The global food production and processing industry has an incredibly important and challenging responsibility—to feed billions of people around the world. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has highlighted this fact, but the primary role of the food industry has always been to provide its customers and communities with a safe, stable, and affordable food supply. 

Few industries are as essential as the packaging and processing sector. Nevertheless, like most other industries, we are facing constant business pressures in the form of increasing production costs, fluctuations in the availability of raw materials, and ever-evolving food-safety regulations. Add to that a shrinking workforce and increased negative media attention, and it becomes clear that the food production and processing industry must evolve and adjust if it wants to stay profitable in 2021 and beyond.   

A number of the above factors are out of the control of personnel on the operational or facility level, but others are not. One of the most impactful and controllable aspects of remaining competitive is how companies utilize their food processing and packaging equipment. Faulty, outdated, or inefficient equipment may have slower cycle times and can cause maintenance-related downtime, and that in turn can have a direct negative effect on the profitability of operations.  

Vacuum equipment is critical to food processing and packaging, so we must focus on optimizing the vacuum equipment to maximize production and to minimize maintenance and downtime.

Key Focus Areas of Optimizing the Performance of Industrial Vacuum Equipment 

  1. Reduction of Equipment Cycles Times 
  2. Increases in Efficiency of Existing Equipment 
  3. Implementation of Advanced and More Efficient Vacuum Technologies

Read more: Food safety has always been paramount...not just now

Reduction of Equipment Cycles Times

In the food processing industry, one of the quickest and easiest ways to achieve higher production is to focus first on equipment upgrades with the biggest impact. And here, vacuum-based food packaging is a prime example of how a small change in existing equipment can have a significant impact on the shortening of cycle times and therefore improve productivity.   

For example, Rotary Chamber Packaging Machines are very commonly used to package primal cuts, and the most popular brand claims to have a maximum operating speed of 40 packages per minute. However, due to limitations in the default OEM vacuum systems installed on the machines, they are very seldom running at more than 34 packages per minute, which represents a significant loss of productivity compared to the promised output 

Working with a leading food packaging company on upgrading the OEM vacuum pumps to Leybold vacuum pumps, we have been able to speed up their operations to a consistent 38 packs per minute packing rate. In a single year of production, this can amount to an output of more than a million additional packages on that same piece of equipment 

This result has already been repeated across a number of meat packing plants in the US. The initial cost of the upgraded Leybold vacuum pump will be recovered in a few months of operations, and the extra production over the life of the packaging machine is pure profit. Interestingly, the loss of productivity and related revenue that results from underperforming legacy vacuum equipment is rarely considered as a cost to the company, even though it can amount to a lot more than all other costs that are carefully calculated combined.   


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Increases in Efficiency of Equipment

There are countless opinions on how to increase the productivity of manufacturing operations, ranging from something as simple as improving employee motivation to complex technology implementations such as multi-million dollar ERP systems.  

One of the most effective ways of increasing overall productivity is to focus on improving the productivity and durability of the equipment. Installing high-quality equipment is certainly a very important aspect of improving overall productivity, but it is equally important to select the right vacuum pump for the job at hand.

To do this, you should rely on the expertise and experience of a vacuum equipment vendor like Leybold who will look at your overall food production, processing, and packaging needs and develop a comprehensive plan that will be tailored to your specific needs. Different pumps (even from the same product family) perform better in certain environments and under certain ambient conditions, so the optimal pump match is of great importance.  

The correct vacuum equipment selected with a long-term, big picture perspective in mind will go a long way to improve overall efficiency and productivity in the following areas:  

  • Reduction in operating costs  
  • Reduction in vacuum equipment maintenance and repair/replacement costs 
  • Reduction in product contamination due to oil back-streaming from your vacuum system 
  • Improvements in work environments with quieter and cleaner running equipment 
  • Reduced load on HVAC systems and overall reduction of environmental impact 

packaged primal cuts

Reduction in Operating Costs 

More efficient vacuum pumps will reduce operating costs because they can achieve higher productivity with fewer resources. There is a drive for modern industrial equipment to consume less power, and some vacuum pumps have made great strides toward this goal. Furthermore, pumps that reduce power consumption will also reduce heat load into your HVAC controlled space.   

Modern vacuum pumps also radically reduce oil consumption and eliminate oil coalescing filter use, which eliminates the frequent oil changes required by traditional rotary vacuum pumps. Vacuum pump oil is not cheap, and the contaminated oil requires appropriate disposal. 

