A well-developed mixing strategy is essential to production efficiency. Ideally, mixing equipment and procedures are evaluated periodically, as production needs change or when new formulations come through the pipeline. However, mixing is often overlooked in terms of upgrades, at least until it becomes a source of drastic losses whether because of low yield, recurring contamination, inconsistent product quality or excessive labor hours.
In mixing, it is not too difficult to find "something that works." Yet, while there may be several ways to make good product, not all are efficient, competitive or even sustainable. Limitations in capital expenditure and overreliance on legacy equipment are common obstacles that keep processes stagnant for years and decades even as various aspects of the business are constantly undergoing significant changes. The irony is that a careful re-evaluation of mixing procedures can reveal achievable steps to significantly reduce costs.
One technique is to examine the entire production flow and determine if multiple mixing operations can be performed in a single machine without sacrificing product quality. One major benefit to "one-pot processing" is the reduction of energy consumption though many other incentives are equally justifiable including faster throughput, easier cleanup, less transfer steps and lower operating cost.
Table 1 shows a few examples where multiple mixing steps were successfully consolidated into a single mixer. In each case, the simplified mixing operation gained tremendous competitive advantage for the manufacturer.
It is important to note that mixing results are always formulation-dependent. Whenever practical, perform simulation trials using your own raw materials to confirm a new mixing strategy. Ask your mixer supplier about testing and demonstration services or rental equipment, which you can use for trial production runs in the convenience of your own plant.
Lastly, a mixer’s control system plays an important role in optimizing overall efficiency. A well-specified control system minimizes human errors, improves batch-to-batch consistency and lessens downtimes. Recipe controls also enable automatic data logging. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) packages support complete traceability and make it easier to pool statistical information on workloads, bottlenecks and maintenance history. Source both mixer and controls from the same vendor to ensure seamless execution.
Christine Banaszek is the sales manager at Charles Ross & Son Company, manufacturer of specialty mixing and blending equipment. As an application engineer at the corporate headquarters in Hauppauge, New York, she has worked at the Ross Test & Development Center and published many articles and white papers in mixing and blending technologies, applications and best practices. She holds a degree in chemical engineering.