13 Apr 2024

Outdated equipment maintenance strategies

Alfa Laval’s plate heat exchangers

UK food and beverage manufacturers optimistic that industry growth challenges may recede over 2023 need to address outdated equipment maintenance strategies to fully benefit, says a sector expert.

Ben Green, Food and Water Division Manager – UK at Alfa Laval, sounded the warning following the publication of a monthly manufacturing sector survey showing that almost 60% of manufacturers felt output would be higher a year from now[1]. The findings, from April’s S&P Global / CIPS UK Manufacturing’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) report, represent a 13-month high and runs counter to December predictions from a Make UK/BDO Q4 Manufacturing Outlook survey, which forecasted that the industry would contract by 1.5% over the year[2].

Though the new report is ostensibly good news for manufacturers in the sector, Green is encouraging key stakeholders to review their equipment maintenance strategies to fully realise any anticipated benefits. Specifically, he is citing the shift to cost-saving run-to-fail maintenance strategies for key process technologies such as plate heat exchangers (PHEs) as a potential obstacle to growth.

“Conditions in the food and beverage manufacturing sector are currently challenging and have been for a number of months, with supply chain strain, skills shortages and rising raw goods costs impacting company performance,” explains Green. “As such, it is totally understandable that key stakeholders have sought to cut costs by switching from proactive to reactive maintenance schedules, otherwise known as run-to-fail. Yet with the situation set to rapidly shift and business optimism hitting a 13-month high, this move to safeguard company bottom lines could end up hamstringing it instead.

“Unplanned downtime resulting from this approach can lead to snowballing costs at a time when businesses are looking to recover from a difficult period. The only way to avoid this is by moving out of the mindset that expert, planned servicing on equipment such as PHEs is an optional, marginal gain, and instead treating it as vital to equipment’s long-term health.”

Green highlights corrosion as a key concern to food and beverage processors, in which the sealing lining the plate’s edge can lead to wear and tear in crevices under gaskets. If left untreated, even the most robust of PHEs could eventually fail, hampering performance and unplanned downtime while the key equipment is replaced.

“It is undeniable that equipment failure can be majorly disruptive at food and beverage processing plants, yet the good news is that this problem is highly visible ahead of time, and can be quickly resolved,” concludes Green.

“Regular visual condition assessments incorporated as part of a proactive maintenance strategy allow the manufacturer to optimise their process in the interest of making energy savings, while an accurate prediction of gasket lifetime can be made based on its hardness. This offers the manufacturer an unrivalled sense of control, and the ability to address issues before they pose a threat to the wider process.

“I would therefore appeal to site stakeholders to seek out original equipment manufacturer expertise to address these preventable concerns and ensure production continuity in what the sector is confident will be a good year.”

Company info: Alfa Laval