critical, and says that the whole plant is cleaned every night after production ceases. The consequences of hygiene issues arising in the clean areas of a food production plant are substantial. At the very least, they could mean delays in production, with associated financial losses. Even more importantly, if contaminated food were sold to the public, public health could be put at risk.
Cammaroto says that a number of previously-installed drives remain in the plant. These must be covered up prior to high-pressure cleaning and uncovered again afterwards. Without the covers, the chemicals used in the cleaning process eat the paint away, so each unit must be cleaned separately from the rest of the plant. This extra handling of equipment every day is time consuming and inconvenient.
These older drive systems – which are traditionally in two pieces rather than a single sealed unit – also have the potential to cause contamination. Removing the peeled-off paint and rust from the older drive systems is time consuming and costly. The process has to be thorough to overcome the risk of contaminating the food product.
Frequent independent audits assist Cammaroto and his colleagues to check that this risk is minimal. A comprehensive system provides for different audits at three and six-monthly intervals, in addition to annual checks. Auditors verify that processes are being adhered to, and look at the preventative measures that are in place.
To further alleviate the risk, Golden Farms is systematically replacing all the older drive systems as they age and wear out.
“We were looking for an alternative motor and have been introducing the Movigear type B to power our conveyors because it is designed and certified for use in hygienic environments,” said Cammaroto. “With its special coatings, it is washable and the food product can’t stick onto it.”
As well as using them to replace the older style motors, Golden Farms now installs them whenever a new conveyor line is added. Cammaroto says that there are now more than 19 of the HACCP-certified units installed.
Installation has proven to be a simple process and has been carried out by the technicians at Golden Farms. The drive motors are horizontally mounted on the left or right side so they can be placed wherever needed within the conveyor system.
“The long-term upgrade project has been straight forward. Several of the motors have been operating for about three years already, and I’ve been impressed by how long they have lasted. They’ve been excellent. The units we used prior to the upgrade would have lost paint and begun to rust in that time,” said Cammaroto.
No more fiddling in the roof
Hygiene is not the only benefit of the plant’s refurbishment. The controller of the Movigear drive system is attached in a sealed housing and the speed of each drive can be adjusted in situ.
At Golden Farms, the conveyors move a mix of fresh product and boxed product, so the speeds of the conveyors vary according to where they sit in the manufacturing process. The convenience of being able to adjust the speeds of the drives directly at the conveyor was another reason for upgrading.
“We can adjust the speeds of the conveyors and match them up so you can go from slower to faster. It’s more convenient than having a speed controller up in the roof space where you’ve got to get up and change it,” said Cammaroto. “With the Movigear, we just undo a bolt at the back of the unit, adjust the speed and replace the bolt. It’s a lot easier – very simple.”
Designed for the job
Behind the scenes, SEW-Eurodrve’s engineers had been working for many years to perfect the design of the Movigear for use in wet areas and hygienic environments. Gattellari says that the result of this endeavour was the mechatronic drive system Movigear type B, a compact and totally enclosed system, comprising the gear-unit motor and electronics.
The Movigear drive system complies with the international energy standard, IE4 (Super Premium Efficiency), the finless and fanless design eliminates air swirls usually associated with fan cooled motors. There is no distribution of germs and bacteria – a vital requirement in a hygienic environment.
With no fan, there is an added benefit of reduced noise in the production environment. The drive system complies with air cleanliness class 2 according to the international standard ISO 14644-1 and consumes about 50 per cent less energy than conventional drive solutions.
A major issue for gear units and motors in wet areas and hygienic environments is the choice of materials and coatings. While stainless steel components and fixtures are the preferred choice for food-manufacturing facilities, traditional motors and gear units are often supplied with housings made from aluminium or steel. This is due to cost pressures, weight restrictions and component availability.
Traditionally, motors and gear units are coated with a paint system that is prone to premature failure when exposed to the harsh and abrasive cleaning regimes. Exposure to the caustic cleaning agents can also cause corrosion within the drive systems. An alternative approach is to employ surface finishes such as Nickel or Teflon, or use of anodising for Aluminium substrates. This gives the motors and gear units superior corrosion-inhibiting properties and abrasion resistance.
The smooth housing of the Movigear type B is finished with an “HP200” treatment which is burned into the surface during application. Highly resistant to the cleaning chemicals and high-pressure wash-down the surface finish eliminates the possibility of flaking paint.
These inherent anti-stick properties contribute to a reduction of debris build-up, resulting in faster cleaning times and less system downtime. The standard inclusion of stainless steel shafts, fasteners and auxiliary fittings further enhances the Movigear type B anti-corrosive properties.
At facilities like Golden Farms, this means that standard cleaning routines can be continued, without the need to cover the drive units before the wash down and uncover them again afterwards.
It was this approach to design that has made the Movigear type B eminently suitable for the Golden Farms upgrade project. By introducing a program to replace the older drive systems with HACCP-certified units, the facility has improved efficiencies and minimised risk – a move that satisfies the twin goals of reducing costs and ensuring the health and wellbeing of its customers.