Sterilizing Canned Foods and Beverages: Hydrostatic Cookers

Sterilizing Canned Foods and Beverages: Hydrostatic Cookers

If your company is in food and beverage manufacturing, you know the requirements of in-can sterilization. This is usually done in high volume operations with a continuous cooker process using either a hydrostatic (vertical) cooker or a rotary (horizontal) Cooker.

Here is a profile of the Hydrostatic Cooker process and what engineers need to focus on for a successful installation, whether it’s a new machine or a rebuild.

Benefits of Hydrostatic Cookers

The Hydrostatic Cooker offers many benefits to manufacturers:

  • Because it is vertical, it has a smaller footprint than other options;
  • It can offer a very flexible process to meet product requirements, such as handling multiple can sizes, handling sensitive product that requires a very still process, product runs that require different sterilization times and temperatures, and properly cooling products that may have significantly different thermal properties;
  • Hydrostatic Cookers are also very energy efficient, which can reduce manufacturing costs.

The key to maximizing these benefits is a properly designed process and a control system that provides good temperature and speed control, reliability, traceability, and is easy to maintain. How is this accomplished? Let’s start with the basics of how the process works.

In-Can Sterilization Using the Hydrostatic Cooker

A Hydrostatic Cooker is built with multiple towers. While there can be multiple configurations to meet specific product requirements, at a minimum this will include an Infeed Tower, a Steam Tower, an Exit Tower, and a Cooling Tower.

The Infeed and Exit towers are filled with water and controlled to a specified level. This creates a seal to hold saturated steam inside the steam tower and these are referred to as the Infeed Hydroleg and the Exit Hydroleg. The pressure of the saturated steam inside the Steam Tower determines the process temperature of the cooker.

A chain then carries the canned product through the Steam Tower at a fixed speed based on the desired process time. The Infeed Hydroleg is also used to slowly bring the canned product up to temperature, so the temperature of the water in this leg is controlled to a specified temperature. The Exit Hydroleg is also controlled to a specified temperature to slowly bring the canned product down in temperature.

Once cans come out of the Exit Hydroleg, they need to be brought down in temperature to allow for labeling or bright can stacking. It is critical that cans are brought down in temperature slowly and consistently to avoid multiple issues that can cause can damage. This is accomplished by tightly controlling the temperature of the cooling water sprays and by assuring that cans are not submerged in cooling water while they’re still hot.

Based on the thermal properties of the canned product and the required process speeds, Hydrostatic Cookers may require a pre-heat leg, multiple steam towers, a pressurized cooling section, and multiple atmospheric cooling sections. The flow rate and temperature of water in the Infeed Hydroleg, Exit Hydroleg, and Cooling Sections are obviously critical to the ability of the process to meet product requirements.

Why Upfront Process Planning is Essential for Success

So how can you be sure that your Hydrostatic Cooker installation, whether a new machine or a rebuild, will be a successful project that maximizes the benefits of the process? How can you avoid making mistakes during installation that can cause major problems during the life-cycle of the machine? And since this is a large installation, how can you minimize the impact of construction on your facility, reduce schedule changes, and minimize the cost of field changes?

The answer is simple: Take the time upfront to engineer a solid solution. If your project is a new machine, this seems obvious. But this also applies to rebuilds, since relying on old drawings or basing decisions on what’s there now may lead to problems.

Matrix Technologies, Inc. has extensive food and beverage engineering experience, including new installations, full rebuilds, and system upgrades of Hydrostatic Cookers. We’ve found that it’s essential to create a clear definition of the process requirements, whether you’re planning a new machine or a rebuild.

To engineer a proper solution, you need to know such specific numbers as:

  • Temperature of the steam dome;
  • Process time;
  • Cans per minute;
  • Temperature of cans coming from your filling operation;
  • Required temperature of cans as they discharge from the cooker;
  • And the weight and thermal load of the various products that you plan on running.

Other Factors to Consider in Planning

Remember, there’s much more to a Hydrostatic Cooker than the towers. You have to provide for conveyance of cans into and out of the machine, so be sure to include this in your plan.

If this is a rebuild, don’t take the conveyance systems for granted. Will the existing equipment be able to reliably handle the required cans per minute without can damage? Are there areas for improvement? Don’t forget about utility systems; proper design of utility systems will go a long way in helping maintain your investment in a Hydrostatic Cooker.

Other important factors include:

  • How will the chain links be lubricated?
  • How will you control the injection of chemicals needed for water treatment?
  • How will you protect equipment and personnel from the high air temperatures produced in the area of the cooker?

How 3D Laser Scanning Can Help Avoid Field Changes

Upfront engineering should also include audits of the existing physical space where the Hydrostatic Cooker will be installed. This should encompass information on existing structural and mechanical components as well as electrical conduit runs.

