Denver, NC, September 2020: How would you describe (or spell) the onomatopoeia that comes with the rush of air from opening a vacuum-sealed product? Is it a THOCK? Or a FUUUSH? Whatever it is, it’s a sound that tells you the product, especially if it’s food, is fresher than it would otherwise be without having been vacuum sealed. Vacuum sealing or packing is a way to keep items fresher by removing all of the air from the interior contents and sealing it with an airtight closure before storing or shipping it, extending its shelf life or making it more compact (or both).
The principle being that the rate of aerobic growth of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms you don’t want in your food is dramatically slowed if even halted with the absence of the oxygen it needs to grow and reproduce. No air = no life, one of the main reasons there are no cows on the moon.
That’s why vacuum sealing and packing is a critical part of the manufacturing process – if a vacuum pump is not immediately operable exactly when it needs to be, product can be lost to waste while production schedules lag behind. It’s a double loss. That’s why food processes managers need to consider their options when selecting a vacuum pump for their operations.
Point-of-use lubricated vane vacuum pumps are commonly found in food packaging applications today. In situations where deep vacuum levels with high flow rates are needed, it is common to also find point-of-use vacuum boosters, usually supplied by packing equipment OEMs. These solutions are a good start, but really most useful when applied to a single line or machine operation.
However, locally located vacuum pumps can become less desirable as operations grow, leading many to consider a centralized system, which requires different equipment and technologies. Like any system overhaul, it is important to first review current operations and usage/demands. This is where a good site audit comes in handy. As with any change, there are some choices to make. Here are some pros and cons to ponder when considering upgrading to a centralized vacuum system versus localized vacuum operations:
Localized – Pro: localized operations can be more flexible, and there is some familiarity/redundancies with maintenance, costs, and mobility. Con: maintenance of multiple pumps; inefficiencies with multiple pumps performing the same functions; production lines being shut down for repairs; noise and oil in the production area, increasing the potential for product contamination.
Centralized System – Pro: can achieve necessary redundancies while using fewer but larger-sized pumps; maintenance is reduced to fewer contact points; quieter; ability to incorporate newer technologies, greater efficiencies (boosters and sequencing controls), and reduced power demands with VSD (some central vacuum operations can reduce power draws by as much as 50 percent). Con: installation of a central piping system; single, more powerful pumps, while more efficient from an operations standpoint (depending on audit results), can be more costly to replace.
While home canning and Mason jars were popular long before the glassware became kitschy cups, canning creates a hermetic seal – air tight, but certainly not vacuum packed, which removes all of the interior oxygen before sealing. Vacuum packing was introduced in the 1940s and grew to wider distributions in the 1960s, thanks to a German man, Dr.-Ing Karl Busch, and his wife, Ayhan, who invented the commercial vacuum sealer in 1963.
Technology has certainly advanced vacuum pump operations since then, and they will continue to evolve, helping to reduce costs and increase production.