To promote food and safety and sanitary compliance, processors are increasingly seeking the ability to Clean-in-Place (CIP), an automated method of cleaning the interior surfaces of tubular drag conveyors without disassembly. With the advent of mobile tools like “smart cart” that quick-connects to any tubular conveyor and enables simple, customizable “single button cleaning recipes,” CIP is becoming easier, faster, less labor-intensive, more repeatable and almost fully automated.

Tubular drag conveyor systems gently move product through a sealed, enclosed tube using a drag cable and circular discs pulled through a loop, so they are ideal for delicate items. In the wet CIP process, the system is flooded with water, flushed, rinsed, cleansed and thoroughly sanitized. The process thoroughly removes any potential allergens like nuts or gluten from conveying equipment and can be used with various food types such as nuts, grains, cereals, powdered soups and frozen fruits and vegetables.

Although the CIP process is very effective, streamlining its automation and simplifying the process for all of a facility’s tubular drag conveyors has been a priority for leading innovators in the industry.

“The standard system required port hookups to water lines and installing piping. The processor also had to make decisions such as which water temperatures to utilize, or whether to use a cleaning solvent - and the correct amount to add manually,” says John Adair, engineering and quality director for Cablevey Conveyors, an Oskaloosa, Iowa-based conveyor manufacturer.

To simplify the wet cleaning process, Adair and his engineering team at Cablevey have developed a small, mobile “smart cart” with integrated water line hookups that a single technician can easily take to a tubular drag conveyor in a facility. The card is specifically designed to be a fraction of the size of similar carts on the market to
 facilitate mobility. When the cart is in position and connected to water lines, the CIP process is automated and controlled by a labor programmable logic controller (PLC) that reduces the need for manual labor and virtually eliminates the risk of improper cleaning.

“Once it is set up, all you do is press a button and it will bring in the required amount of water at the correct temperature with the necessary amount of solvent for cleaning,” says Adair.

The smart cart is designed to store and utilize pre-programmed CIP recipes to flush various residual materials from the tubular drag cable conveyors in a facility before new production runs. The cleaning recipes enable even those with little training to use the cart. This is helpful in today’s tight labor market and allows the technician to move on to other tasks once the cleaning process begins.

Using easily executable recipes ensures a reliable, repeatable clean that essentially, “error proofs” the process. This is particularly important when the technician may be new or less familiar with the production equipment. “[Depending on the product being conveyed], sometimes all you need is a wet rinse, or sometimes [you] need a specific cleaning solvent. All that information is saved, which can be automatically repeated after the first cleaning. Just push a button to start [the appropriate recipe], whether you have one conveyor running multiple products, or dozens of conveyors running various products,” says Adair.

To facilitate food safety compliance, the smart cart also documents all critical CIP information such as water volume and temperature, chemicals used and cleaning time by date in an easily retrievable data log.

Since decreasing production downtime between conveyor cleanings is a priority for food processors, Cablevey provides new capabilities with the cart that expedites the CIP process. Currently, the CIP   process floods the tubular conveyor system but is not designed to specifically clean the discs. “Operators would manually clean each disc and advance the system [disc by disc] when the discs had to be clean of particularly viscous substances,” says Adair.

Now, as an option on the cart, a disc washer can be integrated with the conveyor turnaround to spray a pressurized cleansing solution on the discs. This helps to remove stickier substances like chocolate that could remain after routine CIP cleaning.

“The disc washer sprays high-pressure water directly on the discs, so [it] acts like an automatic car wash. At the push of a button, the discs and cable are run through and spray cleaned, which reduces the CIP time and eliminates the need to manually clean the discs,” says Adair.

To further reduce downtime, Cablevey states that it also offers a new sanitary blower option. “After the wet CIP process, a sanitary blower [attachment on the smart cart] can dry the discs and other parts of the system 75% faster than typical air drying,” says Adair. He points out that the faster the conveyor is cleaned and dried after a product change, the sooner it can be put back into service, which improves profitability.

According to Adair, Cablevey’s mobile smart cart is available for pre-order now, but will be officially unveiled at Pack Expo, a premier packaging and processing show held at Las Vegas Convention Center, September 11-13, 2023. The event will feature full-scale setups of machinery in action.

The company also plans to bring traveling demonstration smart carts to customers by September free of charge so they can try out the units. Food processors who like what they see may be able to purchase the demo unit that is used in their facility, with hands-on training immediately available.

While the food processing industry is aware that automated CIP can improve, conveyor system production uptime, barriers to implementation have slowed adoption. Utilizing a mobile smart cart with integrated water hookups will help processors to easily implement CIP in tubular drag conveyors throughout their facilities—expediting conveyor cleaning, production changeover and sanitary compliance.