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Self-optimising CIP

17 April 2017

Ian Sterrit talks about a cleaning technology – Self-Optimising Clean-in-Place (SOCIP) – which aims to optimise the clean-in-place process for food processing equipment. 

Did you know that 30% of the energy and water used by the UK food and drink manufacturing sector is used to clean processing equipment? Clean-in-Place (CIP) systems are one of the most commonly used means of achieving consistent, reliable hygiene standards. 

However, today’s CIP systems do have some drawbacks. CIP processes need to be designed for the worst case scenario, and they operate ‘blind’. They are unable to identify how much food or microbial debris remains within the equipment which means that cleaning takes place over a set time period, rather than bearing a relation to the amount of cleaning that is actually required. This results in unnecessary downtime – up to 50% longer than is often necessary – to ensure hygiene standards are met. The financial losses incurred by this lost production time are exacerbated by the over-use of energy, water and chemicals due to over-cleaning.

The SOCIP Development Project team is working on a solution to this problem. The project is being led by Martec of Whitwell supported by the University of Nottingham and the Centre for Sustainable Manufacturing and Recycling Technologies (SMART) at Loughborough University.

An alternative solution
The self-optimising clean-in-place (SOCIP) system will use an artificially intelligent, multi-sensor inspection system to monitor and assess exactly how much food residue and microbial debris is left inside the manufacturing equipment during the pre-rinse and detergent phases of the cleaning process. 

SOCIP’s intelligent software will assess the cleaning process and optimise the length of time required for each CIP phase – maintaining hygiene standards and improving efficiency, as the equipment is cleaned only for as long as necessary. 

A medium-sized UK diary will, typically spend £1 million a year on cleaning, with lost production time accounting for at least half of this cost.  Reducing CIP time to just what is required to ensure the equipment is clean would enable the dairy to reduce its annual water and energy use by around 270,000l AND 2,400Mwh respectively, resulting in net savings of around £300,000 a year.

It has been estimated that SOCIP could save the UK food manufacturing sector up to £100m a year by:

• Reducing equipment cleaning times by up to 50%, maximising productivity.
• Improving efficiency and cutting costs by eliminating unnecessary cleaning.
• Protecting the environment by reducing the use of water, energy and chemicals.
• Mitigating hygiene risks through real-time assessment of cleaning requirements.

It is hoped that, in the future, the technology could be retrofitted onto existing CIP system or incorporated into new installations. The Food & Drink Federation (FDF) has already identified around 1,000 UK manufacturers who currently use CIP technology and could benefit from retro-fitting SOCIP, which once operational, will require no expertise to use. It also uses off-the-shelf electronic components which will make it a cost-effective option.

The project team has now concluded a 12-month Innovate UK-funded feasibility study. A lab-scale experimental rig was built at the University of Nottingham, which reproduced common industrial cleaning problems in a typical food-processing plant, and tested conditions using various foods. 

It was possible to assess the potential for SOCIP’S artificially intelligent, multi-sensor inspection system to measure precisely how much food residue and microbial debris is left inside the rig. The team has also developed the cognitive decision-making software that will integrate with the sensors and enable the system to work autonomously.

Since the project began, SOCIP has been presented to industry leaders and decision-makers at a variety of international conferences. Last November, the technology was presented at EHEDG’s World Congress on Hygienic Engineering & Design in Denmark. A number of large, multi-national food and drink manufacturing brands have already expressed an interest in SOCIP and will be working with the project team on the testing process, or trialling a prototype system.

Ian Sterritt is managing director at Martec of Whitwell.

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