Not a single drop wasted: Improving phase separation control to reduce product loss

Endress+Hauser Australia Pty Ltd

By Gustavo Queiroz, Food & Beverage Industry Manager, Endress+Hauser Australia
Wednesday, 23 September, 2020

Not a single drop wasted: Improving phase separation control to reduce product loss

Phase separation is an extremely important process in the Food & Beverage industry, being responsible for product losses and quality issues if not controlled well. But what is the best way to control it?

Let's start with the basics.

Why is phase separation so important?

At the end of each batch, it is possible that a significant amount of product remains in tanks, pipes and other equipment. By flushing the process with water, product can be recovered to storage tanks prior to cleaning to ensure not only the efficiency of the Cleaning in Place (CIP) process — by reducing the amount chemicals used — but also to reduce the organic load sent to the wastewater treatment plant.

Likewise, at the start of a new batch it is likely that some water remains and, in this case, product is needed to be pushed through until completely drained.

This is a critical process as a delay or incorrect valve switching can lead to product losses, increased water consumption and even affect product quality if water is pumped to storage tanks.

There are several ways of controlling product recovery and water drainage. The simplest and most common being used across the industry are either manual or time-based methods.

The manual method

Involves operators manually controlling a valve or providing instructions to the control room based on what they see through the sight glass installed in the pipes.

Although functional, this is an ineffective and often inaccurate way of control since the ‘setpoint’ to operate the valves varies from operator to operator. The method is also subject to failures if something happens during the visual inspection.

“Considering a flow of 30 m³/h, a deviation of only 3 seconds per day during the product recovery step can represent a product loss of 9125 litres/year. Interesting right? Now imagine if you have more than one line and assume the time delay being approximately 3 seconds and multiply it by the cost of your product. In some cases, the loss can go up to 500 thousand dollars per year,” said Scott Allen, Senior External Sales Engineer from Endress+Hauser.

The time-based method

The time-based method is another approach commonly used across the industry to control phase separation.

In this case, the time needed to completely flush the lines to drain or storage tanks is determined during the plant commissioning and used as a control parameter in the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC).

However, the time-based approach is not reliable in the long term since it relies on several mechanical components such as valves and pumps to be operating in spec. As components inevitably decline during their lifespan, this ultimately affects the effectiveness and accuracy of the process control.

This leads to both major product loss and an increase in the resources used for waste treatment. These will accumulate until someone recalculates the timing and updates the PLC code.

But wait, is there a better way to have a proper control of the phase separation?

Yes, there are several approaches available to solve this problem in a reliable and consistent way, let’s explore some of them:

The volume method

The volume method of controlling product recovery involves using a flow meter to totalise the volume of product or water needed to flush the line. This is an effective approach if the product properties don’t change and isn’t impacted by changes in the mechanical characteristics of pumps and valves.

Nevertheless, the setup of a volume control can be extremely time consuming, especially if the process dimensions and product characteristics varies (eg, the volume of water used to push a product with high viscosity will be different than the volume used to push a product with lower viscosity).

The conductivity method

The conductivity method is often used as a resource to check for the presence and concentration of chemicals during CIP processes but it can also be used as a tool to identify water vs product if there’s a significant difference in conductivity between them.

Some examples are applications involving the separation of water and organic components — such as alcohol, oil or fat. Due to non-existent or very low conductivity observed in organic components, it’s possible to have an accurate and reliable monitoring with a very simple installation.

Additionally, positioning conductivity sensors at the inlet of filling machines brings an added benefit of reduced risk of chemical bottling which improves production efficiency and product safety.

The colour/turbidity method

The colour/turbidity method can be used in cases where the conductivity between the water and the product isn’t significantly different or, in applications where fast response time is required. In these situations, the use of optical sensors is the most reliable solution.

Based on the colour or turbidity variance it’s possible to identify not only different products but also gradient (mixing volume between product and water) to use as a parameter for process control, reducing product loss and ensuring process reliability.

The main advantage of using dedicated sensors is the possibility to install them in strategic points — eg, close to drains and valves — to optimise the phase separation control, ensuring the best efficiency in product recovery and less waste generation.

Picking the right method for your process

If like many companies in the food and beverage industry you are still using manual methods for managing phase separation, it is time to evaluate the options.

The first step is to select the method best suited to your process.

For expert advice on optimising your process control, call Endress+Hauser at 1300 535 707 or email

Further information is available here.

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