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BLENDING

Current industry trends are favoring shorter cycle times and smaller lot sizes to meet customer demand and keep inventories low. E-commerce and other market changes have allowed customers be more selective and have instilled the concept of "instant" availability for almost everything. The result is ever-increasing pressure on manufacturing facilities to increase flexibility and become more efficient.

Plants which were designed to produce large quantities of a few items and are now being asked to produce very small quantities of hundreds of items. In many cases this presents very real problems; such as increased changeover frequency and downtime, increased product waste, cross contamination, and extended working hours, to mention a few. Modification of the physical plant and batching systems may be the only way to reconcile this growing gap between changes demand and required manufacturing capability.

As part of a conceptual study, or as a stand-alone project, we can help you specify the blending system that best meets your needs. Depending on the products to be blended, the number of blending components, the size of each batch and the time available to complete each batch, the type of blending system needed can vary widely. Our approach is to "right-size" the system for the application.

The process normally begins with a review of the products to be made, followed by an in-depth analysis of formulations (or recipes), to determine how each product should be made. The relative concentration of each blending component in each formulation is considered and a blending system is developed to accommodate them all. During this process, we keep a number of parameters in mind including the chemical or physical compatibility of blending components with each other, the physical limitations of the operator (his ability to lift heavy hoses, dump 50-pound bags of dry ingredients, etc.), the potential toxicity of the blending components and issues of batch-to-batch cross-contamination. We are familiar with all of the blending solutions available commercially and the advantages offered by each. For most applications, the best answer lies in a combination of two or more blending approaches.

The following are brief descriptions of some of the more common blending methods we can employ.

Conventional Kettle Blending: A manual operation where all components are weighed or metered into the mixing vessel for blending. Heating is typically done with steam or hot oil and mixing is achieved using a mechanical electric-powered agitator or Pulsair system. Finished blends are normally transferred from the mixing vessel to finished product tanks, but sometimes the product is filled or packaged directly from the kettle.

Conventional Pipeline Blending or Tank Blending: This method uses "set/stop" meters to introduce bulk liquid components into a pipeline or header. That, in turn, is piped to a finished product storage tank. Typically, the meters are manually operated and the components are mixed in the finished product tank. Heating may be achieved using tank coils, suction heaters, or external heat exchangers. Agitation methods include simple air blowing, mechanical mixers, pump circulation (with eductors), or Pulsair devices.

Automated Batch Blending (ABB): An ABB is kettle-type blending system that incorporates automated delivery of some or all blending components to the blend. The kettle is typically made from polished carbon steel or stainless steel to promote good drainage. It is equipped with clean-in-place systems to permit automated rinsing of the mixing kettle after every batch. Typically the rinsing is done with a portion of the base component in the product’s formulation, thus avoiding the generation of "flush or slop" which would require additional handling, testing and/or external disposal. Measurement of blending components might be accomplished through the use of Positive Displacement Meters, Coriolis Mass Flow Meters, or by mounting the mixing kettle on Load Cells. Each type of measurement system dictates a different set of physical requirements for the system, but all can deliver comparable accuracy when properly engineered. Mixing is achieved using a high-speed agitator in the kettle, and the batch is transferred to a finished product storage tank for final homogenization, and filling/packaging operations.

The ABB control system monitors and controls all aspects of the blending operation, stores and maintains all product formulations and respective blending recipes, and provides graphic interface at the operator's control console. The control system can also perform automated pigging control and higher plant-level functions; such as bulk inventories, laboratory data handling, interfaces to scheduling and customer service.

In-Line Blending (ILB): An ILB is a pipeline blending system using computer-controlled valves and meters to introduce blend components into a line or header in a proportional manner. Typically, there are enough meter/valve combinations that each blend component can be metered separately. For example, if a product has three components in a formulation (by volume) of 10%A, 40%B and 50%C, then their respective meter/valve systems would be set to deliver flow rates of 10%, 40% and 50% proportionally into the mixing line or header. This type of blender is capable of delivering homogeneous, on-test product directly to a finished product tank with no requirement for additional mixing. Flow rates are limited by line size, the capacity of the blend component pumps feeding the blender, and (because blending is proportional), by the rate of the slowest component stream.  Heat Exchanger
ILB with Heat Exchanger

The ILB control system monitors and controls all aspects of the blending operation, stores and maintains all product formulations and respective blending recipes, and provides graphic interface at the operator's control console. The control system can also perform automated pigging control and higher plant-level functions; such as bulk inventories, laboratory data handling, and interfaces to scheduling and customer service.

In many cases, blends must be made at elevated temperatures to ensure proper mixing. When this is the case, a heat exchanger can be added to the skid unit in the blend header between the base oil inlets and the additive inlets. A typical exchanger would be sized to increase the base oil temperature by about 70F(22C) before introduction of the additive streams.

Our control system features non-proprietary programming using commercially-available software, so after installation the program can be easily altered by the client to add new inputs and outputs, change sequences, change functionality, etc. Our data bases and formulation tables are spreadsheet-based, so they can be maintained by anyone familiar with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

Simultaneous Metering Blending (SMB): An SMB system is similar to in-line blending which uses a number of meter/valve subsystems to deliver raw materials into a mixing line or header. This blending method uses a "sandwich" blending approach introducing a base component into the line first, followed by a mixture of base component and additives, then finishing with the balance of the base component(s). All components are transferred directly to the finished product tank where homogenization takes place. Blending rates are limited only by line sizes and the capacity of the pumps feeding blending components the blender.
SMB
SMB on Truck

The main difference between an SMB and an ILB, is the ILB must blend proportionally and its rate is controlled by that of its slowest component. An SMB blends simultaneously with all components being added at the their maximum rates for varying lengths of time. An SMB is therefore more adaptable to product-slate and/or formulation changes; this is because the blend component pumps are not sized to fit specific flow ranges.

The SMB control system monitors and controls all aspects of the blending operation, stores and maintains all product formulations and respective blending recipes, and provides graphic interface at the operator's control console. The control system can also perform automated pigging control and higher plant-level functions, such as bulk inventories, laboratory data handling, and interfaces to scheduling and customer service.

Heat Exchanger
Heat Exchanger on Skid
In many cases, blends must be made at elevated temperatures to ensure proper mixing. When this is the case, a heat exchanger can be added to the skid unit in the blend header between the base oil inlets and the additive inlets. A typical exchanger would be sized to increase the base oil temperature by about 70F(22C) before introduction of the additive streams.

Our control system features non-proprietary programming using commercially-available software, so after installation the program can be easily altered by the client to add new inputs and outputs, change sequences, change functionality, etc. Our data bases and formulation tables are spreadsheet-based, so they can be maintained by anyone familiar with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

   
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