Mixing operations are critical for the world’s supply chains. Imprecise mixtures in the manufacture of foods, beverages, pharmaceuticals, cleaning agents and construction products can put consumers and entire supply chains at risk.
Thankfully, there are several steps worth taking when it comes to optimizing the techniques, equipment and workflows in the mixing process. Here are several tips for manufacturers and those involved with mixing logistics and supply chains.
Many mixing processes and equipment types are standard across different industries and products. Ribbon blenders, for example, provide some of the most economical and consistent performance you’ll find across the snack foods, herbs and spices, supplements and frozen vegetables sectors.
Getting the longest life and most consistent performance out of critical equipment like ribbon blenders and high-shear mixers requires familiarity with best practices and optimal recommended parameters for the machines. Some of these parameters include:
As an example of using the right size equipment, remember that it’s unwise to run agitators at full speed when the material to be mixed is below the level of the agitator blades. Failure to keep batch sizes proportional to the mixing equipment may result in seal failure, leaks and excess stress. The result could be premature equipment loss, none of which is good for productivity or product quality.
Some companies haven’t yet adopted “one-pot processing” because their operation isn’t a good fit. Many other companies simply haven’t investigated the advantages closely enough. One of the best mixing operation optimizing steps to take is to evaluate your entire production flow and identify areas where a single machine could perform more than one mixing operation. The advantages of one-pot processing include:
One example of mixing equipment pulling double-duty might be a high-shear mixer that reduces particle size more effectively than multiple passes through a mill. Consider other multiple-capable machines when you want to save time, energy and operational costs.
Modern technology provides lots of opportunities to try before you buy. That includes observing the effects of different types of mixing equipment and the influence of various process parameters. One example of this is an agitation simulation software for mixing. This type of simulation helps engineers spot minor tweaks worth implementing or even major equipment upgrade opportunities to help improve efficiency and yield.
Agitation simulations provide a virtual representation of your mixing processes with the ability to zero in on variables such as equipment design and factors like suspension, dispersion, extraction, emulsion and dissolution.
There are other variables that simulations and testing protocols can help manufacturers fine-tune, too, including the right time to heat the materials before mixing. Different products have different ideal temperatures for workability. Changing the timing and temperature of pre-mixing treatments can yield different surface tension and viscosity results, so experiment with the variables to find the right combination for your products make the mixing process as quick and efficient as possible.
It’s easy to overlook the number and type of baffles included in mixing and agitation equipment. However, this is one area where a seemingly minor change can yield significant results in the quality of your products and the time it takes to produce them.
Consider the difference in the time required to mix a product given different agitator and baffle designs:
There are further distinctions between beavertail, finger, h-type, d-type and fin-style baffles for mixing vessels. Even some of the most common baffle designs, like beavertail, are only mounted in limited numbers due to the difficulty of attaching them to the inside walls of reactors. Some vendors employ different designs and manufacturing processes to get around baffle limitations, so spare no detail and ask lots of questions next time you’re buying equipment.
No matter what type of manufacturing your mixing processes support, there’s almost certainly a predictive analytics tool out there that can make your operations smoother, leaner, quicker and more efficient.
Some of the ways to use analytical technologies to optimize your mixing operation include:
One of the hardest lessons for manufacturers to learn over the last few years was that they can’t always stay profitable by turning out large batches of one or two product SKUs every day. Today’s economy requires smaller quantities of more specialized or even customized products — especially for mixed items like foods, beverages and pharmaceuticals. In answer, manufacturers today are phasing out single-line production in favor of a greater diversity of products.
Large, fixed-in-place mixers turn out vast quantities of products, but at the expense of longer prep and turnover times. Mixing large batches at once can also mean packaging equipment and other assets sit idle during different phases of production. There are more productive and leaner ways to do things.
Modern equipment features designs like modular stator heads for high-shear mixers and interchangeable bin systems for moving materials into mixers and blenders and between production steps. The right purchase lets companies switch between product lines more quickly during productive hours and reduces the time required for machine prep and changeouts.
With these recommendations in mind, your company can optimize its mixing processes and achieve higher profits and productivity. At a time when we’re collectively reevaluating which products are essential and which are not, the most effectively-run companies and the most efficiently-produced goods will win the day.
Article by —
Megan Ray Nichols
Freelance Science Writer
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