A recent article, “It’s About Labor”, published in Food Engineering magazine, processors were interviewed about the ongoing difficulties finding and retaining workers, even beyond the post pandemic labor levels. Mepaco®’s customers, too, have been driving automation conversations, so we are developing resources to share our application expertise with solutions that are semi- or fully automated.
Some applications lead food manufacturers to consider equipment that allows for versatile functions to reduce labor and manual processes that can either be locally controlled or fully automated.
The ThermaBlend® Cooker is a highly efficient cooking/blending solution with a substantial heat transfer area featuring highly efficient agitators and a patented scraper system that proves fast processing times. The ThermaBlend® Cooker is engineered for specific customer goals and is capable of cooking, searing, caramelizing, chilling, sautéing, and blending. Mixers, cookers, and blenders are highly engineered and highly controlled systems for large-scale batch operations up to 1000-gallon capacity.
In one example, Mepaco’s customer, a chicken processor, used manual processes for tenderizing, cooking, and shredding. The labor was nearly eliminated with the introduction of the ThermaBlend® which combined five processes to temper the meat, massage, tenderize, cook, shred and blend with thickening sauce.
Mixer-Blenders and Buffering Mixers: Product Temperature Control
Mixing equipment can be modified for the needs of the application to include direct or in-direct steam options. Cooling jackets, insulation/cladding, or injection systems (CO2 or N2) also add versatility to mixing and blending efficiencies.
Mepaco has engineered buffering mixers to streamline operations. In one application, Mepaco engineered heated buffering mixers which kept the particulates in various densities in suspension until downstream operation signaled for more product. In this example, the buffering mixers solve for automation, and maintain the integrity of the product.
Screw Conveyor Systems: Versatile loading while maintaining product temperature
Another application specific solution, screw Conveyors are among the most modifiable equipment solutions to suit the processing layout and versatile loading positions in an automated line. Screw conveyors can have automatic loading based on product weight or downstream signals, as well as automated pivoting between equipment.
To learn more about automation, or upgrades to controls packages, discuss your application and goals with Mepaco.
The inventory list will give you a clear understanding of the possible maintenance and parts needs throughout all processing equipment and provide scale and efficiency opportunities in your maintenance program.
It is not uncommon for stainless processing equipment to still be in production for over 20 years, so assessing age-related wear and usage wear is important.
In Mepaco's product line, cookers, blenders, and mixers are often the critical part of the processing line that causes the highest losses during downtime repair.
Agitators, motors, and cylinders have the longest lead times for parts replacement on Mepaco's Mixers ("How to Plan for Mixer Blender Parts"), Blenders and Cookers.
Delivery of agitator replacements is 3 – 6 months due to the availability of stainless material, and they are custom fabricated for the application. Make sure you have a spare to avoid unnecessary downtime.
Motor and gearbox availability is dependent on the manufacturer. Some motors and motor components are manufactured overseas, so it is recommended to have a spare in the event of an emergency.
Cylinders are also manufactured overseas and may require long replacement lead times. Plan spares accordingly.
Preventative maintenance protocols will include checks of seals, and gaskets, lubrication schedules, and checking for worn scrapers on cookers.
Mepaco recommends a complete spare set of scraper assemblies ("7 Upgrades that Increase Cooker Production") to prevent cooker downtime associated with worn scrapers. Note the hours of operation to manage scraper replacements.
Contact Josh Schladweiler, Field Services and Parts Manager, for more information at (920) 344-1465.
Mepaco offers equipment products that are engineered specifically for the application required for processing, material handling, or an integrated system. Due to the food safety and personnel safety goals across food processors, Mepaco has innovated options to solve for these goals. Here are 10 modifications to Dumper designs that can impact safety goals starting at the beginning of the processing line.
1. PRS (Pallet Retention System)
The PRS design feature allows the combo to complete the dump cycle while separating from the pallet, limiting the potential for contamination in the food stream. Upon completion of the dump cycle, the dumper and frame are reunited, and the carriage assembly returns to the start-load position.
2. LRS (Pneumatic Liner Retention System)
The LRS controls a device that prevents the liner from separating from the combo and falling into the hopper and food stream. The liner hold-down prevents operators from having to reach and try to control the liner by hand.
3. Elevated Load Height
Whether it benefits production or personnel maneuverability, elevated load heights can be customized into the dumping equipment solution.
4. Stainless Cylinders
Upgrading cylinders to stainless will provide sanitation performance and longevity.
5. Stainless Steel pivot bearings
Stainless pivot bearings are another critical component option that are often used in harsh food processing and sanitation environments.
6. Electropolished Chute
Another option is an electropolished chute which promote food safety with efficient sanitation that is cleanable to a microbiological level.
7. Beacon Light
Adding a signaling light alerts faults in applications where safety is an issue.
8. Safety Side Shields
Safety shields are designed to protect personnel from moving components and pinch points.
9. Enclosed Guarding
Personnel guarding can also be designed for the entire dump-zone footprint, optional pocket door designs allow for safe fork truck access for loading and unloading.
10. Automation & Controls
With a full safety enclosure and controlled dumper system, the load set point, detraction, and down control can be integrated into the HMI (Human Machine Interface). The dump function can also be automatically timed to feed downstream equipment using loss-in-weight or level sensor technology. The safety enclosure can also be designed and controlled to open automatically for loading and pallet removal.
Mepaco offers dumpers with a range of versatility from 48” to 175” dump heights. We also manufacture accessories including lifts, vats, tubs, and buggies for your material handling needs. The tote dumpers (DP3000, HD3000 and LD3000) have a working capacity of 3,000 lbs. (1,361 Kg) and a 45-degree dump angle.
