Benefits of pneumatics
But why pneumatics, rather than electric drives? “Historically, pneumatics is used in this industry because it’s a proven solution,” says Barnett. “It needs to be as clean an environment as possible, and there are benefits just in the sanitation. Components are subject to extreme washdown conditions, high-pressure water spray and harsh chemicals, so we try to minimize the amount of electronics we put into that environment,” he says. And electromechanical belt drives offer the potential to generate and trap debris. Pneumatic cylinders handle the tough operating and washdown environment without harboring contaminants, explains Barnett.
It’s a must because durability is the most critical factor, as far as the customer is concerned, says company General Manager Oliver Hahn. “Reliability is so important. We don’t have the luxury to wait hours to get a machine up and running, should it fail. If it stops, the product can go bad rapidly.”
Clean, efficient, and reliable
The entire production process, even starting on the farm, is finely choreographed, adds Baader CEO Andy Miller. “Our customers raise birds for a specific number of days to meet a specific size range,” he explains. “If we have a delay, the birds grow larger, are the wrong size, and that throws off production, deliveries, and so on.” Or it spoils on the waiting truck or, if it’s already been processed, just sitting on an idle machine. “It’s critical in our industry to minimize downtime,” stresses Miller.
Another factor that can play havoc with equipment is that temperatures in food-processing plants vary widely, from extremely hot during washdown to extremely cold during production, explains Hahn. “So it’s not just the washdown we have to deal with; condensation is also inevitable. All these things play a big role when we design this type of equipment.”
Plus, the compressor might operate in a hot and humid environment, but compressed air is piped inside a cold room where meat is processed. Inevitably, this leads to condensation inside the air lines, says Miller. Making matters worse, many plants don’t have functional air dryers at the compressor. “The reality is that the air system is beyond our control, so we try to protect the machine as best we can and give the customer good advice on best practices,” he says. To that end, in addition to standard filtration on the incoming compressed air, they add a water separator and coalescing filter for extra protection.
Like most applications today, energy efficiency is also a concern, says Barnett. But that is balanced with the ability to run continuously under adverse conditions. For instance, the short tubing that runs from valves to cylinders, mentioned previously, reduces unnecessary compressed air consumption. Also, the company took advantage of Festo’s cylinder-sizing software to ensure the cylinders properly matched the application.
But energy savings is also a big issue on the hygiene side, explains CEO Miller. Washdown costs can be substantial, so the entire system must be designed for easy access to facilitate cleaning. For instance, mounting blocks of valves close to the actuators minimizes the number of hoses that must be routed along the length of the FSPS-P. And hoses are separated from one another, so each can be readily accessed and cleaned. Otherwise, keeping bundles of hoses clean in a food-processing environment poses a challenge.
“If you don’t do that, the number of people required for cleaning, and the amount of energy expended with high-pressure hoses, it is massive. So clearly, hygiene is a big part of energy savings, and we incorporate that into our design,” says Miller.
The FSPS-P was custom built for Baader’s sister company in Denmark for ultimate shipment to a customer in France, and that played a role in sourcing the pneumatics. Festo’s international reach definitely helped facilitate this project, says Hahn. “The service they provide makes our job so much easier. You can’t have delays on parts delivery. Because Festo is worldwide, if something goes wrong, that is a big benefit to us.”
But Baader has also built a reputation for equipment that is sophisticated yet simple, durable and effective. For that reason, they are meticulous in regards to manufacturing precision and sourcing high-quality parts. “We’ve had a good, long-term relationship with Festo,” adds Barnett. “They’re responsive to our needs, and a good source of ideas and suggestions when problem solving.”