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Turning food into fuel

01 January 2008

Autodesk Inventor and Ansys CFD were instrumental in the design of a novel dryer that converts food waste into a combustible biomass fuel

Most manufacturers are racing against time to get their products to market faster. However, occasionally you come across one whose main aim is to keep up with demand. Such is the case with Inetec. Based in Wales, this 14-strong, ten year old company has a product that is not only commercially viable, but is also helping the world cope with one of the major challenges of our times – the proliferation of food waste.

The UK produces over 17 million tonnes of food waste every year, with a third of it coming from large-scale food manufacturers. The rapid growth in sales of ready pre-packaged meals has also added to the problem, producing mountains of packaging that cannot be easily recycled. It is not only food that is being wasted. Non-recyclable packaging waste has a high-energy value and this is also being lost to landfill.

Inetec has developed a method of harnessing this waste for energy recovery systems and its process equipment is now to be found at the sites of some of our major food producers. At the core of this equipment is a rather special dryer, which broadly functions as follows:

Food waste is macerated for 24 hours to vaporise moisture from the surface and the cells of the refuse, a process known as abrasive drying. The resulting vapour is condensed and drained directly to a foul sewer without requiring further treatment, leaving behind a powdery biomass fuel. This drying technique makes it possible to process all kinds of food and packaging waste together, removing the need for costly separation equipment. A primary tool used in the design of this innovative dryer was Autodesk Inventor Professional.

“Inventor is a great all-round product and is helping us fulfil demand,” says Mark Holmes, Inetec product design manager. “Its links with our Ansys CFX for testing fluid dynamics means we can understand not just what our designs will look like when built, but also how they will behave. This gives us all the information we need to make intelligent decisions and rapidly reach the best possible solution.”

High energy value
Dr Holmes joined the company a few years ago in order to take a closer look at its design processes with the aim of enhancing workflow. He had already used products such AutoCAD Mechanical (then Mechanical Desktop), but decided to review the market offerings ni the wake of his new appointment.

“I chose Inventor because it’s a great package. It does everything the more expensive software does, but at an affordable price. Also, Inventor Professional offers routing capability for pipe work and electrical design, so this was ideal for our purposes.”

After a few days training with Autodesk reseller Envisage UK, Dr Holmes was up and running. “I’ve always found Inventor easy to use, and colleagues have said the same, regardless of the software they used previously. We’re also using Autodesk Vault, the work-in-progress data management tool that ensures only the latest version of a drawing is used. Our basic machine design is modular with many of the components similar, regardless of whether we are supplying a large or small model, so we need to manage our data carefully, allowing assemblies to be re-used as appropriate.”

With Inventor, the 3D digital model enables users to check design and engineering decisions as part of the design process. In other words, it becomes a digital prototype that can be used to validate the design on-screen. At Inetec, the digital prototype is tested using Ansys stress and fluid dynamics analysis software.

A two-way flow between this tool and Inventor means that problem areas can be quickly and easily identified, and the model revised. This is no longer a slow, cumbersome process because Inventor’s parametric capability ensures that every change is automatically carried through the entire model and linked to the documentation.

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