Today, many food manufacturers are adjusting operations to take advantage of heightened demand for their products. Some are expanding their plant and adding production lines, while others are adding or upgrading equipment. Almost all are challenged to find enough workers to support the increased load.
The situation is creating a need—and an opportunity—for manufacturers to generate more productivity from their equipment and ensure it is more accommodating for employees.
The design and configuration of the plant’s processing vessels—the core of so many food manufacturing operations—can go a long way to enabling increased productivity. By understanding the range of performance and functionality enhancements available when buying new vessels, food manufacturers can specify features that reduce batch processing and turnover time, and improve the worker experience.
To increase production efficiency and throughput, here are some of the most important enhancements to consider:
- Add double-motion agitation to speed mixing time: Many food processors use standard, single-motion agitators in their mixing vessels. But switching to a double-motion agitator—where counter-rotating agitator blades move product ingredients more efficiently from the outer surface to the center, and from the bottom to the top—can significantly reduce mixing times. Double-motion agitation is effective across a range of mixing speeds, from a gentle lifting and folding action (when used on inclined agitated kettles), to fast, highly aggressive mixing, which is especially effective when mixing highly viscous products, or incorporating other hard-to-wet-out ingredients. Heat transfer efficiency will improve with effective mixing.
- Increase jacketing area to reduce cooking time: Extending the jacketed area around the upper part of the vessel (sidewall) improves heating transfer and cooling rates, substantially reducing batch cooking times. When making these adjustments, heating times must be carefully calculated to produce consistent results and avoid changing important properties, such as ingredient color or consistency, in the final product.
- Upgrade to a smoother surface finish. The smoother the equipment’s finish, the easier it is to clean. Not only will a slight upgrade in surface finish improve production throughput by saving cleaning time, but a smoother surface minimizes the peaks, valleys and textures where bacteria or other contaminants can accumulate.
- Add tilting to the agitator: An agitator with a tilting feature can make cleaning and maintenance faster and easier. This translates into accelerated batch turnover times, particularly important when producing multiple products on the same equipment.
- Prepare for future growth: In addition to optimizing your existing process, it is also important to think of future production needs. For nominal added cost, vessels can be specified with somewhat larger capacities to accommodate ongoing production demand. Agitators can be designed with motor horsepower and agitator ratings above your current requirements to enable a wider variety of products and accommodate future marketing and production opportunities. This approach is especially important for contract manufacturers, who must meet a wide range of often-unpredictable requirements when processing new products for their customers.
Operator Ease-of-Use Enhancements
When specifying your new processing vessels, consider features like these that improve the ergonomics of your process and improve operator use:
- Power assist for ingredient loading and filling: How heavy are the loads for the individual ingredients in your batch? How high must they be lifted by operators? Often, power-assisted loaders and automatic fillers are used to prevent fatigue to operators when loading batch ingredients.
Hinge cover lift assists, cover limit switches, cover grates and motor cutoff switches: Consider the number of times your plant operators must open and close the lid during a typical batch process, and what operations they need to perform during these steps. Important equipment features are available to prevent exposure when operators must open the lid during a batch process while the mixer or agitator is in motion:
- A spring- (or air-) operated cover lift assist allows for easy opening and closing of heavy vessel lids, allowing operators to access the batch before, during or after processing. This feature also reduces the risk of the lid falling back down unexpectedly if released by the operator.
- A grate positioned under the cover and grate motor cutoff switch allow for visual inspection of the batch during the mixing and cooking process and allow operators to add ingredients to the batch while the agitator is operating. Grate openings can be custom sized to allow ingredients to pass through the grate, while preventing foreign objects from entering the vessel.
- Additionally, a grate-mounted cutoff switch, which automatically turns the agitator motor off if the grate is lifted from the top of the vessel, can be added to the specification.
- Jacket insulation: During the cooking process, the outside of the jacket can become hot for operators working around the vessel. Vessels can be designed with outer jacket insulation, which reduces the temperature to a lower level. By reducing heat loss, jacket insulation reduces the ambient room temperature on the plant floor.
- Ball valve handle extension or pneumatic actuation operation: Extension handles can be installed on sanitary ball valves to prevent operators from having to bend down or move underneath the vessel to discharge at the end of the process. Pneumatically actuated sanitary ball valves can also be used to provide for remote valve operation.
A range of vessel features can help food manufacturers increase productivity and improve their workers‘ experience. In today’s challenging environment, they can make a big difference in the manufacturers ability to meet growing demand. For more on this topic, download the food processing guide: Food Processing Challenge: Increasing Production to Keep Pace With Changing Demand