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Centralised vacuum supply helps reduce emissions and operating costs

26 May 2020

Find out how a meat processing plant has reduced is operating costs and reduced CO2 emissions by 20 tons per year. 

Peter Mattfeld & Sohn GmbH butchers and processes up to 1,200 pig halves and 100 beef quarters per day. The meat is cut to individual customer requirements or is packaged as standard products for sale across Germany. 

An energy management audit in 2010  found that the original vacuum pumps in the three thermoforming packaging machines and one chamber packaging machine unnecessarily heated the room air that was cooled to 9°C. Additional energy was then needed to cool the air in production areas. This led to the decision to replace the vacuum supply on the individual packaging machines with a more energy-efficient central vacuum system – a change which has reduced CO2 emissions by 20 tons per year and has reduced operating costs by 8,100 Euros annually. 

A central vacuum system
Busch Vacuum Pumps and Systems suggested that a central vacuum system was installed in a room separated from the cooled production areas. The individual packaging chambers are evacuated in two stages to be able to run maximum cycle frequencies on the packaging lines. The critical pressure gradient is exploited in each case. This enables fast evacuation time and achieves the highest possible cycle time on every packaging machine. One ring line for the rough vacuum for the first evacuation and one ring line for the medium vacuum for the evacuation to packaging pressure connect the packaging machines with the vacuum system. The reversing valves with the corresponding control unit are mounted on the packaging machines or in the control cabinet next to them. They control the transition from rough to medium vacuum.

For thermoforming packaging machines, the moulding stations are supplied using a separate thermoforming vacuum pump unit. This ensures that the previously heated base foils are sucked into the tray mould and take the desired shape. On the one hand, this separation into different vacuum stations is necessary as moulding and packaging require different vacuum levels and, on the other, as a substantially lower pumping speed is required for the two-stage evacuation of the packaging chamber. One vacuum vessel each for rough, medium and forming vacuum ensures that the packaging pressure remains at a constant level, even when all packaging machines are running synchronously. In addition, these buffers ensure that vacuum is immediately applied to the packaging chambers when required. The central vacuum system is fully automatic: it activates individual vacuum modules if a higher vacuum level is required and/or switches off individual vacuum modules if the demand in vacuum is lower. 

The advantages of the new vacuum system quickly became obvious. The energy used to cool the production rooms could be reduced because there were no longer any vacuum pumps installed there, so unwanted heat emissions in the cooled rooms had been avoided. The new vacuum system had fewer vacuum pumps than previously required for the decentralised solution which offered further energy savings. In addition, individual vacuum pumps are automatically switched off by the vacuum system's control unit if the vacuum level in the vacuum vessels can be maintained with reduced pumping speed. The vacuum pumps in the packaging machines, on the other hand, ran non-stop from switching on the packaging machine to switching it off. Kai Mattfeld says that some vacuum pumps used to be in permanent operation from early in the morning until late in the evening, regardless of whether the machines were packaging or not. 

The modular design of the vacuum system, and the subdivision into rough, medium and forming vacuum, means that the performance of a vacuum pump can be automatically adopted by a stand-by vacuum pump in the event of a failure. The failure of a vacuum pump thus has no impact on packaging – either in terms of quality or speed. This ensures maximum operational reliability for the vacuum supply to the packaging machines. In addition to the high operational reliability, this also has the advantage that maintenance work can be carried out during ongoing operation, as individual vacuum pumps can be disconnected from the vacuum system and maintained while the central vacuum system continues to run. 

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