For processing companies the key issues are maximising profitability, decreasing downtime and increasing safety and hygiene standards. We ask Mark Drapanas of Intralox, Arthur Oude Roelink of Jonge Poerink Conveyors and Trevor Howard of PPM Technologies UK what they are doing to help clients meet these challenges.
“Rather than responding as problems arise, meat processors are taking proactive measures to ensure that their operations are at an optimal level of hygiene from start-up”
-Mark Drapanas, Intralox
How have pressures, challenges or aims within the industry changed the needs of companies when it comes to their processing and packaging lines?
Mark Drapanas: Increasing food safety standards is key in today's meat processing environments. As governments and regulatory bodies worldwide seek to restore consumer confidence after recent product recalls, hygiene standards are on the rise. At the same time, demand for high-quality, safe food products has never been greater. The challenge of maintaining a profitable balance between the two can be daunting. In meat processing, we have learned that installing hygienic, easy-to-clean conveyor belting is key to maintaining superior standards of hygiene. Rather than responding as problems arise, meat processors are taking proactive measures to ensure that their operations are at an optimal level of hygiene from start-up.
Likewise, demand for broad product capability and diverse packaging is driving processors to streamline their back end operations. More and more processors are gaining greater flexibility and increased operational savings by introducing automation into their plant layouts.
Arthur Oude Roelink: Competition between the manufacturers has intensified worldwide, which results in extra pressure on prices in the market. To stay profitable, manufacturers are looking for ways to improve the efficiency of their production processes. Their main goal is to gain uptime. In most cases this means that servicing and maintenance must be done in less time, while the demands on the reliability of the conveyors increase.
Hygiene has always been important for food processors. In this highly competitive marketplace, manufacturers seek advanced sanitation solutions that require a minimum of downtime. We pay a lot of attention to the reliability of our conveyors. Most Jonge Poerink conveyors are lubricated for life. What little maintenance is needed can be done easily. Due to the open design of the conveyors, all parts are very easily accessible and easy to clean.
Trevor Howard: We have seen increasing demand for more sophisticated control systems. This added control gives data for management to better optimise and balance production. For example, the PPM Technologies Libra Mass Flow system controls and regulates the product mass flow. This has been used in a wide variety of applications, such as seafood and vegetable applications, to regulate the line flow to more evenly feed processing machines and improve the quality of the final products . We have implemented the same Libra technology for blending applications in the cereal, frozen vegetable, and snack industries. By blending with Libra systems as opposed to on the multi head weigh scales the plant production can have a much more flexible range of recipes without comprising quality. Finally the Libra and Weigh Wright systems have been used extensively for flavouring applications to accurately weigh and control the application of oil, powder, or slurry to food products.
Improving profitability is an ongoing aim for businesses in general, and especially so in this competitive market. How can the right conveyor technologies help companies to achieve that?
AOR: Conveyors are a key factor in determining the processing speed of a production plant. When a conveyor breaks down, the entire production line comes to a halt. To prevent unscheduled downtime, we pay a lot of attention to robustness when designing a conveyor. The design also minimises scheduled downtime. Most models do not require lubrication and all our conveyors are easy to clean. Another key factor in improving profitability is optimal flexibility. The more flexible you are, the easier it gets to adapt to the changing circumstances and needs of your clients. On the one hand, we add flexibility through the modular setup and very small turn ratios of our conveyors. This makes them easy to fit into any plant design. On the other hand, the accumulating facilities of our conveyors offer our clients extra opportunities to make the best of every situation.
TH: The number one cost of a conveyor is if it breaks down during production causing the entire plant to become idle. We have developed a range of vibratory conveyors that are the most reliable in the industry. From our VF range of electromagnetic conveyors, which have no moving parts, to the BL conveyors commonly found in sweet corn plants feeding 20,000 kg per hour to the cutters over a 3-month season.
Recurring costs spent on distribution systems make a big difference to the bottom line of food production plants. The largest ongoing cost to operate a distribution system is the employee's time to clean each conveyor. As production facilities strive to become more flexible the number of line product changes has increased. Vibratory conveyors can be cleaned faster and more effectively than belt conveyors. The design of our entire range of conveyors has taken this into consideration. For example the LT conveyor, which has been optimised for snack food applications, uses a smooth stainless steel product contact surface to reduce the risk that allergens from different powder flavours can contaminate other products. The VF Advance conveyor has a totally enclosed drive and does not utilise leaf springs, eliminating areas that are hard to clean, and has consequently won favour as the conveyor of choice for the frozen poultry industry.
MD: Conveyor belts can actually be a source of profit. Many solutions are relatively cost effective to implement and have immediate impact on operating costs, be it through elimination of labour and product waste, an increase in production throughput and uptime, a reduction in maintenance, or savings in energy, water, and chemical usage. There are several solutions available in the market today that effectively deliver these results, so much so that payback is often received in a matter of months. Processors should get a thorough payback analysis before a purchase is made so that they know exactly when they will receive a return on their investment.
