The GEA Test Center in Copenhagen, gives customers the opportunity of assessing the viability and practicalities of drying food ingredients, starches and proteins, before investing in high-value capital equipment. It allows manufacturers to shorten development cycles, optimize recipes and processes, and ensure product quality.
The capital expense involved in building a drying plant for food ingredients, starch or proteins is considerable. When choosing equipment, and refining recipes and processes, there is little room for error. Each product and each application is different, and to be effective in a highly competitive market, plants must be optimized to achieve the necessary powder characteristics and productivity, right from the start.
One way to achieve this is by testing the product under real-life drying conditions before investing. That’s where the GEA Test Center in Copenhagen can help customers to ensure that processes are perfected and proven long before a plant is built.
Invest with confidence
The GEA Test Center in Copenhagen is by far the largest of its kind in the world and so provides the greatest range of equipment and process flexibility to meet every customer’s needs. As well as having around 35 pieces of process plant plus a long list of equipment and full laboratory facilities, and having performed more than 10,000 tests, it employs over 25 technicians all with specific drying expertise and many years of experience in conducting process tests on behalf of customers. It is a unique resource greatly valued by GEA customers as providing the means to conduct feasibility studies, pilot tests and laboratory analysis to achieve the required quality standards and powder characteristics, and provide confidence that the plant will have a safe, productive and repeatable process, before investing in full-scale equipment.
Thomas Willum Jensen is Head of Product Development at the Copenhagen Test Center. He said that the facility is important, not just for developing new products but also for building trusting relationships between GEA and its customers. “The Test Center helps our sales engineers to develop partnership relationships with customers by giving them confidence in our company and our staff,” he explained. “By working with them to develop new products or change the specifications of existing ones, we become an integral part of their product development team.”
The first step in assessing any drying technology is to conduct a feasibility study using a small sample or a solution, slurry, paste, filter cake or powder. This will establish whether a product can be dried or agglomerated and whether the specific powder particle characteristics can be achieved. This leads on to a draft proposal for an industrial production process.
Pilot tests are used to obtain the basic design data needed for drying a new or existing product and/or optimizing production processes. GEA offers an unparalleled range of test plants, covering all major drying techniques, including single and multi-stage dryers, flash and ring dryers and an extensive range of upstream and downstream processes such as evaporation, heat treatment, homogenization and separation all supplied from within the GEA Group. Plants vary in size from desktop dryers that produce R&D samples, through to full-scale continuous production installations.
The GEA Analytics Laboratory is staffed by experienced, qualified personnel and has the equipment necessary to investigate product characteristics such as total solids content, viscosity, particle size distribution, particle composition and shape, and moisture content. The laboratory can also appraise droplet formation, pumpability, solubility and expected behavior during the drying process. These evaluations form the basis for recommending an appropriate atomization method, the maximum solids content in the feed, and other process-related data.
Ensuring powder quality
Henrik Stillhoff Nielsen is a process technologist at GEA, working within the food ingredients department. He said that it’s possible to take a product right through from the initial feasibility to final powder product, ensuring that the desired characteristics are achieved. “The whole testing process will be completed in a matter of days,” he explained. “During that time, we work with our customers at the Test Center to determine whether their desired powder particle characteristics are possible to achieve. We can also demonstrate how it will perform when in use in terms of flowability, density and solubility. Once testing is complete, we can provide the customer with some guarantees in terms of powder quality, capacity and run time cleaning frequency.”
Throughout the whole process customer confidentiality is maintained. “Test results are always kept confidential between GEA and the customer,” said Henrik. “Although we use our experience to help our customers, we never assume that historic test results will be identical to a test with a similar product. Even small differences in feed material can require a significantly different approach to achieve an optimum process. Every test is unique.”
People make the difference
Which is why the experience and attention to detail of the staff at the Test Center are so critical. “We know we have the best and most extensive range of technology in the world, but that’s not enough in itself,” said Thomas. “The tests are all different, and our customers are usually trying to create something unique, so there will always be challenges and we have to be prepared for anything. That’s why all our staff, test engineers, laboratory technicians and maintenance personnel, must be highly skilled with extensive training and many years of experience. They need to have the knowledge and confidence to try something new and to push the boundaries of what is possible. They know that they cannot always help our customers develop new and innovative products by doing what they have always done: they need to use their know-how to help create something special.”
In addition to starch, protein and food ingredients, the drying test center in Copenhagen is used for a wide range of dairy, chemical and pharma applications. Spray drying can also be tested at GEA facilities in Columbia, USA. If you would like to know more about GEA Test facilities, and how we can help you to refine your processes and develop new products, just talk to your GEA sales engineer.