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Addressing air quality issues

11 July 2016

According to Gareth Topping the food and beverage industry needs to be aware of the issues surrounding exhaust air quality from vacuum pumps. 

It should not come as a surprise that the compressed air used in food and beverage production is held to the highest quality and purity standards. However, there are currently no matching standards in place for exhaust air quality from vacuum pumps.

For this reason, the food industry itself needs to tackle the issues of contaminated air that may be generated by an unsuitable vacuum pump.

Most food and beverage manufacturing sites will follow the recognised principles of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) to ensure compliance with all the necessary legislation, either eliminating any potential hazards or reducing them to an acceptable level.

There is a group of international standards which stipulate the quality of compressed air, known as ISO8573. These set out the amount of contamination allowed in each cubic metre of compressed air and specify the methods of testing for a range of contaminants, ranging from oil aerosol content and humidity to solid particle and oil vapour content.

However, while a site’s main manufacturing processes will be scrutinised in incredible detail and will almost certainly be covered in a site’s HACCP assessment, ancillary processes and utilities are often left out entirely. Sometimes, this can result in potential risks from equipment – such as vacuum pumps – being overlooked.

Avoiding risks
Most sites in the food and beverage industry currently use oil-lubricated vacuum pumps. These are usually reliable products and the majority of them will operate without any problems whatsoever. 

Nevertheless, poor maintenance practices or minor equipment faults can create the risk of oil discharging from the exhaust. This presents a particularly significant problem in a food and beverage manufacturing plant.

As well as oil discharge from the exhaust, operators need to be aware that oil-lubricated vacuum pumps run the risk of oil carrying over from an open-ended inlet port, and there is the chance that a separator element may fail due to misuse or through the use of non-genuine parts. 

Avoiding this issue can be relatively straightforward. Simple measures such as using a food grade lubricant, fitting a downstream exhaust filter or remotely piping the exhaust air can all help avoid the potential risks from an oil-lubricated vacuum pump. Combine this with regular maintenance and you are virtually guaranteed a high standard of air quality.

For those needing further reassurance, Gardner Denver is able to offer a free site survey – working with the company’s production team to determine whether vacuum pumps should be included within a site’s HACCP assessment.

Going oil-free
Considering that the food and beverage industry operates in such a sensitive manufacturing environment, some companies may be looking for an even more certain solution. An oil-free model may be the best solution.

Oil-free vacuum pumps have been developed to meet the needs of manufacturers looking to create the highest air purity environments. They do not require the same level of maintenance as oil-lubricated models, as there is no need to replace the oil or filters, which also has the benefit of cutting down on costs over a pump’s lifetime.

Another major advantage to an oil-free vacuum pump is that it doesn’t have to be removed to carry out maintenance. This means that there is no equipment downtime or associated costs from oil, waste oil disposal or labour.

A clean solution
In an industry that focuses so heavily on hygiene and air quality, the concerns around vacuum pumps should not be dismissed lightly. Although it does not look likely that standards will be introduced anytime soon, there are many simple, affordable solutions that manufacturers can use to dramatically cut down any risk or even eliminate it entirely.

Gardner Denver offers a range of oil-free vacuum pumps, each suited to the particular requirements of individual applications. The S-VSI dry-running vacuum pump, for example, for packaging under protective gas, needs no coolant or sealing medium in the suction chamber. It is water-cooled and offers low heat emission into the environment.

When it comes to guaranteeing air quality, it is also important to work with a trusted and experienced maintenance partner, who can help and offer support should these matters arise. Gardner Denver offers, Assure, a free, six-year warranty on all new and existing rotary vane vacuum pumps.

With potentially increased outputs and greater uptime, the benefits of an oil-free model are clear. 

It is important that the food and beverage industry is be aware of the issues around vacuum pump air quality, and take the necessary opportunities to reduce the likelihood of any issues arising.

Gareth Topping is vacuum sales manager at Gardner Denver.

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