Brewing Up

Many of us enjoy the occasional glass of beer or two, and sealing solutions are vital in the effective and safe delivery of your favorite tipple to the pump, can or bottle.

-By Donna Guinivan

BEER HAS THE STATUS OF BEING THE THIRD MOST POPULAR DRINK IN THE WORLD after water and tea! The origin of beer dates to the early Neolithic period and the global beer market is projected to reach 685,354 USD million by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 1.8% from 2019 to 2025.

In 2016, according to Japanese beverage producer Kirin, global beer production was around 19 million Hectoliters. China was the largest beer producing country and at 41 million Hektoliters its output was virtually double that of the United States in second place; it produced 22 million hectoliters. 2 However, no one compares to the Czechs in terms of consumption per person. A study showed that in 2017, the average Czech drank 137.38 liters of beer a year.

Step-By-Step To The Perfect Beer

Step-By-Step To The Perfect Beer

Thousands of seals are used in breweries

To fill this demand, there are over 19,000 breweries worldwide. 4 And in each of them, from the brew house to the filling plant, seals are used in their thousands along the many meters of processing lines involved in fermentation and handling of the beverage. Whether simple O-Rings, complex molded parts or gaskets, our seals ensure that beer finds its way safely and cleanly into bottles, cans and kegs.

Filling equipments must be precisely engineered and wellsealed. But when you consider that breweries can fill up to 100,000 containers per hour on a single packaging line or 2,000 per minute, this is no small feat.

Fundamental to ensuring safe delivery of the product to the consumer is hygienic design. This plays a central role in the beer and beverage industry and is critical for seals wherever they may be used in the processing system. The design approach encompasses seal type and geometry, as well as material compatibility to process media and cleaning regimes. It achieves the best results if practiced from the concept of the overall processing system, system components or assemblies.

Avoiding dead space

In most cases seals will be specifically engineered for beer processing applications. This allows the avoidance of dead space around, within or beneath a seal. In dead spaces, bacteria or micro-organisms are deposited and these literally develop a "life of their own". This can lead to contamination with germs and mold, potentially triggering a so-called spontaneous infection in a beverage, making it undrinkable and leading to a consequential loss of production.

Finite Element Analysis (FEA) is utilized to simulate where liquids collect and how this can be prevented. If dead space can be avoided in a filling machine, for instance, not only will incidences of spontaneous infection of beverages be lowered, but also cleaning cycles can be reduced. This in turn relieves the seals themselves, making them more durable and extends the seals life cycle.

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How is pure water, malted barley, hops and yeast transformed into beer?

  • In the brew house, different types of malt are crushed together to break up grain kernels to extract fermentable sugars and produce a milled product called grist.
  • The grist is transferred to a mash tun where it is mixed with heated water in a process called mash conversion, using natural enzymes in the malt to break the malt’s starch down into sugars.
  • The mash is then pumped into the launter tun where a sweet liquid known as wort is separated from the grain husks.
  • The wort is collected in a vessel called a kettle that is brought to a controlled boil when hops are added.
  • After boiling, the wort is transferred to a whirlpool for separation; malt and hop particles are removed to leave a liquid.
  • The liquid goes into a vessel and yeast is added whilst filling.
  • The yeast converts the wort into beer by producing alcohol, flavors and carbon dioxide, which is used later in the process.
  • After fermentation the ‘green’ beer needs to mature to develop flavors and a smooth finish.
  • When reaching its full potential the beer is filtered, carbonated and transferred to a bright beer tank in which it is cellared for three to four weeks. When completed the beer is ready to be bottled, canned or kegged.

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Step-By-Step To The Perfect Beer

Step-By-Step To The Perfect Beer

FEA is vital

An increasing trend is the consumption of craft beers and this is also bringing FEA in seal design to the fore. Around 17,700, or 94 percent, of all breweries can be defined as craft be er producers. Often these are microbreweries, where particularly compact brewing and filling systems are required. In them, sealing solutions must be adapted to tightly defined installation spaces and FEA is used to simulate the behavior of seals under these restricted installation and application conditions.

FEA also allows the function of seals to be improved even before prototype production. It is possible to check at an early stage whether molded parts and seals achieve targeted performance, saving time-consuming trials and test phases. In addition, thanks to FEA, the sealing components can be individually integrated into brewing and filling systems, matching them to liquid throughput, required geometry or cost expectations.

Another trend is a growth in demand for mixed beer beverages. This means demand for inline mixing systems, where liquid components are mixed directly in the pipeline and filled as a homogeneous end product, is increasing. Sealing solutions for such processing lines must be resistant to different bacteria and yeast cultures native to the beer, as well as acids from sodas and fruit juices. In these circumstances, ensuring seal compatibility becomes extremely challenging.

FFKM is the ultimate option

One option to achieve this is to produce seals in a perfluoroelastomer (FFKM), such as Trelleborg’s Isolast®. A terpolymer of monomers in which all hydrogen atoms are replaced by fluorine; the lack of hydrogen in the molecular chain increases the material’s chemical resistance. The cross-linked molecular chains combine the elasticity and sealing power of an elastomer with the chemical resistance and thermal stability of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).

The universal compatibility of FFKM is also important due to the trend for shorter runs in breweries. Craft beers and mixed beer beverages tend to be manufactured in smaller quantities and because one and the same bottling plant fills different kinds of beer and mixed beer drinks, there is a need for more flexibility in processing systems. Seals therefore need to be resistant to different beer and mixed beer ingredients, whatever they may be.

In addition, there is a need with each beverage production run change, the system will be subjected to harsh Cleaning In Place (CIP) and Sterilization In Place (SIP) regimes. Ever more frequent cleaning can quickly destroy standard seals, so in some cases the only way to ensure the expected seal life and minimize system downtime, is by using FFKM. Effective and long-lasting chemical resistance is also vital in the elimination of flavor or aroma carry over from one drink to another.

Meeting regulations

On top of all these considerations, sealing materials must meet country- or region-specific regulations, as well as those that apply globally. In particular, the requirements in the central markets of the international food industry are in focus. These are not only standards such as ISO, DIN or FDA (Food and Drug Administration), but also the most recent Chinese Food Regulation certification in the Chinese food market.

An old Czech proverb says ‘A fine beer may be judged with only one sip, but it’s better to be thoroughly sure.’ So next time you are savoring the aroma and relishing the flavor of a beer, remember how much care, attention, research and technology goes into ensuring that your favorite brew is safe to drink and has the perfect taste.

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