Most packing companies today locate their vacuum pumps remotely due to noise, footprint, heat generation, and potential oil mist exhausted from the pumps. It is not uncommon to have pumps 30 to 100 feet away in a hallway, in a mezzanine, or in a room somewhere with a three-inch pipe and three or more 90-degree elbows. Flow is adversely affected by diameter, length, elbows, and roughness of a pipe. Roughness is hard to change, but the other three factors can be addressed. With the right pump choice, you may be able to eliminate locating pumps remotely and achieve significant gains in equipment productivity 

The Leybold pump/blower design allows you to locate the pumps adjacent to the food packing line. The close proximity radically reduces suction line length and complexity resulting in faster pump down to lower pressures, which results in huge numbers of extra packages per year on the same production line. Our pumps have stainless steel enclosures that make the pumps washdown ready, which again eliminates the need to house them remotely.    

Reduction in Equipment Maintenance and Repair/Replacement Costs 

Maintaining and repairing typical OEM oil-sealed vacuum pumps can be costly and time-consuming.  Depending on the application and type of product being packaged or processed, changing the oil in vacuum pumps can be a monthly occurrence with filter changes every three months or so. Improper maintenance or process upsets can lead to pump failure. This leads to high pump repair costs, and if unplanned, interrupts the production line and can cause significant downtime. 

Scheduled Maintenance 

Production line downtime is one of the most expensive aspects of maintenance, and the best way to reduce this significant cost is to install durable, high-quality vacuum equipment and implement a planned maintenance schedule.  

Leybold’s dry vacuum systems require only one scheduled maintenance intervention per year (for about an hour), with an expected pump life of 5 years or more between major repairs. The prolonged service intervals, combined with the increased reliability of the pump, allows you to easily schedule maintenance of the vacuum system at the same time as your general machine maintenance. In turn, this also eliminates frequent oil changes and unexpected run time failures. 

Equipment Wear & Tear 

The purposeful reduction of wear and tear of equipment is also an important factor in lowering operating costs. Highly specialized vacuum equipment used in the industrial food production and processing industry can be very expensive, so it is vital that companies get as much use out of the equipment as possible. A good example to illustrate this is the Liquid Ring Vacuum Pump.   

The Liquid Ring Vacuum Pump uses water internally to create a vacuum, and while this seems to be an elegant way to create a vacuum, it can cause a few issues as well. Primary among these issues is the high cost of consumed water to create the necessary water ring seal in a once through liquid ring pump. We have seen water costs associated with these types of pumps in excess of $200,000 dollars a year at a single food plant.  

A second issue is limitation on how deep a vacuum can be created. Water will vaporize under vacuum--the warmer the water, the higher the ultimate pressure that will be achieved in the process. This often leads to varying vacuum levels from summer to winter months. Dry technology pumps offer consistent levels year round as well as from day one to year 5.

Maintenance Cost Reduction: Rollstock and Dry Vacuum Pumps 

Another very common packaging machine in the food industry is a rollstock thermoformer, and while there are a few versions, a typical machine layout is shown below. A typical thermoformer has a roots blower located near the thermoformer on the production floor with an oil-sealed rotary vane pump located somewhere outside of the production area for the same reasons as before. However, you can run the same thermoformer using a single DRYVAC DV650 pump. So, we've eliminated the blower but are doing the same work, while in some cases, improving cycle time and vacuum levels.  Power use is reduced, and the maintenance burden is radically reduced.   

traditional set up with roughing pumps outside production area

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Reduction in Product Contamination  

Product contamination is always a risk when oil-filled vacuum pumps are used in food production. 

A very easy way to eliminate the risks of oil contamination related to vacuum equipment is to replace oil-sealed pumps with more modern dry vacuum pumps. As the name implies, oil-sealed pumps use oil and other internal lubricates/sealants to achieve a vacuum that has the potential to contaminate the food that is being processed.   

Improvement in Work Environments 

Typical rotary vane vacuum pumps can be very noisy, and often, this type of equipment can contribute to employee stress and hamper verbal shop floor communications. Rotary vane vacuum pumps can also leak oil on the shop floor and inject smoke-like vaporized oil into the production areas, which are an unnecessary physical safety hazard.  

As mentioned above, our pump/blower design is compact, quiet, and cool, which allows you to locate the pumps adjacent to the food packing line without any adverse impact on the health and safety of your production floor personnel.   

Reduction of Environmental Impact 

When oil is eliminated from the swept volume of the vacuum pump, the potential for oil spills, oil mist emissions, and oil disposal is also eliminated. All of these benefit the environment and reduce the number of potential findings on EPA audits.  

Our dry screw vacuum pumps like the DRYVAC DV650 are so quiet that they can’t be heard next to the other equipment, and they do not leak oil, as the only oil used is for lubricating the gear box.

