Researchers from the Centre for SMART have successfully completed a feasibility project that proved a novel technology for significant improvement in the efficiency of cleaning processes for the food manufacturing industry. The project, which was funded by Innovate UK and was in collaboration with Martec of Whitwell and the University of Nottingham, specifically looked at the development of optical and acoustic sensors to detect when a system is clean and thus prevent wasteful over-cleaning.
Food and drink production is the largest manufacturing sector in Britain and the highest industrial user of water at approximately 430 million litres a day. Within this industry cleaning accounts for 30 per cent of energy and water use and leads to excessive productivity down time and over-use of chemicals, at huge cost to manufacturers and the environment. As current technologies cannot accurately determine exactly how dirty food and drink processing equipment is inside, cleaning can last up to five hours a day - to minimise food safety risks.
The new approach utilises a combination of ultraviolet fluorescence of proteins and ultrasonic attenuation to determine the real-time cleanliness of large vessels and pipe work respectively. Once a system is detected as meeting stringent cleanliness criteria, the cleaning operation can stop and normal production resume. The new technology, dubbed SOCIP, could potentially save £100m a year for the UK industry alone and therefore also lead to cheaper food prices for consumers.
Publications detailing the new technology can be found here. Further funding is currently being sought to develop this technology and demonstrate at the full industrial scale.