New research looks to optimise continuous processing to boost product throughput

Campden BRI has begun investigating how to minimise over-processing to help manufacturers maintain product quality, reduce energy costs and increase profitability. The research team aims to establish a more accurate method for calculating the overall lethality of a continuous flow process, enabling better optimised, and safe, thermal processes.

David Whittaker, thermal processing lead at Campden BRI who is co-managing the project, said:

“Of all the thermal processes, when working with the food and drink industry we see continuous flow processing as one with the greatest potential for optimisation. Several assumptions are made when calculating the lethality of these processes, and additional safety factors are often included based on the policies within each individual business. We’ve found these additional safety factors can further exceed what’s needed to ensure the process is safe. This can result in substantial product over-processing that reduces product quality, reduces run time by increasing fouling and accrues greater energy costs.”

Reducing the likelihood of a product fouling during continuous flow processing will help the industry combat the 1.5 million tonnes, equivalent to £1.1 billion, of food wasted during the manufacturing process, as was found in 2018 by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

The project will examine the main assumptions that often cause over-processing – for example, not accounting for come-up or cooling time – and will factor these assumptions into continuous process calculations. More specifically, the project will focus on how to monitor, measure and account for the lethality contributions in heating and cooling, and how to factor these into continuous process calculations without compromising safety.

The potential benefits are expected to be far reaching. “We believe this research could be a game changer for validation of continuous processes,” Whittaker said. “To put it simply, better optimised processes will reduce the chance of equipment being damaged, limit product fouling and reduce processing temperature which will reduce energy use and increase a processes’ profitability.”

A variety of products will be trialled as part of the project to ensure the study’s results remain relevant and applicable to the products typically manufactured. This includes those that are prone to fouling – like soup and dairy – and will create a starting point for food business operators (FBOs) to re-evaluate their continuous flow process based on the product they’re producing.

Following extensive modelling, case studies will demonstrate the potential benefits that an optimised, yet safe, process could yield.

Andrew Bosman, a process engineer at Campden BRI who is also managing the project, said:

“When it comes to continuous processing, we often see a gap in the industry’s knowledge. The numerous variables and interplay of different factors, including the product’s behaviour during processing, creates a calculation minefield for manufacturers. We often see this at our thermal processing training courses that help FBOs with this issue.”

The results of the research will be shared with delegates at Campden BRI’s relevant training courses and to the wider industry following the project’s end later this year.

 

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