Miniature-scale processing for research and product development

1st April 2013

In the food and beverage industry, most research and development work is carried out in the laboratory. However, when it comes to producing test quantities and samples of new products, many manufacturers rely on production equipment - resulting in considerable downtime on the production floor. Not only does this hold significant cost implications, but product developers are restricted in terms of the number of trials they can run, and therefore how well they are able to optimise products and production processes.

Other manufacturers opt for pilot-plant equipment in order to avoid interrupting production schedules. However, the cost of maintaining a pilot-plant facility can prove prohibitive; the equipment can be very expensive, and its size often necessitates a large facility and additional staff to assist in its operation.

An alternative approach is to use miniature-scale equipment, with the ability to replicate production processes, for scale up directly from the laboratory to production plant.

Miniature-scale processing has steadily grown in popularity, and a wide range of associated equipment is now available. Many manufacturers consider it a more cost-effective option; not only delivering significant savings on the equipment itself, but also requiring minimal quantities of product and enabling fast turnaround on trials. As a result, many manufacturers also benefit from the creative freedom that these systems afford product developers.

Miniature-scale equipment manufacturer Armfield are the most established in this field, offering a comprehensive selection of laboratory systems suitable for research and development applications including ingredients, beverages, liquid foods, dairy products, edible oils and pharmaceuticals.

According to Armfield's Managing Director, Chris Addis, a number of specific considerations are made in the design of miniature-scale systems, such as "the need for greater versatility, and accuracy in data logging, to enable developers to experiment with various formulations and processing methods and remain confident that results can be used for scale-up to production equipment."

To validate the effectiveness of laboratory systems, Mr Addis explains that "all properties of a product must remain consistent, with no significant difference between samples taken from production and miniature-scale equipment. Our modern systems facilitate laboratory trials that are repeatable and replicate all characteristics of a product - including taste, texture, colour, composition and shelf-life."

In an industry and economy where innovation and efficiency are critical to success, it would be no surprise to see many more product developers 'scale-down' to miniature-scale processing for research and product development.

- Armfield Limited is based in Ringwood, Hampshire, UK.





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