Fast filling speeds and gentle handling for powder, especially delicate products such as infant formula, have not always gone together, but for the new PLF Virtus™ linear vacuum filler exactly that has been achieved. The Virtus fills at triple the speed of previous machines, while saving 30% of cleaning time as a result of a more compact and efficient solution that keeps downtime to a minimum and helps customers reduce their footprint.
Here, Amedeo Scapin, JBT’s DF&H Global Director for Packaging, Automation & Filling, explains how the Virtus project came about and details the significant benefits it offers for customers.
The story of the Virtus really began when one of our largest customers approached us looking for a powder filler that could exceed the capabilities of fillers currently available on the market: that was extremely hygienic with zero risk of foreign body contamination and would increase significantly the speed per filler nozzle. It was also crucial that the filler would deliver a major reduction in the cleaning time and have a best-in-class Total Cost of Ownership.
Up to that time, the powder fillers available on the market from PLF could achieve certain high speeds, but all came with the caveat of requiring downtime so that every single filling nozzle could be cleaned and refitted.
Taking the request on board and looking at how we could improve existing powder fillers, we spent almost two years in development, and the result was the new PLF Virtus in-line filler with patent pending Virtus vacuum filling nozzle, which delivers up to three times more throughput than our previous nozzle design. Reducing the number of filling heads – from 12 or 15 to only four or six – means cleaning and changing time can be reduced by at least 30%.
Gentle handling at speed
A second key advantage is the footprint. With the Virtus, far less space is utilized for the same level of output. An additional benefit is the modularity: the Virtus exists as a single filler that gives an output of around 30 CPMs (Cans Per Minute). You can add it to a line and through the modularity extend it up to six filler nozzles combined in line, meaning you reach 180 CPMs. To achieve that speed in the past, we would likely have required 20 filler heads. But while it may be fast, gentle handling is central to the entire Virtus design concept, meaning any risk of powder breakdown is avoided.
Other, competitor fillers have typically used a screw mechanism / Auger filling to squash powder into a container; a process that is not only potential damaging to the powder, but also carries a tremendous risk of unwanted, metal shavings dropping into the container. The Virtus, by contrast, has zero risk of any metal contamination.
The topic of gentle handling is especially important in the infant formula market due to this – and other powders – having certain, special characteristics in their granularity: if you start breaking down the granularity, then the characteristics may change or have an influence on the actual benefits of the product. Ensuring gentle handling is a huge advantage for companies concerned with brand image and quality, and it is one of the key advantages of vacuum filling.
Then there is the problem of giveaway. Typically, competitor fillers have a giveaway of 0.5%, which is lot of money on an annual basis. In contrast, the Virtus giveaway is as low as 0.15% or better, and JBT is aiming to reduce it further.
And of course, the Total Cost of Ownership drops significantly because we don’t have moving parts, so operating, maintenance and energy costs are significantly lower than with earlier models. If you look at other machines capable of doing the same speeds, they would be two-three times the size. In contrast the Virtus is more compact, and it is also far more hygienic in terms of product handling with very few wear and tear problems.
The Virtus will be offered with built-in JBT iOPS capability, which analyzes equipment and process performance in real time. Through digitization and adaptive automation, our Customer Care team provides a connected experience and online interaction comprised in a service agreement. This tailored service program will help your team to maintain continuous the efficiency and effective usage of the Virtus powder filler at a high-level.