How to Improve Mixing Efficiency

Is your mixing process as efficient as it could be? Are you getting good OEE rates (Overall Equipment Effectiveness)?

Nutritional companies have been willing to spend significant capital installing the highest speed mixers and packing lines in order to achieve high efficiency and throughput. But time and again these expensive machines are used at half the capacity. This could be due to poor design to begin with or changing customer demand, which is exacerbated by the need to diversify and increase the number of SKUs.

It is time to take a fresh look at what is really efficient and adds to the bottom line!

Bottlenecks in Batch Mixing

Here we are taking a look at coupled in-line systems, whereby the Mixer is connected to Packing via pneumatic conveying. In this instance, there are numerous different blending technologies available to produce a homogenous mixture of dry solids, with a multitude of suppliers providing high quality machines. Most blending technologies provide a good mix within 5-15 minutes.

On this basis, it should be possible to run (on average) around 4-6 batches per hour through the mixer in theory. However, in practice, the reality is that just one or two batches are processed per hour, resulting in a poor OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) rate. So why is this so?

The reason stems from the time it takes to fill and empty the mixer, and not least, the time is takes to clean at each recipe change.

Waiting is not productive

It is logical that the larger the mixer, the longer it will take to fill. Some can take up to 2 hours to fill with sack tipping. So even though the mixing time is just minutes, what was the hidden cost of the down-time for filling?

Companies often don’t realise the cost of this lost time in filling the mixer. But it should be challenged as the waste that it clearly represents.

Using IBCs (Intermediate Bulk Containers) to transport material throughout the manufacturing process, means that IBCs can be filled, whilst others are being blended on the IBC Blender.

Because blending takes place within the IBC itself, there is no need to clean the blender between batches, there can be an instantaneous changeover. Waiting time is thereby eliminated at the blending stage.
Bottlenecks in Packing

There is an even greater diversity of different technologies available for packing of powders, which means we can’t generalise processing times, it all depends on pack sizes/ types and overall batch size.

But often we see low efficiency rates with the coupled pneumatically conveyed systems, for a number of reasons. Packing has to wait whilst the mixer is filled and the mixing cycle is completed.

If there is segregation or de-mixing of the blended material caused by the conveying systems, then the system stops again, as that batch is scrapped.

What is the cost of this down-time or wasted material?

With IBC systems, all the processing steps can take place simultaneously and the system can be constantly fed. This results in high OEE rates at packing. There can be a consistent feed of product, and with a Matcon IBC the Cone Valve technology within each IBC ensures there is no segregation or de-mixing, creating a quality product every time.

If facilities have multiple packing lines the IBCs can be directed to wherever the demand exists, keeping the whole system running efficiently.
Cleaning is the biggest problem

The most significant contributor to poor OEE is related to recipe changes and the need for cleaning. The changeover time between recipes can vary from as little as half an hour for a dry clean between non-allergen recipes, up to taking a full 8-hour shift for a full wet clean and dry.

However, with IBC systems the cleaning is done off-line with IBCs taken in and out of ‘service’ accordingly, thereby keeping the whole system flowing.

That whole shift that was once used for cleaning can now be used for production and growing the business.
Longer campaigns are NOT the answer!

It is tempting to simply produce more than is required of each recipe to maximise the production before down-time for a clean takes place.

Or in order to keep the packing lines moving it is often the case that WIP/WIQ is created to maintain flow.

Whilst this make sense from a productivity perspective, in terms of increased OEE, which is good for the Production Manager, who can report high utilisation rates. The business owners and share-holders will not accept increased working capital or exposure to the risk of inventory losses if a recipe loses its popularity, the shelf-life expires or indeed the added cost of increasing warehousing space.

Hero Spain were able to reduce their work in progress and Inventory by 25-30% from using a Matcon IBC system in their Baby Food facility.
What can be achieved?

By removing the short and special campaigns from the large coupled process lines, you can dramatically improve OEE. The IBC system can additionally aid overall efficiency by performing pre-mixing tasks which further removes upstream bottlenecks.

Matcon are currently executing projects in the Infant Nutrition sector where OEEs had been around 50%, but by installing (or adding) a flexible IBC system, the end result is an improvement to 75-80% OEE. The subsequent throughput increase has generated additional millions in revenue per annum. The investment in Matcon’s expertise and technology is immediately rewarded by a 50% production increase!

A Matcon system offers a number of significant business benefits:

• Reduced cost per kg of manufactured product
• Manufacturing flexibility – producing to order
• Decreased inventory, for improved cash utilisation
• Better OEE from quick & independent changeovers

“By installing a Matcon system, our company has become more competitive in the production of our high runner orders as well as our specialty recipes.

The improved product quality and reduced cleaning needs of the Matcon equipment has led to us saving 1000 man hours for cleaning and 5000 hours in processing & maintenance.

A very sound ROI & perfect fit with our production strategy ‘Flexefficiency’.”

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