The Whirlwind System, developed by Cheshire-based Aeolus Technologies, clears, cleans and dries the inside of pipes in factories using minimal water and no chemicals, and could deliver a payback in nine to 12 months, Aeolus business development manager Peter Chavasse told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
"The business case comes from reduced water and cleaning bills, reduced effluent charges, product recovery [product recovered from pipes can be used again] and reduced energy bills as you don't have to heat water to clean pipes anymore."
At the end of a production run, manufacturers typically flushed product left in pipes down the drain before using a conventional cleaning in place (CIP) system, which could use thousands of litres of water a year, said Chavasse.
In contrast, the Whirlwind system uses blowers that supply finely filtered pressurised air or gas into the pipes under the control of a PLC (programmable logic controller), recovering 60-80% of the product inside. A ‘whirlwind’ is then created in the airstream, removing most remaining food still stuck to pipe work.
Next a small amount of water or cleaning product is introduced into the airflow, completely clearing the pipes. Finally, heated air is introduced to dry the pipe work.
Ideal for beverages
The system, which is particularly well-suited for wines, whisky and spirits, soft drinks and juices, can clean pumps, valves, filters and heat exchangers used for both heating and cooling, claimed Chavasse.
"It can remove most things from toothpaste to dairy products. A whisky company is commissioning the system this week and a dairy manufacturer is about to start trials."
Aeolus was also in talks with all of the UK's leading dairy processors about the technology as part of an initiative with the Carbon Trust, he said.
The system, which is already used by Premier Foods and Princes, was invented almost a decade ago by Whirlwind Technologies, which went into liquidation last year, said Chavasse. However, all of the intellectual property, licensing and manufacturing rights have now been transferred to Aeolus Technologies.
The demise of Whirlwind Technologies was not a sign that the business case for the technology did not add up, however, said Chavasse.
"Clients have got a payback in less than 12 months. It was more a case of what can happen when an engineer and inventor is running a company rather than someone more commercially focused. And there was also a recession on. A lot of companies were interested but didn't have the budget.
"But it also needed marketing in the appropriate way. I think the environmental case also wasn't as much of an issue when the business started out compared with now."