Sustainability is No Longer a Trend

Operating Sustainability is Part of the Food Production Landscape

By Eric Geling, Chief Sales Officer at tna solutions

Sustainability has been considered a mega-trend for many years. However, in 2023 and beyond, the time has come to assert that it is no longer a trend – rather it is part of the fabric of the food production landscape. It is deeply embedded in every element of the process, from capital equipment design and operating software to routine maintenance and the final packaged product.

Operating sustainably makes perfect sense, as measures to reduce energy and waste and to streamline processes inevitably have a positive impact on product yield and line efficiency. What is good for the environment can also be good for the bottom line, and with retailers demanding ever-greener products boosted by consumer pressure, brands must embrace the fact that sustainable production is the future, or else risk losing market share if they cannot present the right credentials.

As the latest GlobalData report on Sustainability & Ethics points out, in addition to their own behaviours, consumers are holding brands to a higher standard than ever before, and expect brands to use their influence as a driving force for change on issues ranging from climate impact to social inequality.

Some 48% of those asked in the GlobalData 2022 Q2 global consumer survey said they are always or often influenced by how ethical, environmentally-friendly or socially-responsible a product or service is — which highlights how important it is to incorporate sustainability into day-to-day operations. In addition, the recent COP27 climate summit highlighted food systems as crucial to any discussions surrounding climate change and a sustainable future, with processing and packaging being an important part of that equation.

How can food producers promote sustainability?

Consumers may be driving the focus on sustainability, but it is delivered to a large extent in the processing and packaging stages of production. Controlling the process is everything, coupled with innovative equipment that has been designed with efficiency front of mind. It is critical to engage with an expert partner that understands both process and equipment, as the areas of focus that will deliver value across the board can be tricky to navigate alone.

Four core elements for manufacturers to consider, include energy efficiency, waste reduction, pollution reduction and advanced equipment:

1. Energy efficiency

Processing and packaging food is an energy intensive business, therefore maintaining a sustainable production chain should be a top priority.

Electricity, gas and water can easily be wasted unnecessarily via a number of inefficiencies. For example, steam and hot air exhaust into the environment offer the option to recover heat and re-use it elsewhere in the process. The same applies to in-line water clean-up systems that can reduce freshwater consumption and re-use option in the prior processing equipment. The latest trend is to recover energy from electrically operated batch equipment to feed back into the grid. Running machinery when it’s not required is another avoidable situation, as is poor maintenance, operating fully lit plants during shutdowns and leaking equipment.

Control is the key, and as plant managers increasingly look for ways to control energy consumption, working with expert suppliers can provide the answer to these considerable challenges.

For example, by adding sensing equipment such as flow meters, motion sensors and product quality sensors – which can be fully integrated into any existing line control system – operators can gain greater visibility into relevant plant data to ensures that energy is used only when and where it’s needed. The added benefit is that processes can be self-optimising, leading to optimised yield and more consistent product quality. Through control software and the option of gathering data to produce energy usage reports, any control system can enjoy a new lease of life.

2. Waste reduction

Expert control systems providers can also work to ensure material waste is kept to a minimum. Wastage can weaken the efficiency of a line, and with products being processed at ever greater speeds it is imperative that faults be picked up as quickly as possible before an unscheduled downtime event is triggered. The earlier in the process the expert is engaged the better, as a detailed user requirement specification (URS) can be developed to enable managers to identify the expected key performance indicators (KPIs) that the process requires. This URS is then translated into a functional design specification (FDS), and once signed off by both parties the process will be set up according to the agreed requirements. With a tight control specification in place a smooth and reliable product flow can then be achieved, reducing material wastage and downtime to a minimum.

3. Pollution reduction

The environmental control of industrial pollution is imperative, as it poses a real threat to the future of our planet. Processing plants produce drainage discharges (e.g. waste water) and atmospheric emissions (e.g. stack discharge), which are the two critical problems that the industry faces. Not only are these discharges causing substantial damage to our planet, but tighter Government regulations have also brought harsh penalties should any of these unwanted materials accidently escape from the plant. Without effective environmental control, plant managers are increasingly risking huge financial losses and in some cases even plant closures.

Monitoring waste products prior to discharge can also be achieved via sensing equipment and the data aligned with acceptable parameters. Depending on the data, the process will either allow discharge or create an out of tolerance alarm, causing the process to stop before any harmful substances are introduced into the environment. The logged data means producers have access to a full and detailed record for submission to external monitoring bodies if required, which eliminates the risk of large fines and ensures a safe and efficient operation. Both Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems can easily be integrated into existing production lines to eliminate or reduce process inefficiencies, simplify operations and maximise productivity.

4. Advanced equipment

In addition to facilitating the above control parameters, also delivers efficiencies through built-in features designed to reduce energy consumption, reduce waste and optimise uptime performance. For example, the latest vertical form fill and seal packaging systems on the market today are capable of reducing electricity consumption by up to 20% by combining improved productivity with intuitive energy saving modes. There are significant savings to be made downstream as well. If we consider batch frying in the snacks sector for capacities up to 275kg/hr, systems are available that incorporate a single serpentine heat exchanger tube configuration – providing direct-fire heating that saves more than 20% natural gas when compared with other technologies.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, but highlight the fact that there are many efficiencies to be made across the production and packaging process that feed directly into sustainability. The importance of working with an expert partner cannot be overstated, as by involving a partner with an in-depth understanding of both systems and processes it is possible to achieve optimisation from end-to-end. Sustainability, as we mentioned, is no passing trend, and when approached in the correct way can deliver benefits for producers, retailers, consumers and, critically, the environment. Start the conversation today.

About the Author
Eric Geling, Chief Sales Officer at tna solutions. tna is a leading global supplier of integrated food processing and packaging solutions with 40 years of industry experience and 14,000 systems installed across more than 120 countries. Visit www.tnasolutions.com or contact info@tnasolutions.com to learn more.

About tna solutions

The company provides a comprehensive range of products including materials handling, processing, cooling and freezing, coating, distribution, seasoning, weighing, packaging, inserting and labelling, metal detection, verification and end of line solutions. tna also offers a variety of production line controls integration & SCADA reporting options, project management and training. tna’s unique combination of innovative technologies, extensive project management experience and 24/7 global support ensures customers achieve faster, more reliable and flexible food products at the lowest cost of ownership. tna’s inclusive growth agenda underscores its business ethos, to support those less fortunate; especially children, through the humanitarian initiatives undertaken by the Nadia and Alf Taylor Foundation.

[1] https://www.globaldata.com/store/report/sustainability-and-ethics-consumer-trend-analysis/

[2] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2022/10/26/commodity-markets-outlook

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