Keep It Clean
By Del Williams
Mobile ‘smart cart’ automates food-conveyor CIP procedures for food packagers using tubular conveyors
To promote food safety and sanitary compliance, food packagers are increasingly seeking the ability to Clean-in-Place (CIP), an automated method of cleaning the interior surfaces of tubular drag conveyors without disassembly.
Now, with the advent of mobile tools like an innovative “smart cart” that quick-connects to any tubular conveyor and enables simple, customizable “single button cleaning recipes,” CIP is becoming easier, faster, less labour-intensive, more repeatable, and almost fully automated.
Tubular drag conveyor systems gently move product through a sealed, enclosed tube using a drag cable and circular discs pulled through on a loop, so are ideal for delicate items.
In a wet CIP process, the system is flooded with water, flushed, rinsed, cleansed, and thoroughly sanitized.
The process thoroughly flushes out any potential allergens like nuts or gluten from conveying equipment and can be used with a variety of food types such as nuts, grains, cereals, powdered soups, and frozen fruits and vegetables.
Although the CIP process is very effective, streamlining its automation and simplifying the process for all of a facility’s tubular drag conveyors has been a priority for leading innovators in the industry.
“The standard system required port hookups to water lines and installing piping,” says John Adair, engineering and quality director for Cablevey Conveyors (www.cablevey.com), Oskaloosa, Iowa-based conveyor manufacturer that has designed, engineered, and serviced enclosed cable and disc tube conveyors for 50 years.
“The processor also had to make decisions such as which water temperatures to utilize, or whether to use a cleaning solvent — and the correct amount to add manually,” Adair points out.
To simplify the wet cleaning process, Adair and his engineering team at Cablevey have developed a small, mobile “smart cart” with integrated water line hook-ups that a single technician can easily take to any tubular drag conveyor in a facility.
The cart is specifically designed to be a fraction of the size of similar carts on the market to facilitate mobility.
When the cart is in position and connected to water lines, the CIP process is automated and controlled by a programmable logic controller (PLC) that reduces the need for manual labour and virtually eliminates the risk of improper cleaning.
“Once it is set up, all you do is press a button and it will bring in the required amount of water at the correct temperature with the necessary amount of solvent for cleaning,” says Adair.
The ‘smart cart’ is designed to store and utilize pre-programmed CIP recipes to flush various residual materials from the tubular drag cable conveyors in a facility before new production runs.
The cleaning recipes enable even those with very little training to use the cart.
This is helpful in today’s tight labour market and allows the technician to move on to other tasks once the cleaning process begins.
The use of easily executable recipes ensures a superior, repeatable clean that essentially “error proofs” the process.
This is particularly important when the technician may be new or less familiar with the production equipment.
“Depending on the product being conveyed, sometimes all you need is a wet rinse, or sometimes you need a specific cleaning solvent,” says Adair.
“All that information is saved, so after the first cleaning, it can be automatically repeated.
“Just push a button to start the appropriate recipe, whether you have one conveyor running multiple products, or dozens of conveyors running various products.”
To facilitate food safety compliance, the smart cart also documents all critical CIP information such as water volume and temperature, chemicals used, and cleaning time by date in an easily retrievable data log.
Since decreasing production downtime between conveyor cleanings is a priority for food packagers, Cablevey provides new capabilities with the cart that expedites the CIP process.
Currently, the CIP process floods the tubular conveyor system but is not designed to specifically clean the discs.
“Operators would manually clean each disc and advance the system disc by disc when the discs had to be cleaned of particularly viscous substances,” says Adair.
Now, as an option on the cart, a disc washer can be integrated with the conveyor turnaround to spray a pressurized cleansing solution on the discs.
This helps to remove stickier substances like chocolate that could remain after routine CIP cleaning.
“The disc washer sprays high-pressure water directly on the discs, so it acts like an automatic car wash,” Adair explains.
“At the push of a button, the discs and cable are run through and spray-cleaned, which reduces CIP time and eliminates the need to manually clean the discs.”
To further reduce downtime, Cablevey also offers a new sanitary blower option.
“After the wet CIP process, a sanitary blower attachment on the smart cart can dry the discs and other parts of the system 75 per cent faster than typical air drying,” says Adair.
“The faster that the conveyor is cleaned and dried after a product change,” Adair points out, “the sooner it can be put back into service.
While the food packaging industry is aware that automated CIP can improve conveyor system production uptime, barriers to implementation have slowed adoption.
Utilizing a mobile smart cart with integrated water hookups can help many food packagers to easily implement CIP in tubular drag conveyors throughout their facilities, thereby expediting conveyor cleaning, speeding up the production changeovers, and end insuring full sanitary compliance.
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, Ca.