This article offers five questions to ask your mixer provider.

The global economy continues to fuel pressure for adhesive and sealant companies to adopt energy-efficient production methods. Some forecasts have energy consumption increasing up to 20% over the next 15 years. Given that the industrial sector consumes an estimated 30% of all energy in the U.S., it’s no wonder that manufacturers struggle to deliver products on shorter timelines with tighter batch consistency.

While searching for process inefficiencies, plant operators often overlook a key source of energy consumption: mixing equipment. This is because mixers, unlike pumps and other capital equipment, can run for a decade or more with only scheduled maintenance. A mixer’s job, ultimately, is to operate as designed while maintaining output and energy costs.

Like process requirements, technologies change - and mixers are no exception. Mixing equipment has benefited from improved R&D, mixing analysis tools and fabricating techniques. Today’s mixers are designed to improve throughput and quality, and to significantly reduce energy consumption, lowering overall costs.

Energy and cost savings, however, are dependent on the quality of the mixer’s design and the compatibility of the mixer with its application, both of which are largely determined by the mixer’s manufacturer. Process optimization and reliability are paramount to overall performance, including batch-to-batch consistency and improved dispersion. Engineers and plant operators are likely to buy a mixer based on the specifics of its design, usage, proven lifespan, and 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. The result, unfortunately, is often a compromised investment in mixing technology that fails to meet either department’s long-term needs, even though both are working toward the same goal. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Compromise is Not Necessary

In today’s complex market, compromise is no longer a requirement. Thanks to improved technology and better business models, mixer manufacturers are tailoring products and services to address the entire plant’s needs. This means that adhesive and sealant manufacturers now have access to mixers designed specifically to handle medium- and high-viscosity compounds, high-velocity mixers used to prevent materials from skinning over on the tops of tanks, and mixers designed to achieve consistent velocity along the mixing wall. Today’s mixers are also thorough enough to reduce the amount of time spent cleaning the tank between batches.

The ultimate solution is no longer a question of design over price or vice versa; it is a matter of partnering with an equipment vendor that provides custom 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, make sure the vendor can answer the following questions.
  1. How can I ensure that a new mixer will improve my processes? All mixing-solution providers promise process optimization, but few can describe exactly how or to what degree. This is because they do not know the specific processes 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:
    • Take the time to understand your processes and challenges early in the sales cycle,
    • Simulate your exact mixing requirements,
    • Test those exact conditions on a scalable, repeatable basis, and
    • 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. Such inattentiveness often results in additional mixer downtime because the installed mixer is not operating at top efficiency or, in time, it no longer processes what it was originally designed to mix. That’s no way to build trust.
  2. What should I look for in the mixer 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 process. A mixing partner should back up all mechanical components of its mixers. If the partner has properly tested and analyzed your specific process prior to recommending a mixer, the guarantee will be far more useful and reliable in your specific environment.
  3. How do I ensure compliance with quality standards? 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 possible quality. 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 my existing mixing equipment, even if another vendor manufactured it? This question is especially relevant for procurement personnel who maintain vendor relationships. Those who work with multiple mixing vendors and local gear repair shops must 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 that 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.

Manufacturers must focus on stabilizing output, guarding against batch-to-batch contamination, improving efficiencies and maintaining profit margins - not on internal battles of procurement vs. engineering or 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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