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Cutting downtimes with connector solutions

08 August 2016

Kevin Canham discusses the benefits of connectors in the food industry, to help shorten necessary downtimes for maintenance or cleaning purposes. 

An optimised manufacturing facility will make full use of the production time it has available. Unfortunately, the food industry in particular is known to suffer from especially high downtimes. Annual downtimes can exceed 400 hours in many food production lines, resulting in significant costs. Breakdowns lead to delivery delays, and subsequent order backlogs. 

So, minimising downtime is a crucial factor in company profitability. The main causes of downtime are unplanned breakdowns, planned maintenance, set-up times and cleaning. The system shutdown associated with one hour of maintenance can cost from between £4,000 and £40,000, depending on the application.

Connectors versus hard wiring
One approach to minimising these costs involves the use of connectors rather than hard-wiring in the production environment. Whenever speed and reliability are critical, connectors offer a number of benefits compared to hard-wired solutions. End devices such as motors, frequency converters, heaters and ventilation systems supplied via connectors can be decoupled, interchanged and/or maintained much faster than comparable hard-wired devices. While a connector can be plugged in or disconnected in a maximum of 30 seconds, hard wiring takes an average of around one hour per connection. This means that a plug-in connection is over 100 times faster than a hard-wired alternative.
In a typical application involving the retrofitting of mixer hoppers for various end products downtime can be significantly shortened by using connectors. Cleaning of Place (COP), for example, requires the disconnection and reconnection of electrical components – a task which can be greatly speed up if connectors are used. 

Pre-assembled cable harnesses are another important tool in the fight against downtime due to wear and tear, production-line reconfiguration or the commissioning of new machines. Wiring harnesses will already have been assembled and completely tested so should have a substantially lower error rate than manually wired solutions. 

Meeting hygiene requirements
The strict hygiene requirements imposed on the food industry have, traditionally, made the use of connectors in food contact and spray zones difficult or even impossible and this lack of appropriate connector solutions has resulted in many failed attempts to achieve greater system modularisation. 

However, optimised connectors designed especially for the food industry environment are now available – for example the HARTING Han F+B series. To accommodate hygiene requirements, the design of these connectors employs large radii and smooth outer surfaces. The material used is a PP plastic that is resistant to ECOLAB-certified cleaning agents. 

The connectors have been designed in such a way that no external dirt pockets can form which prevents the adhesion of bacteria and system contamination. All plastics that are used also have FDA21 approval. Protection classes IP67/IP69K are maintained even with daily cleaning using aggressive cleaners and high pressures.

The connectors also feature various possibilities for contact transfer. Currently 25 different inserts for connecting and transferring bus systems, signals and power (up to 40 A) are available. In particular, RJ45 interfaces allows the use of PROFINET architecture. 

Kevin Canham is product & applications manager at HARTING.

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