Anthony Zapata
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High Pressure Processing Automation Improves Line Productivity, While Reducing Food Risks

By Anthony Zapata
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Anthony Zapata

High pressure processing (HPP) is a nonthermal food preservation technology that extends shelf life while maintaining quality and safety. Automating the HPP process increases efficiency, reduces labor costs and injuries, and provides traceability and reliability. HPP automation is helping companies maximize productivity and meet consumer demand for high-quality, fresh products.

High Pressure Processing (HPP), also known as high pressure pascalization or cold pasteurization, is a nonthermal (5ºC – 20ºC) food and beverage preservation method that reduces the risk of pathogen contamination and achieves an increased shelf life while maintaining the optimum attributes of fresh products.

It is based on the use of high isostatic pressure transmitted by water of up to 6,000 bar /600MPa /87,000 psi, held for a few minutes. This pressure is transmitted uniformly and instantaneously throughout the product, therefore achieving an effect equivalent to pasteurization, without the use of heat. A highly versatile technology, HPP can be applied to a wide range of foods.

As a post-packaging process, HPP requires the loading of packaged products into baskets, which is traditionally a manual process. After loading and processing, the baskets then exit through an outfeed conveyor, where then again, the packaged product needs to be manually retrieved.

This manual batch process has become a challenge for many processors operating HPP machines due to the difficulty of sourcing labor.

Streamlining Operations with HPP Automation

Hiperbaric Automation Systems provide operational efficiencies and substantial labor reduction, while increasing productivity and providing strict traceability.

An HPP automation line consists of specialized software and hardware that work together to automate key parts of the HPP treatment process:

  • Product Loading/Unloading: Automated systems use conveyors, robots and tilting stations to move product in and out of HPP vessels, avoiding the ergonomic strains and throughput bottlenecks of manual loading.
  • Material Handling Equipment: Material handling is known to be tedious and labor-intensive. Companies can optimize production, improve efficiency and promote operator safety by using custom carriers, carrier carts, elevators, turntables, tote-dumpers, pre-feeders and dryers.
  • Minute RFID & Data Matrix: RFID tags and Data Matrix codes placed on the HPP baskets can help manufacturers track inventory, automate setup, and provide strict traceability and reliability, ensuring that all products are processed.

Why HPP Automation?

Automating the HPP process offers many advantages including increased productivity, cost savings, traceability and operator safety.

Improved Efficiency & Throughput. Without automation, HPP processors struggle to maximize machine runtime. Manual loading/unloading and basket reconfiguration make it hard to start cycles quickly. This downtime curtails throughput. HPP automation helps maximize production productivity by increasing throughput, production line speed and efficiency.

Reduced Labor Requirements. Manual HPP requires extensive labor to keep the machine constantly loaded and running. An automated system can cut labor requirements by more than half. With machines doing the repetitive, heavy lifting, staff can be redeployed to more value-adding tasks.

Prevent Handling Errors. Manual loading/unloading leaves room for human error. Operators may improperly load products. Automation standardizes these processes and minimizes direct handling to prevent human error. Automated data capture also gives full traceability for quality assurance. Ultimately, automation can provide strict traceability and reliability ensuring that all products are processed correctly.

Improved Workplace Safety. Repetitive activities like loading heavy baskets subject workers to ergonomic strains and injury over time. By reducing direct human-machine interaction, automation protects worker health and safety. The facility is a more attractive workplace to retain talent.

Case Study: Evolution Fresh Advances HPP with Automation

Evolution Fresh, a Bolthouse Farms subsidiary, is a premier cold-pressed juice company. The company partnered with Hiperbaric, a high pressure processing equipment manufacturer, to produce juices with fresh quality, clean label and extended shelf life.

Bolthouse Farms acquired Evolution Fresh from Starbucks in May 2022, expanding its beverage offerings from “nutrient-dense, plant-powered juices and smoothies to include a full lineup of primarily organic cold-pressed, premium juices,” according to Bolthouse Farms.

The company is using HPP to keep its juice safe by inactivating foodborne pathogens. Since it is a non-thermal process, it also helps protect the nutrients and delicious, vibrant taste of the premium quality, cold-pressed juices.

The HPP process enables shelf life expansion from three to five days to 55+ days, without preservatives, allowing expanded distribution to grocery channels.

With manual HPP, the company saw multiple stress injuries each year due to lifting and repetitive motion. By moving to automation, the company reduced its reliance on manual labor and made 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-19, allowing employees to spread out. Eliminating waste from triple handling and staging also enabled a continuous system rather than a batch process.

Automating the HPP process through an automated solution 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%

Post-HPP automation equipment includes a fully automated robotic arm that empties baskets and robots that assist in sorting and placing bottles upright. Today, Evolution Fresh uses nine employees on the processing line per shift compared to about 19 previously, a more than 50% reduction.

The Future of HPP Automation

The next step in automation will incorporate big data and analytics to create models for predictive maintenance and auto diagnosis. Computing advances and apps will allow real-time control over the automation process. Lastly, augmented reality will enable remote assistance and mixed-reality learning experiences.

Automation for HPP technology addresses many of today’s production challenges by increasing production line speed and efficiency, improving safety, reducing labor costs and injuries, and delivering accountability.

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Anthony Zapata

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