Using the force of nature

Eco-Icepush pigging_technology_from_GEA_Process_EngineeringIn the food and beverage industry, pigging refers to the practice of using devices known as ‘pigs’ to perform various maintenance operations on a pipeline, such as cleaning and inspecting. Many traditional systems use a standard pig (or pipeline inspection gauge) that’s forced through piping systems to scour any residual product from the inner walls of the pipes to recover product and prior to cleaning. At FDT, Steffen Rathmann, worldwide sales director for GEA Process Engineering, juice and beverage industry, introduced the company’s innovative new pigging technology called Eco-Icepush.

Where traditional pigs cannot be used on tight-radius bends, through valve systems, in piping systems where the diameter of the pipe changes, or where the product flows through heat exchanges or other ancillary equipment, the Eco-Icepush reverts back to nature. Developed by the University of Bristol, the team of scientists were inspired by the force of an ice glacier – that literally forces its way through the environment, taking along with it any debris from the valley floor – and produced a technology that utilises ice slurry to push through even the most complex piping systems. Thanks to its easy implementation method, it can be applied to most of the existing production lines, cleans the pipeline of sediments and then literally disappears (melts).

steffen-rathmann‘Traditional evacuation technologies use what’s available,’ explains Rathmann, such as air or water, which produces large volumes of effluent, or the rubber plug, which is expensive to replace and cannot be used universally. GEA’s technology consists of an engineered two-phase ice-water slurry pumped through a pipe. The slurry is customised to customer’s needs and a freeze depressant such as salt, alcohol or sugar, utilised according to the specific application. This offers many advantages, including:

  • Adaptability to any existing piping systems with bends, Ts, changes in direction and diameter.
  • No risk of getting stuck.
  • Inexpensive, ‘single pig’ use.
  • Specifically tailored for certain applications, for example, a beer pig.
  • Low operational risk.
  • Easy introduction and removal through existing connections.

‘The technology was first deployed in the water industry and has now been brought to the next level for the food industry,’ maintains Rathmann. ‘It’s been proven to increase plant productivity by recovering product, improving overall equipment efficiency, reducing cleaning time by as much as 50 per cent, reducing effluence and cold feet into the waste treatment plant, and preserving the environment by using less water consumption and harsh cleaning chemicals.’

Before implementation, GEA experts will conduct a site inspection to analyse production and what principle needs will be required to increase this effectively with the Eco-Icepush. Once recommendations are made and accepted, a five year running of service contract can be signed, including a one month period of trials and continuous ‘performance criteria’ analysed and improved.

Founded in 1881, GEA is a global engineering company with operations in more than 50 countries and a 2012 revenue of €5.7 billion. The Group is made up of six divisions, including food solutions, farming, heat exchangers, refrigeration, mechanical equipment and process engineering, which designs and implements food and beverage processing plants. All the divisions are represented throughout Africa.

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Image caption: Steffen Rathmann, worldwide sales director for GEA Process Engineering, juice and beverage industry