Food preservation and safety are high on the list of priorities for manufacturers, retailers and consumers alike. One of the ways to keep foods and beverages healthy and safe is high pressure processing (HPP), a process that uses cold water and high pressure to inactivate harmful foodborne pathogens and microorganisms. It maintains nutritional integrity and taste and extends shelf life without the need for preservatives.
Automation is the next progression in the HPP industry. It increases the efficiency and safety of the HPP process, reducing labor costs, boosting production line speed and efficiency, and delivering accountability.
Evolution Fresh, a Starbucks cold-pressed juice subsidiary, has been using the HPP process for 12 years through its partnership with Hiperbaric, an HPP equipment manufacturer. The company owns five Hiperbaric 420 machines processing 1,000 gallons of juice per hour. The HPP process enables fresh quality, clean label and shelf life expansion from 3-5 days to 55+ days, without preservatives, allowing expanded distribution to all its Starbucks stores and grocery distribution channels.
“Not only did Hiperbaric provide the necessary HPP and automation equipment, they helped us develop an HPP operator training program for operations and safety that is in place today,” says Mike Durbin, plant director at Evolution Fresh.
Automating the HPP process through Hiperbaric’s Automation Solutions has enabled Evolution Fresh to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and drive revenue:
- Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) increased 15%
- Injuries reduced by more than 90%
- Waste reduced by more than 50%
- Line labor reduced more than 50%
Equipment used before the HPP process include semi-automatic filling stations, basket feeders and forklifts that pick up multiple baskets at a time and place them into the HPP unit. The baskets are embedded with data matrix codes ensuring full traceability of the basket contents, allowing data to be viewed by production, quality assurance (QA) and plant leadership.
Post-HPP automation equipment includes a fully automated robotic arm that empties baskets and robots that assist in sorting and placing bottles upright. This has helped increase machine productivity and achieve reduced labor and associated costs. Today, Evolution Fresh uses nine employees on the processing line per shift compared to about 19 previously, a more than 50% reduction.
With manual HPP, the company saw multiple stress injuries each year due to lifting and repetitive motion. By reducing reliance on manual labor and making the processes more ergonomic, they eliminated 16,000 lbs. of lifting per day per person. Automation also helped with social distancing requirements due to COVID, allowing employees to spread out.
The next level of automation will incorporate big data and analytics to create models for predictive maintenance and auto diagnosis. Computing advances will incorporate locally embedded algorithms, and web and mobile apps will allow real-time control over the automation process. Lastly, augmented reality will enable remote assistance and mixed-reality learning experiences.
Durbin concludes, “We value our partnership with Hiperbaric that has been built over the past 12 years when we purchased our first Hiperbaric 420 unit. Hiperbaric helped us automate the manual HPP processes to increase production and efficiencies, reduce injuries, and overall produce premium, high quality, cold-pressed juices that consumers demand.”