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Process valves with brains

07 December 2010

EXCLUSIVE A more efficient control solution has benefits says fluid technology company Burkert, which recently provided intelligent process valves with an upgraded production plant for fruit juice concentrates

It’s a surprise to discover Helen Christopher has worked for Bürkert for nearly two years when you consider how enthusiastic and knowledgeable she is about the company. She had previously worked for a pneumatics company, Hoerbiger-Origa, and has 13 years’ experience in marketing.

She tells me Bürkert manufactures products and design systems that can be used wherever fluid media and gases need to be measured, controlled and regulated. Whether the application is filling, level, flow, pressure or temperature, she says the company has a solution and a uniquely comprehensive range of products to handle it, including solenoid, process and analytical valves, pneumatic actuation, sensors and controllers.

The company sees great potential in the sector and recently worked with a European drinks producer, providing intelligent process valves to this producer’s new facility.

A recently upgraded production plant for fruit juice concentrate, and other basic ingredients for beverages and food products, underlines the benefits of a more efficient distributed control solution. The new facility includes intelligent process valves from the fluid technology specialist, Bürkert.

According to a press release from the company, these valves are used by the drink manufacturer across the entire production area in a decentralised control solution with communications via an AS-interface. As part of this solution hygienic seat valves controlling the product flow, on-off valves for the auxiliary circuits for water, steam, sterile air and cleaning are automated in a decentralised mode by means of intelligent valves.

Moreover, with this decentralised system the only tasks remaining with the central process control system are control and status monitoring, resulting in major savings in overall system project costs and improved transparency in system operation.

The integration via the AS-i field bus means that the advantages of decentralised automation can be utilised to the full. All that is required for power supply, feedback and communication is a two-wire cable connecting the PLC with up to 62 valves.

Each process valve is individually connected to the main compressed air supply line installed in the field, whereby these connections are kept as short as possible. This reduces the number and length of tube and cable connections, as well as the number of required control cabinets to a minimum.

An additional benefit is the colour status indicators of the valves can be clearly seen from anywhere in the plant, further improving the transparency of the process. The status of each individual valve can thus be checked onsite – even from a distance. As the process valves can be manually operated through the pilot valves at the control head, the operation of the machine is said to be even simpler.

Bürkert has a rich history. In 1946 Christian Bürkert, the company founder and ingenious inventor developed incubators and hotplates as well as oven and electric controllers used in many brands of household and kitchen appliances from the ‘50s, valves to control air and gas are fitted on industrial and household equipment and appliances.

In the ‘60s Christian Bürkert's original innovation, connecting valves with plastic-encased magnet coils, brought the company's breakthrough from small business to industrial enterprise. The industrial solenoid valve was invented, changing valve technology and laying the cornerstone for the success of Bürkert's products.

The company opened its own sales companies in some of Europe's leading export markets making it an international brand, including the UK. It has now been operating in the UK for 45 years.

Have the past few years, with reference to the recession, been tough for Bürkert, I ask Helen. ‘’During the economic downturn we found our brand and heritage was a major advantage. Our customers generally weren’t prepared to compromise on quality so Burkert continued to supply them. Being a family-owned company who still invest in R&D, the recession did not slow our new products to market: in fact we introduced 6 new product ranges in 2009!’’

As for the ‘upturn’, Helen is just as positive. ‘’We’re pleased to say we’ve exceeded our forecasted targets and are banking on a healthy profit. We feel confident this will continue. We’ve been involved with several refurbishment and upgrading projects and new projects are now being pushed through.’’

Part of the company’s strategy for the upturn will include emphasis on the food and beverage sector. ‘’The industry is a major part of our revenue,’’ Helen says. ‘’Food and drink products are so diverse nowadays. The choice is vast and more product extensions are being launched making it good steady revenue for us to assist in developing new lines.‘’

Another important aspect of the company is its approach to 'lean manufacturing'. Helen says Bürkert eliminates waste in its own manufacturing and also ensures its products and systems are designed to be the most efficient on the market. Its Robolux Valves, for instance, have less internal volume.

In the same vein, sustainability and 'green' issues are also important. ‘’At Bürkert we never compromise in this area,’’ Helen points out. ‘’Compliance with statutory regulations in the areas of occupational safety and environmental protection are part and parcel of our everyday work. In light of this it’s essential we break from established methods and have the courage to try new, unconventional ways.’’

The UK hierarchy of Bürkert isn’t defined by status, Helen says. ‘’Our functional structure is characterised by empowered, open-minded employees at all levels who assume individual responsibility. As you’d expect we have different departments to take care of our customers such as engineering, sales, after-sales and marketing.’’

As for what about Bürkert sets it apart from its competitors, Helen says the company is fortunate to have a large R&D department which is constantly researching blue-sky technologies and innovations. ‘’We harness these and integrate them into our product range accordingly,’’ Helen says. ‘’Manufacturing for the future today is our goal.’’

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