The best way to avoid costly field changes is to make sure all possible pipe interferences are factored in. A 3D laser scanning survey of your facility can provide critical information on existing infrastructure that will allow engineers to create 3D models for equipment placement, piping, and conduit. These models can also be used to make sure operators and maintenance personnel have safe access to the equipment they need to operate and service.

3D model design to real world installation


3D model overview of a Hydrostatic Cooker Installation

Designing the System for Effective Operation

The control system should be designed to provide reliable, consistent operation of the Hydrostatic Cooker process. This includes controlling multiple PID control loops where the process variable of many of the loops has a physical effect on others.

For example, an increase in the Steam Tower temperature means raising the setpoint for the steam pressure control loop. When the pressure of the steam goes up, this causes the water level at the steam/water interface in both the Infeed and Exit Hydrolegs to lower as the level on the atmospheric side increases. These loops must be designed to work together to keep the process balanced.

Also, due to the nature of the process, programming must be both robust and accessible to maintenance personnel for troubleshooting. In addition, the system needs to be designed to meet government regulations related to the product being run. This could include both USDA and FDA standards and may include electronic record rules as dictated by 21 CFR Part 11.

The construction phase can present many challenges as well. By taking the time to produce a solid engineered design upfront, many of the obstacles that come with installing such a large system can be avoided. But, as with all large projects, having a knowledgeable construction manager is vital to keep different construction disciplines working safely and on schedule.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. As a full-service engineering firm, we manage complete turnkey projects that include site prep, building design, mechanical, electrical, controls, programming, and construction management. To learn more about our food and beverage manufacturing experience contact Greg Pfleghaar.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Food Manufacturing Case Study: Leveraging a Virtual Environment for an HMI Migration

Food Manufacturing Case Study: Leveraging a Virtual Environment

Many industrial manufacturers requiring plant management system upgrades due to outdated and unsupported platforms are migrating to virtualized environments.

Here’s how Matrix Technologies executed a successful migration to a virtualized environment for a large food processing facility.

The Advantages of Virtualization

Manufacturing systems are increasingly using virtualized computing environments. Virtual environments allow multiple virtualized computers to be consolidated and ran in a distributed manner over a collection of servers. The virtual machines are movable, scalable, and highly available. Virtual machine consolidation allows for better use of server resources reducing the overall hardware required. This helps to reduce the hardware capital expense in addition to making the systems easier to maintain.

Modernizing Software and Hardware

This food manufacturer is a prominent producer of canned soups and fresh food products sold in 120 countries around the world. The company has multiple food processing facilities, including a large facility in Texas that manufactures soup, juice, and salsa.

The operator stations in this facility were a mix of thin clients on terminal services and standalone thick client PC’s. The thin clients were running on Windows Server 2003 and a 12-year-old version of HMI software, the thick clients were even older versions. There were looming hardware issues with aging computer hardware in addition to the software ‘end of life’ support problems. The manufacturer asked Matrix Technologies, Inc. to migrate the plant’s manufacturing systems to the latest software releases in a virtualized environment, including converting the thick client PC’s to new thin client solutions.

Matrix provides comprehensive industrial automation solutions for food and beverage manufacturing and is a long-time industrial automation services provider for this manufacturer. Matrix is a certified Rockwell Solution Partner and Wonderware Endorsed System Integrator.

Matrix engineers had successfully executed similar migration projects at the manufacturer’s other facilities in Washington state and Toronto, Canada. The Texas plant was significantly larger, about twice the size of the previous facilities. Due to the size of the plant, the manufacturer decided to split the project into two phases.

Project Challenges

One of the biggest challenges of a migration project of this scope is application organization. It is essential to locate and track the latest copies of the applications for conversion while supporting ongoing changes to the applications due to other project activities occurring throughout the plant.

Matrix engineers collected and evaluated the HMI applications to identify those that could migrate smoothly and those that would be more challenging. It was important to track what changes needed to be made to each application and ensure those changes get fully tested on site. Organizing and tracking the application migration required extremely close cooperation with the facility engineering and IT departments as well as other integrators.

Time was a crucial issue. The project had to be prepared for implementation during the plant’s annual one-week shutdown period and completed within that week. Matrix and the food manufacturer had to transition nearly 100 operator stations during the first phase. Each application had to be run through a battery of tests to ensure it was working correctly on the new system. Everything had to function properly for production to start back up in seven days.

The Project Approach

To prepare for the migration, the manufacturers IT group created 22 new virtual machines with Microsoft Windows Server OS installed. Once the virtual machines were up and running, Matrix stepped in to install the application software that would facilitate running and editing the migrated HMI applications. The primary software products that were installed for the migration include Microsoft SQL Server®, Wonderware ArchestrA®, InTouch®, Historian®, OI ABCIP, Software Toolbox TopServer®, and Rockwell Automation ThinManager®.

