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Continuous Flow Processing: Key Considerations & Implementation Tips

August 5, 2020

By David Ekstrom

Companies are always on the lookout for the right equipment and processes to provide consistent quality and maintain—or even improve—efficiency. When it comes to industrial high-shear blending, there are numerous options to consider when evaluating process and product fit. At the end of the day, you want a high-shear blending solution that makes the most sense for your operations and business.

Many companies have found added value in adopting a continuous mixing process with in-line mixers or colloid mills. These high-shear blending solutions are ideal for many applications, from cosmetics and personal care to food, pharmaceuticals, and chemical processing. It’s important to remember there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to a successful implementation, so proper planning and evaluation are crucial.

Continuous Mixing vs. Batch

In a continuous mixing environment, ingredients are constantly metered into the mixing chamber in a single pass, allowing the mixed product to continuously exit the mixer. The materials can be fed into the mixing chamber in the optimum sequence to ensure all materials are incorporated properly. In a batch process, materials are fed into the mixer, blended, and discharged from the mixer before a new batch can be processed.

Benefits of Continuous Mixing

Batch and continuous mixing operations have their own respective advantages. A batch operation typically involves a simpler system that provides you with strict control on your mix composition. However, batch mixing can only yield one product batch at a time and inevitably requires downtime between batches, so the volume of product generated is limited. While the operational and installation costs may be less than continuous mixers, batch mixers can be more labor-intensive.

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For companies seeking higher production rates or a solution for complex blending applications, continuous mixing is ideal. Here are some of the ways continuous mixers address the shortcomings of batch processing:

Consistent blending, mixing, or agitation performance – Continuous mixing uses metering pumps and feed tanks to control the flow rate into the mixing chamber, so the quality control is repeatable and consistent.

Higher production rate – Whereas a batch operation is limited to single batch cycles, continuous mixing can generate product day-in, day-out, with controlled residence time, making it ideal for high volume production.

Increased efficiency and reduced labor – With the proper operational controls and measuring instruments in place, continuous mixers can be self-monitored and self-automated, requiring fewer workers to oversee the process. They also require less power and are more compact than batch mixers, saving you money, space, and energy.

Sophisticated mixing system – A continuous flow process allows you to control variables like texture, temperature, and viscosity. In addition, continuous mixers use multiple high-shear mix action zones and blend at a high flow rate to reduce particulate size—often in a single pass. For those applications that may require more than one pass through the mixer, it is a simple matter to incorporate a recycle mode into the continuous system to address this requirement.

Wide-formulation blending capabilities – An in-line mixer or colloid mill can efficiently homogenize materials of highly diverse formulations and viscosity, resulting in a uniform finished product.

Tips for a Successful Implementation

You’ve done your research and determined the right solution for your application—so what are your next steps? Rather than rushing into getting the new continuous system set up and running, proper pre-planning with a team of experts can make the process go more smoothly. Here are four important factors to consider for a successful implementation:

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Gain an Understanding of the Application Process – Evaluate your current procedures and document them. Once you establish a clear, step-by-step methodology, you can review your current systems and work with an experienced team of experts to select and configure the proper equipment.

Determine Essential Equipment Needs – Once you obtain an understanding of your unique mixing needs, our professionals can help you determine which equipment will be best suited for your application. Our implementation team can also help you figure out what additional equipment is needed, such as metering pumps and feed tanks, to ensure your finished product stays true to your formulation.

Establish System Management & Oversight – A continuous flow process can tackle more complex applications than batch processes. However, since it’s a more sophisticated approach, it also requires proper oversight. Therefore, you should ensure your company has the capability to manage and oversee the control system and begin establishing who in your organization will fulfill these roles.

Be Willing to Conduct Multiple Trial Runs – Every implementation process presents obstacles, and testing is crucial to overcoming these issues. We can perform testing at our facility, and we also offer a trial purchase program where the equipment is sent to your facility for in-house testing on a trial-to-purchase basis.

Working with knowledgeable, experienced professionals willing to go the extra mile to ensure your equipment meets your mixing needs can help take the pressure off of your organization and get your facility up and running with minimal downtime. Contact us today to see how EnSight Solutions can help.

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