Consumers love variety and are demanding an increasing level of diversity and quality when it comes to beverages of all kinds, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic ones. To meet those needs, manufacturers must be able to handle a wide variety of liquid and powder ingredients, which can be quite complex in their texture and reaction – from highly viscous or soluble to temperature-sensitive and even flammable.

In late 2017, GEA set up its own center of excellence for the liquid and powder blends beverage sector to better support customers in this increasingly complex industry. The expert group brings to bear all of GEA’s knowledge in processing non-standardized blends and experience gained by serving customers of major beverage brands as well as additive manufacturers in the fruit preparation, ingredients, flavors and colors, extracts and sweeteners industries. 

Liquid and powder blends are the basis for the drinks found on the supermarket shelves in this industry. The materials processed have very different characteristics including ingredients that are extremely difficult to handle – in some cases explosive or corrosive – reacting to the slightest variation in temperature. For example, many of today’s soft drinks are made with minimal amounts of ethanol. At the can or bottle level, the ethanol is a non-issue, however, stored in large quantities, as it is in manufacturing plants, ethanol is flammable given its vapours can form ignitable and explosive mixtures with air at normal room temperatures. Application-specific equipment (pumps, valves, mixers, etc.) is therefore required to facilitate its safe movement through the plant.

Another difficult ingredient to handle, but for very different reasons, is honey. Viscous and extremely sticky, when processed for use in beverages, it might have to travel through 200 metres of piping, with minimum losses and then the system cleaned hygienically. Powders must also be handled carefully to mitigate dust emission, which is a critical factor in production. Why? Because while a powder may be perfectly safe for consumption as part of a beverage, it is not healthy for production employees to breathe them in, or in some cases for it to come in contact with their skin. Powder in dust form can also be explosive, and therefore requires special design solutions and systems to ensure plant safety. Raw materials are also very valuable, so processing errors and wastage are not acceptable.

Customers first

GEA has so many special solutions - we cannot expect customers to be able to use the kaleidoscope of technologies themselves and to comply with all standards and regulations. 

My team combines this expertise from ingredient intake through to final packaging and offers the customer the complete turnkey solution from a single source,“ says Jason Naylor, who leads the GEA development team in the liquid and powder blends discipline for non-standardized blends. “We can draw on a very broad cross-application knowledge base and that’s the real GEA magic. Our know-how covers every aspect of beverage processing from powder handling, liquid processing and filling and packaging, to name a few,” states Naylor.

Working with GEA’s global sales network, the expert group communicates directly with customers to detail the project requirements, which means starting with the customer’s vision, listening and asking the right questions. In the next step, GEA’s global design expertise is brought to bear to provide the correct solution. As part of this process, the expert group works closely with GEA R&D and test centers to provide feedback on industry requirements, which allows them to develop new innovations and establish more contacts and technology partners in the market for customer projects.

GEA test centers put customers in the driving seat

To date, GEA has non-alcoholic beverage test centers in 10 locations, each with its own focus and capabilities, covering anything from feasibility studies, trials and product investigations and analysis to mechanical stability testing:

  • Ahaus, Germany
  • Oelde, Germany
  • Karlsruhe, Germany
  • Soeborg, Denmark
  • Hamilton, New Zealand
  • Columbia, US
  • Hudson, US
  • Sakura, Japan
  • Parma, Italy
  • s’Hertogenbosch, Netherlands

GEA solutions also allow customers to control every vital stage of the manufacturing process, from dissolution and dispersion rates to blend accuracies or efficient heat treatment. Online and offline process optimization can be carried out using a variety of tools and techniques, put plant operators and managers fully in the driver’s seat. And when needed, we can provide training at a customer's own facility or at one of our many offices worldwide. The goal: make customers GEA equipment experts.

Same same, but different, please

Ensuring and safeguarding the perfect blend

Customers, particularly global manufacturers, often require some level of standardization, but at the same time, some degree of customization. “Whether the required scope is standardized or bespoke, the base philosophy is the same. 

Of course, we design processing plants to be application-specific, but within the customer's production network, the goal is to create repeatability and scalability. 

By standardizing designs for processes and plants, we enable the customer to build the basis for a global roll-out of the technology and this means global investment savings will follow,” explains Naylor.

Using plant and production modeling, GEA is able to plan the entire production: recipes and ingredients, machinery, storage, filling, media supply, water and wastewater – basically, the entire supply chain active at the site. With these models, we can also visualize, determine quantities, coordinate trades and plan the operation. Because of this cross-discipline planning and modeling, errors in it can be corrected quickly and easily, thus improving the planning quality. This also allows for more prefabrication, thereby reducing costs, time of production and installation (i.e. lean construction). By eliminating many of the unknown factors, customers are able to make confident investment choices.

New trends in customer requirements

Two interdependent trends have emerged over the last few years. The first is the need for diverse and flexible equipment in this dynamic industry, given that production is becoming increasingly modular in order to respond to changes in demand. Customers need to minimize changeover times and enable rapid hygienic or aseptic cleaning. Second, sustainable thinking and corporate responsibility are taken very seriously and customers are extremely committed to their diverse stakeholders. This philosophy is viewed not only as good business but also critical to their survival. Therefore, equipment must meet the highest standards of safety and energy-efficiency.