Choosing the right industrial PC in the food sector

January 13, 2017 // By Andrew Byrne
Around 65 million new computers were shipped worldwide in the first quarter of 2016, that's over 700k a day. With so many new products now available on the market, choosing equipment that is fit for purpose can be overwhelming. One of the biggest challenges facing buyers of industrial equipment in the food sector is contamination, with many high profile cases in recent years highlighting the importance of choosing the right equipment for food environments.

For example, in February 2016, confectionary giant Mars announced a recall of many of its chocolate bar products. The recall affected 55 countries and came after a customer discovered a piece of plastic in his Snickers chocolate bar, which was later found to have come from a protective cover used in the manufacturing process.

In total, there were 1,514 cases of contamination in the UK food industry in 2015, according to the Annual Report of Incidents published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The worst affected food sectors include meat, poultry, fruit and vegetables, dairy and bakery. Most contamination incidents originated from biological sources, industrial contaminants and allergens. However, 78 of these incidents were directly caused by contamination from foreign bodies, including industrial equipment made of plastic, metal and glass.


Fit for purpose

The pressure on plant managers to cut costs and drive efficiency means that commercial-grade computers are often chosen for use in food applications that firmly require industrial computers designed specifically for the challenges of the sector. The problem is that commercial-grade computers are designed for dry, office, environments where they will typically run for under ten hours a day and use forced convection to cool the machine through built-in vents if it gets hot.

In comparison, industrial plants — whether they are processing and packaging raw meat or washing fruit and vegetables — are wet, temperature-controlled, continuous production environments where industrial computers can be expected to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Add to this the fact that equipment in many food applications like abattoirs, fish and poultry packaging, needs to be washed-down with high-pressure washers to prevent the build-up of organic matter on surfaces, choosing a computer with a sufficient level of ingress protection and one that is made of rustproof and easy to clean materials is vital.


What to consider

When choosing the right industrial PC for food environments, engineers, buyers and business leaders should consider equipment that adheres to good manufacturing practice (GMP) guidelines. A recent World Health Organisation report explains that, "the layout and design of equipment must aim to minimise the risk of errors and permit effective cleaning and maintenance in order to avoid cross-contamination, build-up of dust or dirt and, in general, any adverse effect on the quality of products".