Akron — It isn't just about what a product does. What it's made of matters, too.
So why not go all in?
Why focus on ensuring just one layer of a hose or tube is compliant with global food and beverage regulations when you can ensure all of the product's layers meet the food contact standards set by the U.S., European Union and China?
Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics is taking the all-in approach to the development of products serving the food and beverage industry, and its latest introduction — the Versilon SPT-70 FB IB silicone tubing — achieves the company's highest expectations.
"All the layers (of the tubing) are compliant, which is unique to the overall market," said Diana Ohl, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics' global market manager of fluid transfer products.
There's a reason the Saint-Gobain product stands out in this regard, Ohl said. It's not easy to ensure that every material used in the manufacturing of a tubing product is compliant with global regulations. Doing so requires investments of time, energy and money. It also requires strong partnerships with suppliers.
"We did a lot of due diligence work," Ohl said. "We found proper suppliers for the materials that go into tubing to ensure that they also were compliant with the regulations."
Overall, it took about two years to get the product from the initial design phase to the market, expanding the capabilities and offerings of Saint-Gobain's Versilon line, which is designed for versatility as products fit a range of applications. In addition to tubing, the Versilon line also features hoses and fittings.
All of the time and effort invested on Versilon SPT-70 FB IB was worth it, Ohl said. "I think we are setting a new standard in the industry for sure," Ohl said. "We are heading in that direction, and nobody else in the market is going there."
Versilon SPT-70 FB IB is manufactured in China and available worldwide in four sizes. It meets FDA Food Additive Regulation 21 CFR 177.2600; Regulation (EC) No. 1935/2004 and French Order 11/25/1992; China GB 4806.1, GB 9685, GB 4806.11; and NSF 51.
The company noted the tubing is ideal for use with beverages — soda, beer and coffee — as well as food and dairy dispensing. In particular, the tubing is suited for dispensing soft serve ice creams, allowing the product to fill a small gap for Saint-Gobain, which had limited product offerings in this area, according to Katie Morris, senior research engineer for Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics.
Like Ohl, Morris is particularly proud of how well the tubing meets global regulations because it provides extra peace of mind for customers.
"There are a lot of offerings on the market that only claim the inner core to be compliant," Morris said. "But it's all about risk assessment, and it is something we need to consider very carefully.
"When you think about migration from one layer to the other, by making all of the layers compliant we minimize that risk to the market application," Morris said.
The new Versilon tubing also is designed for durability. It features a tough braid reinforcement, which allows it to work well under elevated pressure applications, and it stands up to repeated cleaning and sterilization cycles.
The Versilon SPT-70 FB IB is one of three Saint-Gobain products for which all of the materials in the tubing meet global food contact regulations. The others are the Versilon XFR hose and the Tygon S3-B44-4X IB, which was introduced in October for food and beverage dispensing.
Sixth sense for quality
Regulatory compliance is one thing. Ensuring the tubing doesn't impact the flavor or scent of the media that flows through it is something else.
The Versilon SPT-70 FB IB silicone tubing is platinum-cured to minimize extractables, and the smooth inner liner of the tubing is designed to prevent particle entrapments. Both help to maintain the integrity of the liquid the tubing transports, Saint-Gobain said.
Moreover, the company's employees can prove it.
"Our mouths — our human senses — are really fine-tuned," Morris said. "In some cases, it is more accurate than some of the instrument levels for detection of PPM levels."
Saint-Gobain has leaned into that human expertise, developing a sensory panel comprising employees who have been trained to detect subtle changes in the taste and scent of the food and beverages that flow through its tubing.
For the testing, Saint-Gobain tubing is filled with media and kept at a certain temperature or soaked in a media for a certain period of time at a specific temperature. From there, taste tests determine whether or not the product compromises the flavor of the beverage or food.
"We are one of the first tubing manufacturers to have an internal sensory panel," Morris said, noting that this gives the company the freedom to test its products as it sees fit.
It took about two years to establish the sensory panel, Morris said, adding that it took months of training to ensure that those working on this element of R&D were able to detect the most subtle changes in taste.
Demand for Saint-Gobain's food and beverage products dropped last year when the coronavirus pandemic took root. Stay-at-home and social distancing orders worldwide slowed traffic to restaurants and closed arenas—places where Saint-Gobain customers have strong sales.
That dip in overall industry demand did impact Saint-Gobain in 2020. But 2021 has been a different story, according to Ohl. As vaccination rates increase and stringent distancing guidelines ease, sales are beginning to pick up, both for Saint-Gobain and its customers.
"The good thing is that we are seeing an upward trend," Ohl said, "and we are at the level of 2019. We are hopeful that as things return to normal, (sales) will be even better."