Leybold has also recently released a completely oil-free dry screw vacuum pump, the NOVADRY.
This pump is incredibly quiet and is 100% oil-free. Giving you all the benefits of modern vacuum equipment noted above with none of the noise and oil concerns. 

standard thermofrmer machine

Implementation of More Advanced and Efficient Vacuum Technologies

Painting with a very broad brush, current vacuum technology in the food processing industry can largely be divided into two equipment categories—Oil-Sealed Vacuum Pumps and Water-Sealed Liquid Ring Pumps. This technology has been around for over 50 years and has set a “norm” or status quo that most food packing and processing operations have just accepted, even with their clear limitations. 

Neither of these vacuum pumps are great options for the modern food production and processing industry, and they should be replaced with the more efficient and maintenance-free Dry Vacuum Technology. Before we address the benefits of Dry Vacuum Technology, let’s quickly review the difference in the existing, commonly-used vacuum pumps 

Oil-Sealed Rotary Pumps 

Oil-Sealed Rotary vacuum pumps are still the legacy technology in most food processing and packaging operations, and those pumps have changed very little over the last 50 years. 

While these pumps have proven to be a suitable solution for food processing in the past, this outdated technology has a few noteworthy downsides, both in their efficiency of operations and their harmful impact on the environment. 

As those pumps require oil to operate, the quality of the oil can influence the degree of vacuum levels, and therefore, require regular oil changes. Those oil changes take time and can be very expensive over the life of the pump.  

Oil-sealed Rotary Pumps generally require a lot of time-consuming maintenance and repairs, and they are also prone to breakdowns that can cause production line downtime. This unexpected downtime is often managed by storing back-up pumps on site, this means added space and expense, as well as time.  

Lastly, oil can leak out of the vacuum pump, especially if the pump is older or hasn’t been maintained well, and those oil leaks can pose significant food contaminationpersonnel, and environmental risks. 

 d65 vacuum pump leaking oil

Water-Sealed Liquid Ring Pumps 

The Water-Sealed Liquid Ring Vacuum Pump uses water internally to create a vacuum, but this process can cause a few issues. Primary among these issues is they have very high water usage, and they also have some of the highest energy consumption on the market (highest KW per cubic feet per minute).  

Another major drawback of Water-Sealed Liquid Ring Pumps is the fact that they are very temperature sensitive and can have considerable fluctuations in their vacuum levels depending on the time of year--due to seal water temperature. For example, vacuum performance can drop by 30% if the seal water temperature increases from 60 degrees Fahrenheit during cooler months to around 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. 

Hybrid Oil-sealed Liquid Ring pump versions also exist, but those are less popular because of their higher up-front costs. They also require more maintenance, as they have oil coolers and heat exchangers, and require costly oil changes.  

traditional water sealed liquid ring pump

Dry Vacuum Technology 

Dry Vacuum Technology is a relatively new approach to achieving high degrees of vacuum efficiency without some of the drawbacks of the legacy liquid pump technology. At the most basic level, dry vacuum technology is a non-contact, non-wear design that doesn’t rely on sealing fluids or lubricants to create and maintain desired vacuum levels. Therefore, eliminating or reducing the elements required to keep 50 year old technology operating.  

dry technology video

The use of oil in vacuum pumps has always resulted in the presence of some degree of condensation-related vapor in the vacuum chamber, which puts a significant internal vapor load on pumps and can reduce their operating efficacy by up to 30%.

Oil vacuum pumps also run very loudly and generate a lot of heat and oil mist, which means those pumps are typically placed in equipment chases outside of the immediate production area. By eliminating the need for oil, dry vacuum pumps operate much faster, cleaner, cheaper, and quieter than their predecessors, and they can be placed directly on the production floor.   

Dry Vacuum Technology was first introduced in the 1990s in the semiconductor industry, as there was a need to effectively eliminate the potential of oil contamination from the manufacturing process of semiconductor chips. As a new technology, early dry vacuum pumps were significantly more expensive than the legacy liquid vacuum pump equipment (often at a factor of 3 – 5x), and only high-margin sectors like the semiconductor industry were able to absorb the extra costs of this revolutionary new technology.

Over the last two decades, however, the cost of dry vacuum technology has aligned much more closely with that of traditional vacuum equipment, and given the fact that dry vacuum pumps run more efficiently and increase production output, the return of investment on dry vacuum pumps is now quicker than on legacy oil-sealed pumps.  

Dry Vacuum Technology in Industrial Food Production 

In some respects, the food production and processing industry share characteristics with the semiconductor sector. Foremost, much like the semiconductor manufacturing process, food production and processing also needs to eliminate the likelihood of any contamination of the end product from oils and sealants, both through direct contamination with oil or ambient contact with environmental contaminants like oil mist or vapor. 

