No matter how impressive the food or beverage packaging process you build, it’s only as strong as its weakest link. Which, in the case of packaging system design, should never be the fluid system connectors. The tubing, hose and fittings that transfer pneumatic power, vacuum systems or product in typical food and beverage packaging builds tend to take a backstage role to the rest of the system. Whether packing bottles into a case or transferring beverages into a bottle, these machines often showcase unique, proprietary and highly engineered designs, mechanisms and robotics to move or package the product.
Meanwhile, the connectors and tubing often get specified as an afterthought. Some end users may not specify the brand or exact part number for the fittings and tubing they will use in their machines, which further contributes to performance risks and lower quality. As a result, there are definite signs that an OEM’s efforts to specify fluid system connectors like tubing and fittings for their builds may be in need of scrutiny.
The following four issues are key indicators that system tubing and fittings need a closer examination.
One of the most critical issues for OEMs and their customers is system leakage. Obviously, OEMs aim to design systems that won’t leak product, compressed air or vacuum power. Leaks like these not only lead to line shutdowns, they also mean wasted energy, product spills and increased costs for both OEMs and the end-users. And, they can hurt the OEM’s reputation for quality design and craftsmanship. So choosing components specifically because they offer a better track record in terms of leak-free performance is key.
Part of what makes fittings highly resistant to leakage is the seals. Many fittings claim to use specially designed seals, but the performance from brand to brand, particularly after exposure to fluids, high temperatures and harsh sanitizing agents, is not the same. Unfortunately, the OEM might not be informed of leak issues until a significant event has already occurred.
To prevent these breakdown issues, OEMs should select tubing and fittings with more analysis on both sides of the process. Such as, how will the user really use these components? And are the connectors made to survive those conditions?
To that end, some brands engineer seals specifically for each fitting and may incorporate proprietary shapes and sizes as well. Other manufacturers may treat the product as a commodity item, using the same seals across a range of fittings.
If your customers are experiencing leaks associated with fittings on systems you have built, it’s possible these components are not up to the task and the specification needs to be addressed and changed.
Breadth of Supply
Another factor to consider is the overall breadth of product the brand or supplier can offer. A brand that offers everything from the tubing and fittings to the valves that come in between them offers an advantage in its ability to achieve leak-free connections. In addition, these full-line suppliers or distributors can suggest parts that have been tested to work together. And they are better equipped to offer consultative design advice, potentially helping to eliminate connection points or fittings, which reduces costs and potential leak points. These suppliers also may have engineers on staff specializing in food and beverage processing and packaging builds and able to contribute design suggestions.
The overall shape and size profiles of components, like hoses, tubing and fittings, are yet another consideration for OEMs. Some brands are made to be streamlined in size, shape and diameter, which contributes to greater design flexibility. The maximum tubing bend radius also contributes either options or limitations. Fluid system designs that exceed a product’s bend radius will lead to kinks and blockages.
Suppliers able to offer more compact component options can help OEMs design machines to fit tighter or limited spaces, or to install components in closer proximities. This in itself contributes to easier sanitation, performance and maintenance procedures down the road.
Timely access to receiving the right connectors is another factor for OEMs to consider. With so many offshore components available, OEMs have many options in sourcing fluid system connectors. But products made nearby are more likely to be delivered when requested than components made offshore. This becomes increasingly important when customer demands change rapidly or without warning. OEMs who want the ability to make abrupt changes in order quantities or the types of parts ordered should identify and specify those vendors committed to this differentiation. Suppliers who can be more responsive to changing demands and supply the requested products can potentially help OEMs prevent costly production stoppages.
Taken together, benefits like leak prevention, breadth of supply, component profile and availability have the potential to save OEMs significant costs and headaches on their builds. They also can preserve the builder’s winning reputation for designing systems that perform over the long haul.