The new virtual environment was brought online in parallel to the existing systems. At any point during or after the transition, the thin client HMI’s could be pointed to run in either the old or new system. This provided a safe fallback in the event of a problem, lowering the potential risk to production. The old systems can remain intact until the manufacturer is confident they are no longer needed and can be decommissioned.

In addition to upgrading the HMI applications to the latest software revisions, they were also converted to be managed applications within a new Wonderware ArchestrA galaxy. This not only allows for the HMI applications to be better managed as an object within ArchestrA, but also provides the foundation for future integration with other ongoing ArchestrA based corporate initiatives.

Working Side by Side with Customers and Vendors

Matrix and the food manufacturer partnered at all levels throughout the project, including literally working side by side in the field. Matrix and the manufacturer’s engineers teamed up to perform the process of switching the physical HMIs to point to the new virtual servers and testing each application to ensure it is functioning properly.

The manufacturer’s IT and operations group involvement was critical to the project’s successful implementation at every stage. During testing, the team prepared simulated production process orders to test the system to ensure that proper product counts were getting pushed to the databases that track the produced products. The simulated orders then had to be carefully deleted from the order process.

When equipment problems occurred, such as issues with system communication, local control engineers at the plant played a key role in addressing the problems.

Matrix also worked closely with Wonderware, the HMI software provider. Wonderware’s technology team helped resolve problems discovered during the testing process. Similar relationships were needed with technical teams from Microsoft and ThinManager®.

Benefits for the Food Processing Manufacturer

The plant migration project was completed on time and on budget.

The new system enables the food manufacturer to operate with the latest versions of all its software in a fully supported environment. The company can take advantage of all the modern productivity and efficiency tools the software and virtualized environment provide. The platform is ready for future integration with ArchestrA based products and developments.

Migration Tips for Other Manufacturers

Here are five tips for planning similar industrial manufacturing migration and integration projects:

  1. A crucial step is collecting and organizing the inventory of HMI applications. It is important to not only ensure there is a complete list of the applications to be migrated, but also list all application dependencies. Dependencies may include external databases, flat files, interfaces to other systems, custom communication hardware or drivers, printers, reporting systems, ActiveX controls, etc. Some dependencies may not have a clear upgrade path for use in a new virtual environment.
  2. Confirm application ownership. It’s common to discover software ownership issues during the application collection and migration process. Establish and distribute an ownership schedule for each application. This will help flag the coordination needed to ensure the correct version of the application gets migrated and installed on site.
  3. Establish proper contacts with each software vendor. You’ll need their help with any technical challenges that come up and with ensuring you’re using the correct software product versions that have been tested for compatibility.
  4. Use a collaboration tool. Matrix and the manufacturer used SharePoint, other good tools are also available. Ensure everyone can review and corroborate documents from a common repository.
  5. Select an experienced, dependable automation partner. A complex migration project demands a high level of expertise in system integration, in-depth knowledge of plant management software and hardware, and the ability to fully understand and support your company’s proprietary processes and approaches.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our industrial automation solutions for food and beverage manufacturing, contact Mike Dunstan, Associate Technology Manager or Brad McDaniel, Senior Consultant.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

HTML5 is Here: What Industrial Manufacturers Need to Know

HTML5 is Here: What Industrial Manufacturers Need to Know

One of the newest technology buzzwords to penetrate the industrial manufacturing space is HTML5. HMI platforms are beginning to be based on HTML5. Analysis tools for MES, configuration software, and other products are touting their HTML5 compliance. HTML5 is getting a lot of attention.

But what does HTML5 mean for the average manufacturing plant? Here are answers to common questions about the new HTML5 to help you understand what it is, what it offers, and what it doesn’t.

Q. What is HTML5?

A. HTML5 is the fifth major version of HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language. HTML is one of the “core languages” of the Internet. The previous version of HTML was 4.01, and was released just before the year 2000. HTML5 was published as a recommendation by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 2014. 1

When you browse the Internet and see web pages on a PC, tablet, phone, TV, or other device, it’s very likely that page is being displayed by your device processing HTML code.

Q. Why has HTML5 been developed?

A. In the years since HTML4.01 was standardized, web developers have pushed the envelope of what can be seen, used, and interacted with when browsing the web. The other “core languages” of the internet, JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) went through multiple iterations and advanced. Other software like Adobe Flash provided additional media distribution features, like the ability to play videos or video games from within a web browser.

HTML5 adds new features to the HTML standard, but nothing that HTML5 does is itself a new concept. These new features are implementations of what has already been done with other technologies. For example, instead of needing to use Flash to play a video, HTML5 has video as a feature built-in. YouTube has been using HTML5 to distribute video for years.