Unlike the semiconductor or other high-tech industries, however, food processing plants typically operate on very narrow margins and use highly perishable raw materials that require a very high degree of productivity and operational efficiency.  

The food production and processing industry is particularly well suited to adopt this new type of clean and efficient dry vacuum technology for the following reasons:  

  • Higher production efficiency and output 
  • Significantly lower maintenance burden 
  • Significant reduction in food contamination risks  
  • Significant workplace safety and environmental benefits
  • Very easy technology shift/OEM replacement  

Read more: Why dry pump technology in the food industry?

High Production Efficiency and Output 

Dry vacuum technology represents a significant forward leap for the food production and processing industry, both in terms of operational efficiency and increased production output. The advent of this technology has enabled food processing and packaging operations to dramatically reduce equipment cycle times and therefore increase productivity and output.   

Leybold worked with a large food processing and packaging client who was looking into making their meat packing operation more efficient and productive. With the original, OEM-supplied pumps on their Rotary Chamber Packaging Machine, they could only run at about 30 cycles per minute and were achieving 3.4 torr in the second stage chamber.  

After the upgrade from the original rotary vane pumps to the Leybold DRYVAC systems, the second chamber reached 1.5 torr vacuum at the same 30 cycles per minute. But we also found that the Leybold solution enabled the line to run up to 39 cycles per minute with a second chamber pressure of 2.3 torr, 32.5% lower pressure than what was reached with oil sealed pumps at 30 cycles per minute.  

Since there are 8,000 hours of production per year, nine extra packages per minute mean you can get more than four million extra packages per year!  Better yet, you can do that while still getting 30 percent better final package pressure.  

Washdown Environments and Dry Vacuum Pumps 

As mentioned earlier, the Dryvac pumps can be made washdown ready by enclosing them in stainless steel enclosures. If you have severe space constraint issues, we have a streamlined epoxy coated pump that will take a bit more installation effort but might just fit. The benefits make the efforts worth it.

Rotary Packaging Chamber Pumping – Cryovac  

Cryovac 8600-14E Upgrade with Leybold DRYVAC Systems 

  • XYZ Pumps: 3.4 torr @ 30 cycles per minute 
  • Leybold Dryvac pumps: 1.5 torr @ 30 cycles per minute 
  • Leybold Dryvac pumps: 2.3 torr @ 39 cycles per minute 
  • Saving on maintenance spending (no more significant oil amount to change and discharge, no exhaust filter…). Just minimal maintenance required (1.2 liters of oil annually in each Dryvac) 
  • Decrease of the electrical total consumed power: 

energy consumption chart

Other advantages:  The customer reduced their maintenance spending. For that production line they no longer had barrels of vacuum pump oil for oil changes (and to dispose of). No exhaust mist filters to replace.

There was also a decrease in total consumed power. The original pumps use 39.5 KW while the dry pumps did more work for less power, only 28.2 KW. 

Significantly Lower Maintenance Burden 

In addition to a faster and more efficient operation, dry vacuum pumps also have significantly lower maintenance needs and a longer lifespan.  

Food processing technicians are not vacuum pump experts, and maintenance work that results from faulty vacuum equipment often requires work stoppage and outside assistance from third parties.

Even if a replacement pump is stored on-site, the food processing equipment still must be stopped and cleared, and the installation of a new pump can take hours. Every minute of downtime is lost revenue. Dry vacuum pump technology can eliminate much of the maintenance burden and allow in-house technicians to focus on their main role—to keep their food processing and packaging equipment going.  

The elimination of oil from the vacuum process also eliminates the high costs of frequent oil changes and related costs such as filters and oil disposal—in a medium-size operation, this alone can save more than $250,000 annually.  

Significant Reduction in Food Contamination Risks  

Product contamination and large-scale recalls are a major risk factors and significant potential costs for any industrial food producer or processor 

A very easy way to eliminate the risks of contamination related to vacuum equipment is to replace older oil-sealed pumps with more modern dry vacuum pumps. As the name implies, oil-sealed pumps use oil and other internal lubricates/sealants to achieve vacuum, those fluids can always be a potential source of contamination of the food that is being processed.  

Oil-based vacuum pumps can also emit an oil vapor which is a danger to food products.  

Dry vacuum pumps do not use any oil or other liquids in their operation and therefore eliminate the risk of food contamination. It’s just one more benefit of adopting this clean new technology.   


