The standards to be met by electrical machines and components in the food processing industry are far more stringent than those in traditional plant construction. For specialised production environments such as these, HELUKABEL supplies a broad range of control cables, power cables, cable glands, plug connectors and cable hoses. All components are resistant to chemical, thermal and physical stresses. The cable specialists have now been awarded Ecolab certification for two of its standard sheath materials.
Health and safety might only be the second most important aspect of food products for consumers in Germany, yet after flavour, food quality plays a major role. When it comes to ensuring food safety and avoiding potential food scandals, great importance is therefore attached to plants and machinery. The VDMA estimates the proportion of cleaning in the food industry at between 20 and 30 percent.
To avoid any germs or corrosion forming in what is a very sensitive environment, applications for food technology are subject to strict hygienic and antiseptic guidelines. For such applications, more and more component manufacturers in the field of motor engineering are developing sensory systems, or, as in our case of electric cables, so-called wash-down products. These constructions are designed not to become soiled in the first place and thus prevent the build-up of germs. They focus on the use of smooth surfaces, the avoidance of dead space and the use of stainless steel construction materials and special coatings. The plants and their numerous components and systems must not only be easy to keep clean but they must also be resistant to the cleaning agents used. To equip itself for the future, HELUKABEL has had its products tested by Ecolab. It can thus be demonstrated that the cable specialists are capable of providing a comprehensive service to the wash-down market.
Direct or indirect contact decides the standard
In hygienically complex areas such as the food or pharmaceuticals industries, a distinction is drawn between components that are in direct contact with foodstuffs and those that are positioned in the vicinity of machinery. The former are subject to even more stringent guidelines than those that do not come into contact with food and are required to satisfy additional standards, such as those of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The latter employs the process of high-pressure cleaning with water and appropriate chemicals. Entire plants are then subjected to regular 'full-body' cleaning. This process consists of a full spray down of the entire industrial plants, to remove any bacteria or other microorganisms that may be forming during the production stage. These automated cleaning processes are referred to as clean-in-place (CIP) or steam-in-place (SIP) operations, as the case may be. To ensure that even the smallest surfaces are subjected to cleaning, the plants and machinery must be accessible in all areas. The components must also be quickly and easily removable.
PUR blend withstands Ecolab testing
Since 1923, Ecolab has been setting the industrial standard for professional cleaning and disinfection. The company offers all-inclusive hygiene solutions for the industry, the institutional market and the health sector. The material resistance test it has conducted was configured for the material used in the outer cable insulation. "We use a special PUR mixture that can be employed with all of our cables and wires," says Thomas Pikkemaat, product manager for drive technology at HELUKABEL GmbH in Windsbach.
The test was performed with various different cleaning and disinfecting agents for the food and beverage industry: an alkaline cleaner and disinfectant with active chlorine (P3-topax 66), an acidic foam cleaning agent (P3-topax 52), an alkaline, chlorine-free foam cleaner (P3-topactive 200) and an acidic foam disinfectant with a peroxyacid basis (P3-topactive Okto) plus demineralised water as a zero value. A cable with PUR outer insulation was submerged in each test medium for 28 days at constant room temperature. A visual test was then conducted to detect any swelling, cracks, colour changes or changes to the surface characteristics or dimensions.
The tests were conducted at HELUKABEL in accordance with Ecolab specifications. A prescribed cleaning plan exists for food-processing plants, setting out precisely what the procedure comprises, from pre-washing to foaming to rinsing. "Our insulation material successfully withstood the procedure. Not only that but it is of neutral colour and is approved for high-momentum drag chains," says the product manager.
FDA conformity without UL certification and vice versa
"For about the last one-and-a-half years, we have been noting an increased interest in FDA-compliant cables," says Pikkemaat, touching on a topic of considerable complexity. The FDA specifies that cables used in food production must be made of plastics that display particular characteristics. For instance, they must not contain any hazardous substances such as flame-retardants or other additives. This, however, goes against the requirements of UL product certification. The underlying FDA standard describes the admissible plastic materials for repeated or constant use in food applications. With FDA-compliant materials such as PP, UL certification is almost impossible, since the required fire characteristics of the cables are almost impossible to realise, if they are at all. By not incorporating additives such as flame-retardants, it is virtually impossible for PP materials, to pass fire tests conducted in accordance with UL specifications pursuant to UL94-V0. UL certification is in turn almost essential for bringing a product onto the American market. "This means we have to tell our customers that under the present conditions they must choose between UL certification or FDA compliance. It is for this reason that we have made on effort to obtain Ecolab certification, which we can now provide to end customers, to show that they can rely on the mechanical properties of our cables and wires being maintained when using standard cleaning and disinfectant agents," says Pikkemaat explaining the compromise.