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March 10, 2021updated 12 Mar 2021 9:42am

Case study: Automated powder handling with Piab’s vacuum conveyors ensures social distancing

The second wave of seemingly severe infectious Covid-19 mutations demands adhering to social distancing rules more strictly than before. Here, automating material handling with vacuum conveying can play a significant role in reducing contact between employees, minimising contagion risk while maintaining high-level productivity, which is particularly important in system-relevant industries such as pharmaceuticals or food.

Pharmaceutical and food products are life essential and independent of lockdowns or mutating viruses. They must keep coming off the line and delivered to consumers. At the same time companies need to avoid contagion between employees as much as possible to prevent personal related down-times. Therefore, many companies have already established shift work and determined the necessary distances between operators. However, manual handling of ingredients is still widely spread, particularly concerning feeding mixers or tablet presses. As several employees are needed to keep the processes running, it increases the risk or forces companies to reduce productivity if left with just a few operators to ensure social distancing.

Vacuum conveyors to ensure social distancing

Automating powder and bulk handling processes by vacuum conveyors enables social distancing while maintaining high productivity by reducing the need for numerous operators and movement across the whole factory floor. At the same time, it also improves ergonomics as operators no longer need to carry heavy buckets or bags up the stairs to feed funnels or hoppers. The vacuum conveyor can easily do so from a central material storage area. With Piab’s piFLOW® series easily cleanable conveyors, using the same conveyor is even an option for several ingredients.

In nutraceutical tablet production, the manual feeding process often does not end at filling powdered ingredients but continues at the tablet press. From here, the tablets need to be fed for instance to a coating machine and ultimately to a packaging station, be it for individual blister or bulk packaging. In the worst case, an operator needs to continue picking up the tablets ejected from the press and manually bring them over to the next line and fill them into another funnel or hopper for further processing and packaging, implying that they continue walking the floor and might meet other operators risking contagion, in addition to the unergonomic work conditions that can lead to back injuries.

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Case study: Automated powder handling with Piab’s vacuum conveyors ensures social distancing

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Vacuum conveyors to automate each end of filling processes

Adding vacuum conveyors to automate each of the filling processes by connecting the separate steps, production can run more smoothly or become operator-independent with Piab’s piFLOW®p SMART system further reducing the risk of lower production productivity or even downtimes caused by social distancing or missing operators due to coronavirus sick leave.

The SMART version of Piab’s renowned vacuum conveyor is pre-programmed with advanced algorithms to eliminate intricate manual timer settings and allows continuous adaptive automatic fine-tuning of the conveying process and recipe handling.

The self-optimising conveyor system adjusts to product conveying in just ten minutes. Based on machine learning, the operator can guarantee a smooth material flow under all conditions, and at speeds precisely matched to the specific substances. Parameters can be adjusted regardless of the pipe diameter or delivery length, and automatically checked every four seconds. The changeover is fast and reliable, made possible by sensors, an electrical control unit and intelligent software.

Vacuum conveyors to fulfil associated requirements and guidelines

For usage in the pharmaceutical and food industries, all material in contact with the conveyed product fulfils the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Commission (EC) No 1935 / 2004 requirements, designed according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines.

Making the best of challenging times can mean taking the Covid-19 implied shift towards digitalisation and increased technology usage that happened already in both our work and personal life one step further. By seizing the opportunity to innovate, we are trying out new ways of doing things and looking for the most productive solution of each process step to come out of the crisis with a more robust and competitive operational set-up. Evolving powder handling to increase productivity, free operators from straining tasks and reduce contagion and contamination risk for an ultimately safer operation can be an easy and effective starting point.

About Piab

Piab is evolving automation through progressive gripping, lifting, and moving solutions and has done so since 1951. We believe in an automated world, where no resources are wasted, and no humans are injured. With annual sales of ~ 1.5 billion SEK, 650 employees and a global presence in more than 100 countries, we help our customers improve their operations for the better daily. Since 2018, Piab is owned by Patricia Industries, part of Investor AB.

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