Sustainability Tops Food Industry Concerns

Stories of Water Conservation and Risk Management at the Food & Beverage Industry Forum

Automatio Fair 2011

Joe Feeley

Sometimes sustainability objectives uncover the need to apply automation and controls in areas where they weren't needed previously. Such was the conclusion of Tom Lindley, industry development manager for beverage at Nalco, who shared his discovery with the Food and Beverage Industry Forum gathering at this week's Automation Fair in Chicago. Lindley's presentation explained Nalco's role in enabling water optimization in the beverage industry.

"Reducing water usage is a Top 2 or Top 3 sustainability goal in the beverage industry and probably in the food industry too," said Lindley.

He pointed to three key categories of effort toward that end, starting with the easiest. "The first area to attack is to reduce the use," he said. "That's simply not using water you really don't need."

The next ones are a bit more involved. "Next is water re-use," he said. "That's based on capturing water that's been used and repurposing it, perhaps to the cooling water system, rather than use more fresh makeup water. This is relatively easy to accomplish."

The third approach--recycling water--poses more problems. "This water is of such a quality that it will require treatment, either mechanically or chemically or maybe both," Lindley explained.

Regrettably, most companies with water-use-reduction initiatives already have grabbed the "low-hanging fruit" of simply using less, minimizing waste from leaks and reusing relatively clean water streams. "But when it comes to reuse of condensate returns or CIP rinse water or bottle-washer effluents, the quality of these streams is such that you have to do something to them first," Lindley said. "This is where the rubber meets the road. When you treat, no matter how well you do that, you can introduce a new variability into the operation that is using this as feedwater."

That doesn't go over well with operations people. "Variability is bad," Lindley recognized. "In boiler feed, this can produce increased levels of scale, corrosion and added cost."

Lindley explained a real-world boiler feedwater condition that resulted from using a recycled water stream of varying quality. "The up-and-down condition of the water will likely lead to scale and corrosion," Lindley said.

The answer here, Lindley said, was a move away from traditional monitoring and treatment techniques to the use of real-time monitoring, with appropriate automation and control measures to manage the dosing and feed rates of boiler chemicals.

"That type of adaptation and response means you can have both," Lindley concluded. "Sustainablity goals can be achieved while maintaining the quality of process operations."

Scott Kluegel of the corporate electrical engineering group at Malt-o-Meal, drew laughs from the audience by reading from a 1942 Manual for Electricians Handbook uncovered during an update of the group's arc-flash reduction initiatives: "Electricians often test for the presence of voltage by touching the conductors with the fingers. This method is safe if the voltage does not exceed 250 V. Some men can endure the electric shock that results without discomfort while others cannot." Another excerpt Kluegel read indicated, "Sometimes low voltage can be determined by tasting the wires. If voltage is present a mildly burning sensation will be experienced."

So even if safety practices have come a long way, there's no room for complacency today. In his presentation about how his company's safety initiatives have become more sophisticated and effective, Kluegel said it helps to know when to get expert external advice and help. In the process, unsafe procedures that you just didn't see coming get fixed.

Kluegel said that an increased safety attitude resulted from a few uncomfortable near-misses about three years ago. "Our assessments of equipment safety risks were too random, too subjective and often left to the individual installing or operating the equipment," he said.

"That gave us the rationale to construct a comprehensive risk analysis team made up of company employees and experts from Rockwell Automation."

During review of the specific risk that caused the near misses, the assessment also uncovered several other areas of potential risk to remediate as well.

They followed best known practices and a little advice from Rockwell Automation to assess and rank risk severity, frequency and duration of the task involved, the probability of harm and the potential for the operator to avoid the potential risk. "Our risk assessment is much more pro-active now," said Kluegel.

"Now, when we're doing our engineering, we're doing the risk assessment right up-front. We're not waiting for near-misses anymore."

In the early stages of proving out the new plan, Kluegel and team looked at a small segment of a plant-floor process. "With a risk assessment you're looking not just at the equipment, but you also include all the tasks being performed during setup, operation and cleanup."

Kluegel said they realized that during setup, an operator had to climb on top of a rounded-top cooker with a 25-lb. chute to drop into the cooker. "It was clear that this was a real falling hazard," he added. "The analysis showed us that we didn't need a removable chute and made it stationary."

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