A reliable plant starts with reliable partners

Todd Hutchinson, Philadelphia Mixing Solutions

Plant operators face an increasingly global supply chain with shorter delivery timelines, tighter product specifications and other downward pressures at a time when production costs are rising across the board. To counteract those pressures, plant managers must recognize industry trends and act fast to capitalize.

When talking about industrial mixing solutions, a decision to purchase a specific product often boils down to three things: form, function and reliability. A mixer’s job, ultimately, is to operate as designed while increasing output and reducing costs.

If only it were that simple. Process optimization and reliability are paramount to engineers and plant operators responsible for a plant’s overall performance. These individuals are likely to buy a mixer based on the specifics of its design, its proven lifespan and its ability to meet output demands. Procurement specialists, however, must answer to the company’s bottom line. While recognizing the importance of function and reliability, they are more likely to make price a significant factor in mixing equipment decisions. This is especially true in public projects that go through a bidding process. The result, unfortunately, is often an investment in mixing technology that fails to meet either department’s long-term needs – even though both are working toward the same ultimate goal.

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Photo 1.

The New Middle Ground
In today’s complex market, compromise is no longer a requirement. Technology manufacturers can now tailor products and services to address the needs of the entire plant – a more holistic approach. The ultimate solution, then, is no longer a question of design over price or vice versa; it’s a matter of partnering with a technology and manufacturing vendor that provides cutting-edge design and engineering while measurably reducing the total cost of ownership. Such dynamics add another level of importance to the vendor selection process. To help ensure that your next mixing equipment purchase satisfies all key decision-makers, be sure that the vendor can answer the following questions.

  1. How will your mixers optimize my processes? All mixing solutions providers promise process optimization, but few can describe exactly how or to what degree. That is because they do not know the specificprocesses and product characteristics they are looking to improve. They are selling an off-the-shelf mixer tested under general conditions. For vendors to answer the optimization question truthfully they must:

    1. take the time to understand your processes and challenges early in the sales cycle,

    2. simulate your exact basins and/or vessels,

    3. test those exact conditions on a scalable, repeatable basis, and

    4. either select a mixer from the available product line that meets the requirements, or design a new one that will.

      Your mixing solutions partner should provide scale-down/scale-up test services that examine power and torque levels along with geometric ratios and impeller design. Without this testing capability, mixer providers are making promises based primarily on generalities and guesswork. This may enable them to appeal to the procurement team, but the investment is less likely to perform as expected on the plant floor. And that’s no way to build trust.

  2. What isn’t covered by your guarantee? Most mixing solutions providers offer some kind of guarantee; the danger, however, lies in the fine print, which exonerates the provider from failures based on variables in your unique processes. A mixing partner should back up all mechanical components of its mixers. If the partner has done the legwork to properly test and analyze your specific processes prior to recommending a mixer, the guarantee will be far more useful and reliable in your specific environment.

  3. What quality assurance standards do you meet? ISO 9000 is generally accepted as the quality standard for industrial mixers. When it comes to weighing costs against performance, however, both procurement departments and engineers/plant operators should expect more. Look for a mixing partner that not only complies with ISO 9000, but Nuclear Quality Assurance (NQA-1) standards as well. NQA-1 standards help maintain the safety of the U.S. nuclear industry by mandating the highest quality possible. If your partner’s mixers meet NQA-1 standards, you can be certain that you’re investing in reliable products and that those products have been through the most rigorous testing and assembly audits available. Your mixing partner should be able to provide traceable, quality data to verify compliance to all standards.

  4. How reliable are your mixers? Along with a mechanical component guarantee, any mixing partner should provide a reliability and performance guarantee based on the design’s operation in specific test environments, including product quality, product throughput, energy savings, elimination of unplanned downtime, and reduction of scheduled maintenance. Ideally, the vendor will have a plan in place to manage and maintain the mixer’s health throughout the equipment’s lifespan. That plan should include 24-hour on-call service with engineers who can answer questions and respond to emergencies, and a guarantee that in the event of an unexpected incident, you’ll be back in business within 24 to 72 hours.

  5. Can you repair and maintain all of my existing mixing equipment – even if it’s manufactured by another vendor? This question is especially relevant for procurement personnel who maintain vendor relationships. Those who work with multiple mixing vendors and local gear repair shops are left to deal with the hassle of multiple service contracts, turnaround times, and prices – the coordination of which wastes precious resources and can result in unplanned downtime, which devalues the investment in the technology. A mixing solutions partner should service all equipment brands with guaranteed turnaround time regardless of make or model. You can plan for predictive and preventative maintenance and respond quickly to unplanned interruption of your processes.

As the global market expands and becomes more complex, manufacturers must focus on stabilizing output, improving efficiencies and maintaining profit margins – not on internal battles of procurement vs. engineering, sticker price vs. quality. By working with a mixing solutions provider that can design a solution specific to your needs and processes, companies can ensure that their mixing equipment meets the needs of both engineers/plant operators and procurement departments – and, most importantly, customers and shareholders.

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Photo 2.

About the author:
Todd Hutchinson has more than 21 years experience with Philadelphia Mixing Solutions focusing on the advancement of mixer process and design technology. He has a bachelors of science degree in mechanical engineering from Widener University in Chester, Pa., where he was president of the Tau Beta Phi engineering honors society. He currently has three engineering patents pending. He can be reached at 717-832-2800. For additional information on mixing solutions, visit www.philamixers.com.

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