In what ways have new technologies been incorporated into the operation and management of conveyor lines, and what advantages has that brought?
TH: We have introduced a number of new technologies to improve packaging operations. The gateless proportional distribution system from Wright Machinery increases weigher efficiency well above 99 percent, which allows our customers to get more packaging out of the same machines. This technology also reduces product degradation by virtually eliminating drop heights. Finally the gateless design makes cleaning this distribution system fast, which reduces operating costs and leaves time to increase production capacity. The proportional feed system also improves product flow consistency making it an ideal choice for on-head flavouring applications. Consistent product flow will improve the consistency of flavouring coverage and reduce the costs associated with over flavouring the product.
MD: The most significant, process-changing technology is in package handling automation. That's what is so exciting about our Activated Roller Belt - or "ARB" - technology. With ARB technology, processors are enabled to make critical improvements using automation where it was previously considered too costly or complex.
On an ARB-equipped conveyor, the product rests on free-spinning belt rollers and can be moved selectively in order to change direction, alignment, location, and speed of an item without using complicated controls. For meat processors, this means savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually by eliminating line stoppages caused by case jams, sorting errors, and other case handling challenges.
Customers have reported that through implementation of ARB technology, they can now accommodate all package types, lower system ownership and life cycle costs, increase throughput capacity, use less floor space, and eliminate the need for safety protection.
AOR: We are always searching for ways to optimise our products. We select the best materials with proven robustness and we use proven technologies to construct our conveyors. This results in strong and easy-to-handle products, which are frequently updated. An example is the relatively new belt design that we have incorporated in the Jonge Poerink Cobra. This is a curve conveyor with a full stainless-steel belt, which makes it easy to clean. Cobra curves are often used in bakeries, the cooling industry and the drying and packing industry.
The need to reduce downtime, and increase sanitation and hygiene standards - while improving line efficiency - have caused many companies to upgrade their conveyor lines. What measures has your company taken to meet these ever changing demands?
MD: The challenge of maintaining superior sanitation while increasing operational efficiency is a cornerstone of our company's dedication to helping our customers. In order to tackle this issue head on, we recently expanded our comprehensive line of hygienic conveyance solutions to become the exclusive provider of ThermoDrive conveyor belting.
ThermoDrive belts are especially suited for hygienic applications as they feature both the benefits of positive drive, zero back tension belting with a continuous, easy-to-clean surface. As a result, customers benefit from the best of both worlds: dramatically improved food safety and quality assurance combined with reliable operation and minimised maintenance requirements. By using ThermoDrive belting, meat processors have been able to achieve extremely high levels of food safety and have, in fact, reported consistently low swab counts and reduced allergen cross-contamination.
AOR: The demands on our customers are changing constantly as market circumstances get tougher. We consider it a challenge to keep meeting these demands and look to the future with confidence. I believe that the product developments that we have made in recent years fit perfectly with the needs of today's clients. For instance, the modular setup of our conveyors helps to reduce downtime. A new or modified production line is set up in no time. For food applications, our hygienic design and the use of FDA-approved materials help to keep downtime to a minimum. We make reliability a top priority for all our conveyors in order to reduce unscheduled downtime to an absolute minimum. Furthermore, I think our motto 'The best service is no service needed' says it all. We focus on maximizing uptime, which helps to meet the challenges that confront our customers.'
TH: The recently developed magnetic slide gate is a revolutionary technology that allows a slide gate to be removed for cleaning without the use of tools. This solution is sweeping the industry as cleaning times are drastically reduced and the risk of allergen contaminants is virtually eliminated. This technology can be retrofitted without the capital expenditure of replacing an existing distribution system.
PPM and Wright have also developed several change parts to give our customers the option to change certain parts so the line can be cleaned while the factory continues to produce. This includes the PPM Technologies Mini VF conveyor with quick removable pan. This is an ideal scale feeder with 14kg pan that can be removed for cleaning. The Wright Machinery removable OMS drum is a plastic drum specially developed for on head flavouring. This drum has an optimal flight design to ensure product is constantly tumbled with uses in industries from potato chips flavouring to frozen vegetable mixing. The drum can be changed in less then 5 minutes to give the line optimal flexibility.
Mark Drapanas works for Intralox, LLC as manager of its global Meat, Poultry and Seafood Industry Group and has been with the company 21 years.
Arthur Oude Roelink is marketing manager of Jonge Poerink Conveyors in Enschede, the Netherlands. He has extensive experience in marketing and sales in the belting and conveying industries.
Trevor Howard is the Managing Director and Sales Director for PPM Technologies UK including the Wright Machinery and PPM AB business units responsible for EMEA. With 40 years experience in the food industry he is an expert in thermal processing and distribution techniques.