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blog | Clean and Productive — Improving Food Safety and Packaging Machine Reliability |
2 minute read

Food packaging plays an essential role in preserving product quality, enhancing convenience and promoting brand identification.

The rapid emergence of COVID dramatically altered the food-packaging landscape, bringing new demands for single-serve packaging, aseptic materials, ecommerce-friendly packaging and more. As packaging has become significantly more complex and consumers more demanding, the need has only grown for strict hygienic procedures to ensure food safety, from the factory to the retail shelf to the table.

Stricter regulations and more rigorous cleaning threaten productivity

Food safety is regulated by the FDA in the United States and the EFSA in the European Union. Other regions and countries have similar regulatory regimes. Over time, these regulations have become increasingly strict as governments respond to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. For example, in the US, the Food Safety Modernization Act mandates a comprehensive range of preventive measures, inspections, tests and responses to violations and outbreaks of disease.

The threat of mandatory recalls, detention of products and suspension of facility registration pose a considerable risk to the profitability of food packaging operations. Manufacturers need to respond by enhancing the procedures for cleaning their food processing and packaging machines. Yet more rigorous cleaning can also threaten profitability, as frequent, high-pressure and high-temperature washdowns can mean substantial downtime and an unacceptable risk of costly equipment damage.

Meeting food safety requirements while maximizing OEE

To help food processors and packagers compete effectively while ensuring a safe food supply, machine OEMs need to rethink their designs at both the architectural and component level to simplify cleaning while maximizing overall equipment effectiveness.

For example, because motors are susceptible to damage due to water ingress, older machine designs often require shields or bags to protect motors during washdown, with the motors cleaned by hand in a separate operation. This increases the risk of inadequate cleaning, and the time-consuming bother of installing shields or bags can tempt cleaning crews to take shortcuts that compromise product safety and equipment reliability.

Clean-in-place designs feature fixed or dynamic spray devices that pump cleaning solutions throughout the machine and then rinse with minimal need for equipment disassembly and reassembly. Modular systems allow a production line to split into easily cleanable modules without the need to reconfigure equipment or to disconnect and reconnect cables.

Both of these architectures accelerate the cleaning process to minimize downtime and maximize productivity. But neither, in itself, solves the problem of protecting motors from washdown damage.

Either shields or bags must be installed and removed in order to hand-clean motors separately, or else there needs to be a way to wash motors down directly without damaging them. In all cases, it’s essential to use motors that won’t corrode or shed paint chips, as these issues can contaminate food directly or create an environment that harbors pathogens.

It's also important to select motors that work with the control systems commonly used in the food processing and packaging industry to simplify machine design and avoid supplier lock-in.

Kollmorgen offers hygienic and washdown-ready motors that meet all of these criteria. Some common application examples include:

Auger fillers

Auger filling machines are typically used for packaging flour, sugar, coffee, drink mixes and other dry powders, granules and particulates. The ability to purge lines and clean these machines in place is a significant advantage, especially for food packagers that handle several different products and wish to maximize productivity through rapid changeover.

These machines vary greatly in size and benefit from the simplicity, light weight and space savings of direct drive motion, eliminating the need for a gearbox. Kollmorgen offers several motor solutions that meet these needs. For example, stainless steel AKMH hygienic servo motors are available in 19 standard sizes with multiple winding options. These torque-dense motors enable significant space savings and weigh 15–17% less than competing motors in their class, simplifying assembly and positioning of equipment.

With AKMH motors, machine builders can meet the requirements of any size auger filler — specifying one proven-dependable motor family that incorporates food-grade materials and features a smooth, round design with no nooks or crannies to harbor pathogens. The IP69K housing is designed to endure daily high-pressure, high-temperature washdowns without the need for shields or bags.

Bottle filling machines

The machines that fill, cap and label beverage bottles are typically very large. The filling speed of each individual bottle is limited by the quantity and properties of the fluid — bottles must not be filled too fast. At the same time, production targets for beverage manufacturing are often very high, so these machines need the ability to handle and fill many bottles simultaneously.

In these large, multi-axis machines, positioning errors pose a significant risk of costly downtime and scrap. Transmission components such as gearboxes must be extremely precise, with minimal backlash, and they require replacement as they wear and lose accuracy. The need to clean transmission components only adds to the risk of wear due to ingress of water and cleaning fluids.

A better solution in many cases is to eliminate transmission components in favor of direct drive. Stainless steel AKMH servo motors are an ideal choice, offering extreme precision in a wide range of options to suit the exacting size, torque and speed requirements of each axis. These motors incorporate food-grade materials and a hygienic design with IP69K ingress protection that endures direct, daily washdowns.

An additional option for creating a simpler, easier-to-clean machine is to use AKD-N decentralized servo drives. These compact, IP67 drives can be mounted directly to the machine, near each axis, minimizing cabinet space and reducing cabling requirements by up to 80%. In addition to eliminating the need to run cables from each motor to the control cabinet, AKD-N drives allow for DC, network, power supply, I/O level and safety (STO) signals to run in one easily cleaned hybrid cable.

Automatic scales

Slices of cheese, meat and other products that are packaged on a plastic tray or container must be accurately weighed. The goal is to achieve a specified net weight with minimal product giveaway — or, in the case of variable-weight packaging, to ensure accurate weight and pricing on each package.

If the motor is part of the scale system, minimal motor weight can minimize the risk that weight accuracy will be compromised. This is also the place to use relatively flexible cables, as a stiffer cable in motion can cause unnecessary drag that affects scale precision.

Another consideration is the motor’s thermal rise, as a hot motor in close proximity to a perishable product can affect food safety and quality. A motor that is cooler in operation also allows for faster cleaning, with less time spent waiting for the machine to cool down.

This is an ideal application for lightweight AKMA servo motors. They deliver high torque density in a light, compact form factor. The smooth, hardened anodized aluminum coating ensures simple cleanability, while IP69K ingress protection, one-piece housing and vented design ensure reliable performance in medium and heavy washdown environments.

Let’s solve your unique application challenges

Those are just a few food processing and packaging applications where Kollmorgen motion solutions have made a measurable difference for machine cleanliness, reliability and performance. There are many more examples. But just as important as the technology, Kollmorgen’s collaborative culture is what helps our customers solve the most demanding motion and integration challenges.

Our engineers work directly with yours to understand every facet of your motion requirements and help you achieve the optimum motion design. Based on that work, our global design and manufacturing teams typically deliver prototypes that meet your exacting requirements within just a few weeks — anywhere in the world.

Our self-guided online design tools vastly simplify product selection, sizing and configuration. And we provide the live support you need, whenever you need it, whether online, over the phone or on site.

So let’s get started. Contact us to schedule an engineering consultation at your convenience. We’re always eager to delve into a new project. Whether you’re looking to upgrade an existing system or create an all-new design, we’ll help you engineer the exceptional.

Consult an Expert

AKMA Servo Motors

The lightweight AKMA servo motor is designed for harsh environments like food and beverage processing, and delivers performance and reliability.
Learn More

Stainless Steel Food Grade AKMH Series

The AKMH Series is built to withstand the most rigorous of washdown regimens. The combination of the AKMH’s IP69K construction and corrosion resistant materials make for a servo motor that will last the life of your machine.

Learn More

Engineer the Exceptional

Learn how to engineer exceptional machines, robots and vehicles with the highest-performing, most reliable motors, drives, automation solutions and more.

Learn More

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