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Making hygienic connections in food zones

24 July 2016

Food Processing spoke to Dimitri Gardikiotis, applications engineer at ILME UK about a new range of multipole connectors that can be used in food areas. ILME designs, manufactures, stocks and distributes industrial multipole connectors, plugs and sockets used in electric machinery, control panels and all kinds of power and signal circuits in countless applications and sectors. 

How is ILME involved in the food industry sector?
Multipole connectors can be found in almost every industry sector. A connector is simply an electromechanical system which provides a separable interface between two subsystems of an electronic system. So, wherever you find machines, control panels, distribution boards, automation systems or robotics you will also find connectors. The food processing sector of course utilises all of these. 

Seperability is the reason for connectors. They allow for the independent manufacturing of subassemblies with final assembly taking place at a central location, they also allow for maintenance and upgrading of subsystems without major modifications of the system as a whole and of course they allow for portability. Any food production process –from the very first stage up until packaging and storage – will have strict regulations in place relating to hygiene, cross contamination, cleanability and reliability, therefore all parts of the system need to comply.

Until recently, no rectangular connectors were available to satisfy the requirements laid down by the 2006 Machinery Directive – which relates to material cleanability, material resistance to the cleaning and sanitising agents normally used in the food industry and material in terms of requirements for accidental contact with food products. This meant that rectangular connectors could not be used in splash and food zones. However, ILME has developed a T Type Hygienic range of enclosures that has changed this.

So, what can the ILME T Type Hygienic range offer that standard connectors cannot?
It was the absence of metallic parts and powder paint in particular that made the original thermoplastic – T Type an attractive solution for food processing. Painted aluminium enclosures are fine for a no-food area where there is zero risk of direct contact with food, but not for splash and food areas. The components in this zone are exposed to powerful cleaning agents and frequent hot jet washes – conditions under which, eventually, regular aluminium enclosures could corrode and their painted coatings blister which could contaminate the food. 

The original T Type eliminates the problem of corrosion and blistering paint. However, further modifications had to be made to allow it to enter splash and food areas. The original gasket material has been replaced to achieve the necessary IP rating of 66 and 69 for protection against powerful hot jet washes as well as satisfying the requirements of the EHEDG guideline, referring to materials of construction for equipment in contact with food. The new gaskets also give a lower ambient temperature limit of -50°C, ideal for use in the cold chain.

The levers have been modified to form a smooth, easy to clean surface which won’t harbour any food particles in hard to reach places and both the levers and gaskets have been given a RAL 5015 blue colour to easily identify any accidental contamination.

How does this fit in with the future of food processing?
The T Type Hygienic range has given the food industry an opportunity to enjoy all the benefits of a plug and play system in production zones where previously rectangular multipole connectors could not be utilised. The enclosures can house a huge range of inserts and modules, from 200A power to 5A signals, Ethernet to fibre optic and countless combinations in between. 

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