Juices, nectars and still drinks (JNSD) are traditionally produced using batch production solutions. But batch lines typically require a lot of hardware and often rely on a complex setup to produce multiple products. They also experience accuracy issues in ingredient handling. But continuous inline production can overcome these challenges – and save you money through higher efficiency.
Historically, batch production has appealed to producers of juices, nectars and still drinks. Working in batches makes it easy to reach your desired production volume in one beverage, say orange juice, and then simply switch to your next product – apple juice, peach nectar or whatever it may be.
But batch producers face several challenges. First, batch production comes with much more equipment, although the initial investment is lower than for continuous, or inline, production. Instead of a single setup that produces all your products, a batch design demands a bigger footprint for production. Notably, you need a dedicated buffer tank for each product that you produce – and additional auxiliary equipment for each tank.
Second, the frequent product changeovers that characterize batch production lead to considerable product losses. For every batch change, consumption-standard product is lost during the switchover process. Cleaning need is also high because there is more equipment to clean, leading to higher water and detergent consumption.
Third, ingredient handling lacks flexibility in a batch production design. Once ingredients have been administered, the mix cannot easily be changed or adjusted. As a result, producers are forced to operate in the full range of recipe specification limits to make sure they reach the required threshold for a given ingredient. This has implications both for cost and for product output quantity.
For many batch producers, ingredient handling is a major challenge. But there is a solution: inline blending. An inline, or continuous, line design allows greater ingredient precision because the system continually adjusts dosing levels as the process runs.
“Batch blending requires you to use the full range of your ingredient specification limits to guarantee the defined quality level and it takes its time. With continuous blending, you can be much quicker, and it is much easier to be more precise because the system is constantly measuring and regulating,” explains Andreas Rueppell, Line Solution Manager Beverages at Tetra Pak. “This allows you to lower your set point closer to the lower specification limit without losing precious time.”
Inline blending, he adds, allows maximum raw material utilization. “More accurate ingredient control allows for more efficient production and reduced raw material use, and thus increased final product quality.”
Rueppell says juice producers can save up to and even beyond €250,000 a year on ingredient costs alone by switching to inline blending. “Greater precision and accuracy in ingredient handling is key to tuning your production while still ensuring all necessary product specifications.”
This cuts a producer’s costs, while also assuring product uniformity and quality.
These benefits are achievable thanks to the high precision of a modern inline blender. In essence, an inline blender combines multiple liquid streams – for example water, syrup and concentrate – into one large stream that is constantly monitored, several times a second, to ensure the recipe is correct. Should a deviation be detected, the blender automatically adjusts to keep the process on track.
Product losses are also lower. Product is typically lost at start-up, during intermittent stops and during changeovers. In an inline setup, the undefined mix phases in every module at the end of production are completely covered by a smart recipe-handling routine. This leaves zero product losses from recipe formulation to the very end of the process. Apart from minimizing product losses, this also shorten production time, reduces cleaning efforts and reduces the overall environmental footprint of the production process.
“Minimizing product losses during start-up and product changes is a fantastic benefit of inline blending. It reduces common product losses to literally zero, an absolute minimum.” Rueppell says. “In a conventional blending setup you can easily lose 100,000 litres of viable product a year due to mix-phases. The market feedback Tetra Pak receives is that inline blending saves up to €28,000 in pure raw material costs annually, not to mention the missing product volume output from it.”
Shifting to inline blending also boosts operational efficiency because at no time does equipment stand idle as in batch blending. Furthermore, the lower cleaning need of a continuous line reduces downtime and delivers savings in water and detergent consumption.
“In a batch setup you can only produce one product at a time and you have to wait for that process to finish before starting another product from another tank. That is inefficient,” Rueppell says.
Imagine a juice producer looking to increase its blending capacity. Instead of investing in three more tanks for its batch line, the producer could purchase a continuous blender. Inline blenders have a small footprint compared to tanks, making it possible to expand capacity without extending the plant and thus saving money.
“Continuous blending meets so many challenges in beverage production,” Rueppell says. “You reduce operating costs, raw material costs and boost your production efficiency, you have fewer product losses and you assure your product quality. It really is a saviour for the beverage industry.”