Controlling fluid flow variables for smooth production
15 Feb 2021
Fluid handling variables can all have a detrimental impact, resulting in batches having to be destroyed and machines halted, says SR-Tek’s Loris Medart. Yet there are ways to tackle the problem...
Temperature, humidity, pressure and viscosity are just some of the variables that can affect the performance of fluids in a manufacturing process. As a result, it is often one of the most dreaded elements for many process engineers.
With a small amount of effort, however, control and automation can be used to tame even the trickiest liquids. A key element of which involves treating this part of the production process as if it were a science experiment by fixing as many of the variables as possible.
The type of dispenser used and how it is set is often the main focus of engineers but to truly control a fluid, consider the environment within the pressure tank. There are several added features and sensors that can be fitted to a vessel to fix the variables.
Temperature control jackets for instance maintain the temperature to keep material viscosity con- sistent – useful when handling and dispensing thread locks. Thixotropic fluids’ viscosity can drop as the result of movement. In a production setting it can lead to dramatic inconsistencies resulting in too much or not enough material added to parts which may have to be reworked, cleaned or in some cases even scrapped. The answer lies in viscosity control which in this case might be through agitation.
Real time monitoring and adjustment
Temperature changes do not have to be that extreme, with a shift of just a few degrees from the morning to the afternoon at a UK site able to disrupt what had been a steady production process.
Fluids have become more complex and expensive, shorter production runs and more diverse product lines mean huge, simplistic containers are now a liability rather than an asset. For ABB, BMW and Johnson & Johnson the answer has been to switch to transparent tanks.
For a busy production line manager having to oversee all parts of the process, being able to see when a fluid needs topping up or adjusting from virtually anywhere on the line is invaluable.
Added to this, common signs of issues within the fluid, which would previously lead to product faults, can be spotted early and resolved with less product wastage. It also enables engineers to spot faults further up the line.
R&D in production
In the main the scientific approach of testing, measuring and adjusting materials is largely confined to the R&D department. Yet, due to the many influences on fluids an ability to test and observe reactions in real-time is often invaluable.
Fluid handling needn’t be rocket science. Controlling, monitoring and, where needed, adjusting parameters enables consistent production, reduces waste, and prevents unplanned downtime. Major producers like ABB are now bringing fluids into the light by using transparent pressure vessels to enable them to plan and adjust.
Loris Medart is founder of feed systems manufacturer SR-Tek