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Efficiently delivering batch size one

19 June 2022

For plant managers who are willing to innovate, Alan Smith outlines the growing trend of small batch production and how modular transport systems can be applied to food production applications to make for efficient batch size one production. 

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Batch size one or small batch production is a method used by food processing manufacturers who want to maintain quality and authenticity of their recipes. 

Once a food product is mass-produced, the quality of the end-result gradually lowers over time. When a food is manufactured at a certain scale, the chemistry and proportions of ingredients in the recipe no longer work well together and adjustments need to be made to ensure that the product will taste the same. 

Rather than sacrificing the quality of a food product, small batch production means that food producers should choose to manufacture their products in small batches to keep the quality at a high standard.

According to a survey undertaken by the organisers of the Hannover Messe exhibition, 60% of participants agreed that batch size one is an important factor to their economic success. However, in food processing applications, the efficient use of batch size one production has previously been seen as a challenge for plant managers. Often, the same production line may produce two different products, meaning that the production equipment may need to be cleaned and reconfigured in between batches, causing an inefficiency in the production process. 

Today, industrial processes in the food industry are no longer linear. Beckhoff’s planar modular transport system, XPlanar counteracts this issue; the XPlanar system is comprised of a mover, tile and control software. The mover is wireless and levitates to dynamically move with six-degrees of freedom, and its magnets allow it to lift heavy loads and travel across the production track. What’s more, the XPlanar system now allows for 360° rotation for the movers, allowing the mixing of liquids through centrifugal force.

The XPlanar system is designed to provide a dynamic solution to challenges such as quality assurance, output speeds and more. Once in motion, the mover travels along an individually defined route, allowing food processors to run multiple batches simultaneously, regardless of the size. Small batch size production allows for hyper-customisation of food products – decentralising this method of production will answer the inevitable demand for more fast, efficient and high-quality food production. 

At a time where demand is significantly increasing in the food industry, plant managers are expected to keep up optimal levels of production as well as widening their offerings. Moreover, plant managers are expected to sustain and comply with stringent hygiene protocols, shown in a study where 95% of plant managers agree that good hygiene is conducive to increasing efficiency across production lines. The levitating movers make it so there is no wear which eliminates the possibility of contamination, making the mechatronic system a perfect fit for the food processing industry.

The equipment used in these types of operations must be able to cope with high-pressure, high temperature clean down processes. Beckhoff’s Xplanar system meets the European Hygiene Engineering & Design Group’s (EHEDG) hygiene standard and has a protection standard of IP69K, meaning that it can withstand harsh chemicals and surfactant-based cleaning products. 

With the increasing demand for efficiency across production lines, seamless automation is imperative for productivity, hygiene and production flow — especially within the food processing industry. Industry 4.0 has facilitated the new trend of small batch size production, a process that makes way for flexibility in the food processing industry and this method is an integral way to improve seamless efficiency across production lines; increasing levels of hygiene and productivity in operations, regardless of batch sizes.

Alan Smith is transport system expert at Beckhoff UK.

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