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Connecting with hygienic and flexible factory floors

20 March 2023

Find out how hygienically designed plug and play connectors can make factory floors more flexible without affecting food safety.

Machines and equipment destined for use in food processing applications need to be designed to be easy to clean, to prevent dirt particles building up and making it harder for bacteria to accumulate. It is vital, therefore, that machines and their related components meet strict requirements for usage in the food industry. Standards such as EN 1672- 2 are intended to ensure that processed food is optimally protected against contamination. 

The EN 1672-2 standard defines three distinct zones for food production, which differ in terms of contamination risks and the number of cleaning cycles required. Zone 1 is the food zone, where components come into direct contact with foodstuffs. Connectors are not designed to come into direct contact with food and are rarely positioned in this zone.

Zone 2 is the splash zone, which includes all facility parts and components that come into direct contact with food that does not return to the production process. Components here must be cleaned regularly using high pressure washing and chemicals to avoid contamination. 

Hygienic design
It was the hygiene requirements for this zone that Harting focussed on when designing its Han F+B range of connectors.

Firstly, all hoods, housings and seals are IP69K rated, so the connections are resistant to the water jets used to clean equipment. They also have large nooks and surfaces in accordance European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group (EHEDG) guidelines, which allows cleaning and disinfecting agents to flow unhindered. 

The range is also Ecolab approved, meaning it is resistant to the aggressive cleaning agents used in the food and splash zones. As the housings are constructed from polypropylene, they conform to the directives of FDA 21. The entire portfolio can also function in a wide temperature range from -40 to +125°C.

Connectors used in food and beverage applications in the F+B industry must not react to detergents or other antimicrobial chemicals used during rigorous cleaning as they could affect the smell or taste of food, or even be harmful to health. Therefore, they must be corrosion resistant, mechanically stable and constructed so that the surface of the material cannot be damaged.

The most common material used for connectivity in the food and beverage industry is high-alloy stainless steel. Plastic connectors must comply with the provisions of the regulation 1935/2004/EC, the Plastics Ordinance 10/2011 or the directives of the FDA 21.

The surfaces must have a smooth finish to prevent bacteria and microbiological impurities from accumulating. Small nooks and crevices should be avoided as they reduce the flow rates of the cleaning and disinfecting agents, creating a hygiene risk. The prescribed minimum radius is 3mm. Connecting elements such as screws are also problematic from a hygiene point of view. If they are technically unavoidable, they must be designed so that they can be cleaned and disinfected, for example, by using a cap nut. 

Finally, it is important to undertake regular inspections of machinery to ensure there is no damage to seals, cabling or conduit caused by mechanical stresses. Outgoing cables from the connectors must be routed in conformity with health, safety and hygiene regulations and be routed away from paths to prevent risks of personnel tripping or damage to machinery, vehicles and tools. 

Plug and play connectors can also help keep production line disruptions to a minimum and embrace flexible manufacturing. 

Traditionally, food manufacturing floors have been static. Machines were placed with the intention that they would perform the same tasks for the duration of their useful life. Today, manufacturing floors are frequently repositioned to allow for a greater variety of products to be produced. With the addition of modular connectivity and machinery, floors can now be reorganised more quickly to manufacture entirely different products. 

Plug and play connectors make flexible manufacturing possible as machines can be disconnected and reconnected quickly, without the need for skilled labour and with no risk of miswiring – it is no longer necessary to spend an entire day disconnecting a machine. 

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