Automated cleaning – avoid trying to fit a square peg in a round hole

October 2020

September 2019

Automation helps reduce random outcomes

It is becoming more common in the industry now to automate the cleaning process of certain pieces of equipment in order to gain repeatable, reproducible cleaning and sanitation outcomes. This is especially true for items of machinery that are considered high-hygiene risks or CCP’s in a process – where irregular or inconsistent cleaning procedures could lead to a build up of residue or microbes that could contaminate the product.

The thinking behind this is that if the rinsing, cleaning detergent and sanitiser application functions can be automated to always give the same pressure, temperature, concentration, dwell time and sequence every time that a cleaning cycle takes place, then it will eliminate the “randomness” of these functions being carried out by a human, who could slightly vary these steps, or even miss some out each time the cleaning cycle occurs. This is a good principle and makes cleaning and sanitising steps easier to validate if they are controlled by a computer programme, as they will be consistent.

Of course, this method of operating has been used for many years with “true” Clean-In-Place situations such as when cleaning pipelines, vats, heat exchangers and similar. However, when it comes to more open-access type machinery such as filling equipment, automated de-boning or opening robots, complex conveyors etc, there are some important points to consider if you want your automated cleaning to perform optimally.


Be careful though – not all situations should be treated the same 

Take a bottle-filling unit for example. These are complex pieces of equipment with a lot of intricate moving parts and surfaces, and in the case of aseptic operations, it is critical that they are kept very clean as they are right at the interface where a hygiene compromise could occur if any product residue could build up and harbour micros. However, most of them are fitted with spray-balls or fixed nozzles with which to spray CIP solution when in automated cleaning mode.

These spray balls and nozzles are designed for use with very low-foam or non-foaming CIP type detergents, because these are what are used to clean most of the other processing equipment on site, and they can be controlled and measured routinely by the factory operating system, which helps with the whole automation/repeatability concept.


Why traditional CIP thinking doesn’t deliver the best outcome

The problem is filling units and the likes are not true CIP applications, where all internal surfaces are contacted multiple times by the solution in a controlled way for a pre-determined time and temperature, flow rate and chemical strength. They have a myriad of intricate parts that can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal and because the detergent used is low foaming, it has minimal contact time with all these surfaces before running off. This necessitates the need for longer cleaning cycles, which uses more chemical and water to try and get adequate chemical contact time to work properly.

So, is a better idea to use the higher foaming open-area type cleaners on this sort of equipment, in order to get a better dwell time? Not necessarily, as even if the CIP system for these equipment modules can inject compressed air into the detergent, the spray balls and nozzles are designed to apply solution at pressure so have a narrow orifice to suit, and this will usually kill any foaming action at that point. Even if they could foam properly, the resultant foam would take a long time to rinse out of the equipment.


A great solution from a perennial problem-solver

Enter our Tenax Ultra product. It is a heavy-duty alkaline cleaner with long-cling properties due to its action of greatly increasing in viscosity when diluted to a ready-to-use concentration. Thanks to this, it does not need compressed air injected to deliver a long dwell time on vertical and intricate equipment, and it also rinses easily once finished because this viscosity breaks down on further dilution.

We recently used this very successfully in an automated cleaning situation – cleaning of an aseptic filling chamber/equipment used for aseptic filling of milk products into PET bottles. Not only did it replace two products with one – an industry standard alkali and acid detergent – it saved significant cleaning time and most importantly, as reported by the operators – “did a far better cleaning job and left the equipment shinier and cleaner than they had ever seen it before”. The machine is over 10 years old and had been cleaned from the start with the common alkali and acid detergents used in these situations.

If this has got you thinking there is an application in your process that uses traditional CIP chemicals when it is not a traditional CIP situation, then fill in the form below to explore how to start getting better results.


Post by Glen Senior