Q. What does HTML5 bring to the table?

A. The new features in HTML5 make it quicker and easier to develop rich, interactive web pages. Marking how portions of a screen or page should lay themselves out when viewed on PC, mobile, or other device is simpler to accomplish. The Geolocation API makes it possible to update the content of pages based on location-specific information. In the past, storing data on a client to persist settings and other information across sessions was accomplished with cookies, while HTML5’s new web storage feature can store much larger amounts of data, and increases data security on the data itself.

Q. Why does HTML5 matter to industrial manufacturers?

A. HTML5 is important in manufacturing because your vendors are moving toward it. Many software packages depend upon ActiveX objects for displaying interactive graphics, and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) for scripting non-standard logic. These packages may require proprietary client-side applications in order to use the software. In the industrial space, this has been standard for a long time.

But these technologies have limitations:

  • They don’t easily port to mobile phones. Add-on packages are required to manipulate the software and make it accessible. Even then, the result may only work on some devices. Maybe one employee is able to interact with an HMI package on their particular model of Android phone, and other employees on iPhones cannot.
  • To make matters more difficult, the base technologies and frameworks are becoming obsolete. Microsoft abandoned further advancement to VBA in the late 1990s and in 2015 published its goal to discontinue ActiveX.2

In order to work across all the different platforms users have today, keep up with supported technologies, and continue to look and feel like modern products, vendors in the industrial space are choosing to follow a universal standard as the basis for graphics and interaction. That standard is HTML5.

Q. If I buy an HTML5 HMI software package, will I be able to use the HMI screens on my phone?

A. This is a common question and the answer isn’t always clear.

One option available with HTML5 is templating web page layouts that can responsively change for different devices (such as a PC or a phone).

The ability to render on mobile or other devices existed before HTML5. Plenty of social media, news, and other websites supported mobile before 2014. However, just as websites and software applications prior to HTML5 didn’t necessarily work on mobile, HTML5 websites and software don’t necessarily work on mobile either.

Just because a software package is HTML5 compliant, this does not mean it will work properly on every device. The software vendor must still choose to use the functionality that allows a website to be cross platform. HTML5 makes it easier to implement that functionality and standardizes on ways to do so, but does not require it and does not enforce it.

Q. Are there any risks to implementing HTML5 to access with my mobile phone?

There are other considerations to factor in when accessing HMI packages and other software via mobile devices. HTML5 does nothing to add to security or prevent malicious attacks on your control system. Websites and mobile applications render on devices in such a way that makes portions of the pages and logic easy to disassemble. Programming of code to enter usernames and passwords, communicate with the control system or enterprise databases, and other critical functions must be designed, implemented, and tested with security in mind.

Adding mobile access may present an additional set of concerns completely unrelated to the mechanism of how screens and graphics are programmed or displayed. If your goal with an HTML5 software package is to easily access plant data while external to a facility, the typical information security issues of firewalls, VPNs, and passwords apply.

We advise our manufacturing customers to avoid making assumptions about HMTL5 compliant vendor products and industrial automation solutions. The safest bet is to thoroughly evaluate vendor packages before implementation.

Q. I’ve found new software for my plant that’s based on HTML5. Can I just get the upgraded software and be good to go?

A. Before taking on any software upgrade, it is important to evaluate your current systems and make sure they can handle the upgrade. This is as true for an enterprise or corporate system as much as it is for a control system.

In order for a client machine to view a web page that uses HTML5, the client machine must use an “HTML5-compliant web browser.” This means that the software on the client needs to be new enough to run the new software.

Microsoft Windows is the most common series of operating systems used in manufacturing control systems.  Internet Explorer is the default web browser that comes with many versions of Windows. The earliest version of Internet Explorer that has a usable degree of HTML5 compliance is version 9, released back in 2011.

Newer versions of Windows either come with IE11 or Edge, Microsoft’s newest browser. If you have an older version of Windows (Windows 7 or a derivation of Windows Server 2008), IE9 is not included by default. An upgrade is required. And if you are running legacy versions of Windows (Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, or earlier), an upgrade to the latest Internet Explorer isn’t even possible.

If your systems do not have a modern web browser, the systems cannot properly use or benefit from HTML5 applications. There are, of course, other web competing browsers that can be used: Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera are also available with HTML5 compliance. But you may not have them installed in your control system.

The best way to be sure your manufacturing process control system is ready for HTML5 applications is to do an evaluation of your system and software. The engineers of Matrix Technologies can assist you with an evaluation and manage any upgrades needed for your plant to benefit from HTML5.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our manufacturing systems and solutions capabilities, contact John Lee, Strategic Manager of Manufacturing Intelligence.

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© Matrix Technologies, Inc.