The scrutiny of global industries and their impact on the environment is continuing to grow, with many governments beginning to impose energy efficiency targets in order to comply with new directives. In this climate, an opportunity exists for the food processing industry to accurately measure and assess the manufacturing process and the impact of energy improvements at each step.
Food processors have always held a keen interest in identifying ways to improve efficiencies, while demonstrating to customers and stakeholders their efforts to minimise carbon footprints and promote sustainability.
Since the introduction of ISO 14067 – an international standard which lays out the principles, requirements and guidelines for the quantification and communication of the carbon footprint of a product – processors are now able to benchmark the impact of their activities on the environment against competitors, which of course feeds into corporate responsibility goals. As this important issue continues to receive global attention, the ability to justify and quantify processes and technologies grows. Advances are constantly being developed to help conserve energy and streamline processes.
illumination and ejection
In the area of food sorting, there are two major areas where savings can be found: illumination and ejection. Lighting and illumination are vital to accurately analyse products. In older sorters, lighting can use 8,000 watts of power per hour when inspecting on a one-metre-wide system. However, new pulsed led technology can reduce this to only 150 watts of power per hour, a significant cost saving and energy efficiency, while also offering longer lifetime, increased durability and no toxic materials, which is better for the environment.
Another key component of the process is ejection, which can be achieved through the use of compressed air. However, compressed air can also be one of the most expensive uses of energy inside a processing facility. Approximately eight horsepower of electricity is used to generate one horsepower of compressed air. By employing tailored rejection systems for large piece and small piece ejectors, processors can reduce the compressed air usage in parts of the process where large piece rejection is required.
In certain sorting and ejection systems for large-piece sorting applications (for example, whole vegetables and whole fruit), the choice to use a sorter that is fitted with finger ejection, as opposed to air ejection, significantly reduces the use of compressed air, which improves the overall energy efficiency of a food processing line. Air consumption is 80 per cent lower in finger ejection systems, which provides a significant cost and time saving.
Beyond the inherent efficiencies found in modern machines, the collection and interpretation of data is a key factor in reducing energy usage. The continuous flow and sharing of data between machines and operators provides real-time information regarding the efficiency of the processing line and enables processors to identify changes in efficiency. This automated communication represents a huge advance when compared to the capability of machines that were installed five to ten years ago, and which contain technology that is more than 20 years old.
Improving energy efficiency in food processing has many benefits. By reducing power usage and time, processors can improve their profitability while also being able to measure themselves against ISO 14067, and the brand and corporate responsibility benefits it delivers. Beyond that, the improvements will also have a positive impact on the industry’s consumption of resources and allow for greater access to food, providing a solution to a challenge that is only going to grow as the world’s population increases.