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How to Maximize Manufacturing Flexibility with the Right Blender

February 22, 2018
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A simple intermediate bulk container (IBC) system
A simple intermediate bulk container (IBC) system
Example of time spent producing a batch in a fixed mixer system
Example of time spent producing a batch in a fixed mixer system
The first step towards flexibility
The first step towards flexibility
The second step to achieving flexibility
The second step to achieving flexibility
Example of time spent producing a batch in an IBC system
Example of time spent producing a batch in an IBC system

Choosing the right powder blender for your business can be a daunting task. There are so many different options available on the market today. If you make the wrong choice, not only is it likely to affect your bottom line but it will drive you to distraction as you attempt to overcome the deficiencies and reduce the levels of product wastage. On the other hand, the right choice will give you manufacturing flexibility and top grade product quality each and every time, enabling you to respond rapidly to your customer demands.

Batch Processing or Continuously Manufacturing?
Before we proceed, it is worth differentiating what type of manufacturing your product portfolio suits: Will you be batch processing or continuously manufacturing? If you’re producing the same product line day in day out, then you have probably considered continuous processing, and looked at the various ways in which you can scale up and make this efficient. In contrast, if you have a wide range of products in your portfolio then batch processing will be your approach, as you should be making recipe changeovers several times per shift.

Do You Prefer a Fixed Mixer or an IBC System?
In our experience, we have found that when making the decision for which blender is ideal for your needs, many people are attracted by the idea of a large volume mixer with fast blend times. They are sold on the idea that this will speed up the blending process for them. But what they probably haven’t considered is the time it will take to rip and tip sacks of ingredients to fill such a large volume blender, the time it will take to empty and also clean out before the next recipe gets processed. What seemed like just a four-minute fast blend time can in actual fact multiply exponentially. While all the filling, emptying, and cleaning take place, your expensive asset (the blender) sits idle and unproductive. This deems the large volume mixer a problem not a solution when designing an efficient production line. When choosing the right blender you must consider the full ‘end-to-end’ processing steps, from the beginning with the formulation of the recipe into the blender through to the end point when the blender is clean and ready for the next batch.

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You might be surprised at the hidden costs found throughout the process. Just a couple of extra minutes here and there don’t look much per batch, but when you add this time up over the year the numbers can be shocking (see diagram).

If you were to choose a large volume blender the problems only become compounded. What if it takes a couple of hours to load the blender, two hours for packing to call off the product from the blender, and three or more hours to fully clean the blender? That’s taking up the whole shift for just one blend -- not to mention the amount of operator costs associated with cleaning such a large volume blender.

3 Steps to a More Flexible Manufacturing System

1. A first step towards achieving a more flexible manufacturing system is to decouple the process steps by using containers to transport powder materials between processes. Commonly it is mixing and packing that are disconnected first, so that they don’t have to wait for each other to complete the batch. By decanting the mixed product from the blender into a container, it allows the packing lines to be continuously fed with product while the blender can be cleaned and returned into service.

2. The next step is to separate formulation from mixing. While the blender is mixing the first batch of the day, the second batch can be formulated off-line into a container. All of the time-consuming ripping and tipping is done separately. When the blender is next available the batch can be rapidly transferred. Now, not only is the transfer of blended product faster, the formulating is efficient too. This vastly improves the blender turnaround time and OEE.

3. The final step towards true manufacturing flexibility is to use container-based blending. By using an intermediate bulk container (IBC)-based system, all idle time is eliminated. Because the IBC becomes the blending vessel there is no product contact with the blender, therefore there is no need to clean between recipe changes. Batch changeover can be instantaneous. As the whole system is decoupled all the processing steps take place independently, so filling, mixing, packing, and cleaning take place simultaneously. There is no longer any need for idle waiting time. All cleaning of the IBCs is done off-line, too. The system can be configured to achieve an optimum product flow with high overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) rates.

Running the numbers again looking at formulation, blending, and packing times, you can see that by using an IBC system -- although the actual time to blend the mix in the IBC might take a little longer than super-fast fixed mixers -- the overall time taken to process a batch is significantly lower, which means more batches can be processed each hour and every shift.

To Further Improve Production Efficiency
Matching the IBCs to the batch volumes helps to further improve efficiencies. Packing lines can be continuously fed with product and one IBC blender can supply up to 4-5 packing lines, depending on the throughput requirements. If you choose the right IBC system with good containment levels, then multiple recipes can run at the same time without risk of cross-contamination. In fact, rush orders can be processed in the system with minimal disruption.

Who Have Improved Their Manufacturing Processes Using an IBC System?
IBC systems are being adopted throughout the food and chemical industry by both large multinationals and SMEs alike. One great example of the level of flexibility an IBC system offers is a spice blends contract manufacturer. They are able to hygienically handle their portfolio of over 1000 flavoring mixes and achieve a consistent three-day make to order regime, without creating costly inventory and tying up cash.

This type of system has also benefitted a multinational bakery manufacturer that, upon adding an IBC system alongside its fixed mixing system, now efficiently produces high-variety, low-volume product lines. The installation of this additional line released $258,000 of cash into the business due to the need for less inventory. It reduced labor costs by 25% and cut manufacturing time in half. The company has been able to build up its repertoire into offering gluten-free products and expand its market reach due to the use of IBC equipment.

If you have a wide portfolio of products that you are finding difficult to accommodate on a traditional coupled mixing system, then why not consider what a container-based IBC system would offer you in terms of flexibility, cost saving, and competitive edge?

Dan Ruble is the vice president of Matcon Americas, leading Matcon’s business efforts in North, Central, and South America. For more information, call 856-256-1330 or visit www.matconibc.com

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Matcon Americas (IDEX MPT Incorporated)