Read more: Oil contamination in food processing and packaging

Significant Workplace Safety and Environmental Benefits  

By their nature, food processing and packaging plantare not always the most enjoyable work environments—depending on the production process, conditions can range from being very cold to hot and humid, and work-related injuries do happen. While these conditions are a fact of life in our industry, it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to improve the conditions for workers. The stewardship of its communities is becoming of ever-increasing importance for industrial food producers and processors.  

Legacy rotary vane vacuum pumps are loud and can add significant ambient stress to the work environment. Since those pumps can also hinder interpersonal communication on the shop floor, they can pose a safety risk, as verbal commands or warnings might not be heard over the noise of the machine.  

Oil-based vacuum pumps can also leak oil onto the production floor and cause contamination and accidents. Oil mist emitted from equipment can also add to those environmental and safety issues. To counter those risks, traditional vacuum equipment is often located 50 – 150 feet from the actual food processing equipment in a separate equipment chase. As a result, the vacuum efficiency is often significantly reduced by pumps that have to operate from such distances.  

Benefits of Close Proximity Pumping

Most food processing and packing companies today locate their vacuum pumps remotely due to noise, footprint, heat generation, and potential oil mist exhausted from the pumps. Most are 50 to 100 feet away in a hallway, in a mezzanine, or in a room somewhere with a three-inch pipe and three or more 90-degree elbows.

Flow is adversely affected by diameter, length, elbows, and roughness of a pipe. Roughness is hard to change, but the other three factors can be addressed. With the right pump choice, you may be able to eliminate locating pumps remotely.

The Leybold pump/blower design is compact, quiet, and cool, which allows you to locate the pumps adjacent to the food packing line. The proximity radically reduces suction line length and complexity resulting in faster pump down to lower pressures, which results in huge numbers of extra packages per year on the same production line.  Wash down?  No problem, steel enclosures make the pumps washdown ready.  

Leybold DRYVAC systemAs outlined above, dry vacuum pumps eliminate those concerns, as they operate quietly enough to be placed right on the production floor and don’t use oils or other sealants that can become environmental or safety hazards.  

Very Easy Technology Shift/OEM Replacement

Most of the vacuum pumps found on food production and processing equipment are provided by OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) as part of a larger system. Unfortunately, OEMs’ main concern is the price of their equipment, and in a very competitive market, the pressure to sell equipment at the lowest possible price often overrides the need to provide the best possible product. As a result, most of the vacuum pumps installed on food processing equipment are there because they are inexpensive—and not because they are the best solution.  

OEMs generally only sell equipment and do not have to maintain or repair it—those tasks are generally executed by the buyer or outsourced to third parties. In that regard, OEMs have little incentive to provide their customers with high-quality vacuum pumps that are maintenance-free and designed to improve the overall efficiency of operations.

As outlined in the earlier example of the Rotary Chamber Packaging machine, the fact that it was originally equipped by the OEM with an outdated vacuum pump resulted in significant losses in production—34 vs 38 packages per minute.    

Fortunately, the retrofitting of highly efficient dry vacuum pumps on food processing equipment is relatively easy and straight-forward, and a Leybold technician can install a new pump into most food processing equipment in a single site visit. And as noted earlier, the cost of replacing an outdated OEM vacuum pump with a modern dry vacuum pump is usually a fraction of the revenue gained by significant productivity improvements.


Considering its importance of providing all of us with a safe and stable food supply in a business environment that is increasingly competitive and regulated, it is surprising that the technology used in the food processing industry has not changed that much over the last 50 years.

Narrow margins and cost pressures have certainly played a role in the slow adoption of new technologies, especially as related to the vacuum equipment used in food production and processing equipment. However, modern dry vacuum technology has proven to increase the production and efficiency of modern food processing operations with a quick return on investment. Therefore, the adoption of this new technology is a vital step if food producers wish to stay competitive and profitable in today's global food economy.

For more than 170 years, Leybold has been at the forefront of helping companies around the globe modernize their operations and achieve significantly higher degrees of productivity and profitability. We are looking forward to continuing to do the same for the food production and processing industry.

As an example of our technology leadership in this industry, we have just launched the NOVADRY line--a new series of small dry screw pumps designed specifically for food applications. Combining the efficiency of dry screw pumping with a very cost-effective, no-frills design, the NOVADRY delivers big performance at much lower costs to the food packager.

This series of small pumps are a great replacement for smaller pumps on roll stock, massagers, tumblers, mixers, and stuffers. It is an all-aluminum pump, which means that the pump will not rust up every time it gets moisture in it, which is most of the time. It is compact and air-cooled, which makes it an easy upgrade.

NOVADRY_ND_65  with Logos

See the NOVADRY lineup


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Optimise the performance of your industrial vacuum equipment