Hosokawa Micron’s ‘total solution’ approach for batch mixing systems

Hosokawa Micron B.V. has a strong worldwide reputation as an expert in the core powder-processing technologies of mixing, drying and agglomeration, and has increasingly evolved from a machine builder into a developer of turnkey solutions in all three of these areas. The company is well known for its innovative concepts such as the Flexomix, vacuum dryers and the Drymeister, for example. When it comes to batch mixers, however, it has often been seen as a single-unit supplier. That is now changing as Hosokawa is increasingly extending its successful 'total solution' approach to the batch mixing segment too.

"Traditionally, mixers have been seen as a commodity. Customers have often purchased stand-alone mixers and integrated them with other machinery to create their own systems," states Berthram Mak, Manager Sales & Marketing at Hosokawa Micron B.V. "Indeed, we've sold many thousands of our Nauta® mixers worldwide for use in such systems. As a result, we've long been regarded as a single-unit supplier in mixing. In contrast, in our two other core areas – drying and agglomeration – we've been supplying 'total solutions' for decades… not just machines, but a complete system including assistance for on-site installation and start-up, for example. In recent years, we've spotted new opportunities and have increasingly been developing complete systems – with our mixing technology at the heart of them – to solve customers' broader mixing-related problems."

Stefan van Rienen (l) and Berthram Mak (r) at a mixing system in Hosokawa Micron’s Test Centre in Doetinchem

Several factors are contributing to this shift in demand. "One aspect is investment risk; investors want certainty that the solution will solve the problem as promised. The project concept must be optimal in terms of output, uptime and ROI," he explains. "Therefore, companies are looking for experienced and dependable suppliers who won't let them down. At Hosokawa, we deliver predefined performance at a predefined price." Stefan van Rienen, System Engineer at Hosokawa, adds: "Many customers have decided to focus on their core business and no longer have their own engineering or project management departments, so we're increasingly fulfilling that role. They are also under time pressure, which means that customers prefer to have a single point of contact. As a 'one-stop shop', we relieve the burden on them by taking care of the entire turnkey system, including providing a process guarantee. Moreover, they don't have to deal with potential disagreements or finger-pointing between different suppliers in the case of any problems, for example."

Additionally, end customers and consumers are ever-more demanding in terms of quality standards, traceability and food safety. "This means that the quality of product output is becoming more important, and therefore also the quality of mixing," says Mak. "Most powder handling systems are designed with a focus on powder transport, and include a mixer almost as an afterthought. Our approach turns that on its head to develop the system around the most effective mixing technology for that particular application. To us, the mixer isn't just a 'black box'; we know exactly how different types of powders with different densities react at different temperatures during mixing, and what implications that can have when subsequently conveying the mixture. In other words, we combine our knowledge and experience of system design with our in-depth powder mixing expertise to design an optimally functioning system from start to finish."

"We are best known for inventing the Nauta® mixer more than seven decades ago, but we also have many other mixing principles in our portfolio for both batch mixing and continuous mixing," says Van Rienen. "We work closely together with each customer to identify the right mixing method to solve their problem, making optimal use of their own insights and expertise in terms of the end product quality. In terms of the rest of the mixing system, we're not tied to any particular suppliers, brands or methods for processes such as conveying, weighing, dosing or packing," he adds. "For us, it's all about choosing what's best for each customer – taking into account their preferred suppliers, if necessary."

Hosokawa's services range from case evaluation, pre-engineering studies, testing and costing, to designing, building and sourcing all system components and ancillaries, and taking care of installation, start-up, training and aftersales service. Van Rienen: "Well-trained operators, regular maintenance and proper cleaning ensure maximum uptime."

Artist impression of a mixing system developed by Hosokawa Micron

Realization of a complete process plant

In one recent example, a customer's existing mixing system – which was not based on a Hosokawa mixer – lacked capacity and didn't always produce the necessary level of quality. Hosokawa started off by conducting extensive mixing tests together with the customer at its in-house Test Centre in Doetinchem, which is the biggest of its kind in Europe. "We then designed a system based on vacuum transport to feed the ingredients – which are supplied in big bags and stainless steel containers – into the mixer," he explains. "For dosing, the containers are connected to the mixer by means of a pneumatic docking unit to ensure a dust-free connection."

Hosokawa coordinated the supply of the entire set-up, including a big-bag and container unloading station, vacuum conveyor, control system and complete steel structure. The product volume in the mixer is monitored by weighing cells. "This enables the dosing of the ingredients into the mixer to be monitored and the resulting substance to be emptied into the containers with the utmost precision," he continues.

The products to be conveyed are quite abrasive, and the mixed substance has a bulk density of 1.8kg/l. Hosokawa therefore designed the system to minimize abrasive wear and tear on the components. "We also chose to use easy-to-replace components in places where wear and tear is highest. Moreover, in view of the limited space at the customer's facility, we've made the system as compact as possible, without compromising on ease of maintenance," says Van Rienen.

"For customers, two things matter most when it comes to their products: constant quality and output," concludes Mak. "We can increase their profitability by improving one or both of those factors. We do so by working in close collaboration with our customers and suppliers to leverage their own product knowledge, and by contributing our technology and expertise backed up by test results. That's the foundation of Hosokawa Micron's 'total solution' approach, whether in mixing systems or other aspects of powder processing."