Many industrial systems would malfunction if too much water were to spill on them. However, companies that continually process food must frequently wash down their machines to ensure the proper sanitary conditions are present. In these situations, pneumatics can be a smart option to decrease downtime, lower maintenance costs, and, ultimately, increase production.

Evergreen Packaging, a beverage and juice equipment manufacturer based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has used pneumatics technology for more than 30 years. Most of the equipment produced at Evergreen is gable-top equipment. The machines form, fill, and seal gable-top cartons in the dairy and juice industries. Pneumatics is an ideal solution for this type of environment. Because the equipment in a dairy or juice plant needs to be very clean to avoid contamination, it has to be washed down repeatedly. The machines are not only subjected to water, but are also exposed to chemical cleaners, such as sodium potassium hydroxide.

Advantages of pneumatics Wi th minimal contaminat ion risks, pneumatics is a clean technology and the first choice for food and packaging companies such as Evergreen. This circumstance makes it desirable for sanitary food applications compared to other technologies, such as lubricated mechanical components or hydraulics. According to Tim Hughes, development project manager for Evergreen, choosing the wrong technology can have negative effects on production: “In a wet environment, having leaked oil on a polished tile floor becomes a real safety hazard.” Using pneumatics, particularly for washdown and sanitary food applications, is an advantage because of the low maintenance costs and downtime associated with it.

“In the dairy and juice industry, you can’t afford to have downtime on a production line,” said Hughes. “Even if a machine stops working, milk is continuously coming in, and customers expect milk to be at the grocery store. Since stores get their milk shipments in everyday, avoiding downtime is absolutely critical.”

Hughes continues, “Regarding maintenance costs, dairies survive on very low margins. If they have high maintenance costs for keeping a piece of equipment going, that comes out of the profit from the facility. So, maintenance cost is critical. That’s the beauty of pneumatics; it’s easy to troubleshoot and to detect the problem without downtime being an issue.”

Pneumatic products are a great choice for the food industry because they withstand even the toughest environments, with a longer life expectancy due to their simple design and the limited number of internal components. The major valves and cylinders come standard, so spare parts are available from many distributors — and they are flexible in use and functionality. In addition, the systems are easy to design and the components are easy to configure.

There are several other advantages to using pneumatics in food applications including its affordability and durability.

“A pneumatics system can be anywhere between 35-50% cheaper than a fully mechanical system,” Hughes said. “Most importantly, it is so user friendly. The sheer muscle of pneumatics — an air cylinder is basically a mechanical muscle — allows you to do so much with it and makes it so easy to use and control. It has become very reliable.”