Visit Mepaco’s Dumping Equipment for more information.
With the complex demands in food processing and production, safety, and quality, performance of every component within food equipment is critical.
The bearing type and style for your Mepaco equipment has been determined by application and plant preference. Many food processing facilities utilize stainless bearings which provide corrosion resistance in wet environments. Here are some tips to reduce wear issues and extend stainless food-grade bearing life:
Choose the bearing type that will uphold to the food processing application. Standard steel ball bearings are mounted in a painted cast iron housing. Mepaco’s coating on standard bearings is a sealant with anti-corrosive benefits.
In aggressive and gritty food product applications, food processors often choose polymer bearings. The polymer bearing has a moderate up-front investment – but the total cost of ownership is lower because it requires less maintenance when used in aggressive applications.
The type and viscosity of food product, thermal processing technology, desired texture, and cooking/processing cycle times are considerations for the applied cooking/blending solution. When selecting an agitator or changing an application, review the thermal processing and blending goals. The proper agitator selection, blending action and recipe controls provide the highest level of batch productivity and efficiently.
Mepaco has engineered several types of agitator configurations. Ribbon style blenders provide a higher level of shear. Single or double agitators with paddles provide a more aggressive blend.
The desired system expectation is also a factor. Agitators can be designed to reduce product discharge waste; designs can also provide suspension to hold product until downstream equipment is ready.
The type of thermal heat solutions and type of food product will drive the need for scrapers. Indirect heating applications typically require scrapers to prevent burn-on during the heating process.
For more information about mixing and blending applications, check out our e-book on “Comparing Agitator Solutions.”
The agitator and controls package for the cooker have been specifically engineered for a particular set of batch parameters. It is critical that operators understand the expected performance of the cooker and blending settings.
After commissioning, when a change is made in the food product, temperature, or recipe alteration, it may affect agitator effectiveness and overall efficiency of the cooker. If any delays or inefficiencies are noticed, contact the factory to provide a system check, or provide system adjustments to the application changes.
It is vital to keep agitators well maintained. Flexed or stressed agitators do not perform efficiently, and in some cases, minor efficiencies turn into critical downtime scenarios when not maintained properly.
If plant personnel make a repair to an agitator, it is important to schedule an after-event service call to make sure the repairs hold up to stainless welding fortifications and proper straightening to prevent future issues.
Scraper systems may degrade over time. Check scraper assemblies during maintenance intervals, and replace scrapers that become ineffective. Worn scrapers are a liability to food safety and product quality that can cause a critical shut-down if scrapers crack or break up into the food product; or become ineffective due to excessive wear.
Agitators are one part of the overall solution for cooking and blending. Visit our web page to learn more about thermal processing equipment.
Over time, processors might see changes in product integrity and timing that does not reflect the quality and production times intended when the equipment was commissioned.
Why is this happening? When a decrease in cooker production occurs, it points to a change in the operation, process, procedure, equipment, or even operator error.
If the processing scope and thermal calculations have not changed since the equipment was commissioned, check the alarm screen for faults and verify that operators have not ignored the alerts.
Check the controls setting to confirm that are the original programming. These checks include agitator speeds, pauses, direction, steam and/or cryogen performance and temperature set points. If these checks are okay, the issue may point to an operator error or mechanical problem.
In the event of a scope change which may include different product or process, the program may need to be updated to accommodate new variables.
The controls monitoring may also provide feedback on plugged injectors, steam pressure loss and lead to component updates to improve cooker performance.
Further, upstream, or downstream equipment change can affect cooker efficiencies. Consult the factory for program updates to pace the cooker with the rest of the system. Add communications and readiness relays for feedback with supporting equipment control systems to facilitate continued production.
Changes in batch size ingredients, product temperatures or other recipe alterations can affect agitator effectiveness and efficiency. Agitator directions, speeds and pauses may not be optimized for new or changed applications.
Consult the factory for the proper batch controls settings for any changes made to product or process to maximize efficiencies.
When cooking using an indirect steam jacket, worn scrapers can cause blended food products to burn onto the tub's edge. Burn-on will decrease heat transfer and increase cook cycle times.
Excessively worn scrapers can also break apart into the food product stream, causing critical downtime and food production waste.
Note the hours of use for your application and consider regular order intervals to ensure you have sufficient scraper assembly parts in your preventative maintenance program.
Product seepage out of the seal, downstream food contamination or loss of vacuum are signs of a damaged or worn seal and will directly affect cooking and blending efficiency.
Proper installation, seal maintenance, disassembly for sanitation or using the correct seal can lead to a quick fix. Thorough seal sanitation and maintenance protocols will increase efficiencies long term.
When vacuum is being used, it is critical the cooker be sealed and will hold vacuum. To check this, we recommend pulling vacuum to ~28 in-Hg. The unit should be able to hold that vacuum on its own without losing more than 1 in-Hg in 5-minutes.
If the equipment is not pulling the targeted vacuum, it may point to a damaged, improperly installed, or incorrect seal.
Once the correct seal and installation are verified and other components have been verified, the pump may be is ineffective and need replacement.
Determine if production time can be gained by a faster sanitation and changeover process. This improvement may be a combination of automatic Clean-In-Place processes (CIP), upgrading to electropolished food contact surfaces, tool-less maintenance, and sanitation equipment access.
In the current manufacturing labor environment, several operators may operate the equipment over the course of a few years who did not have the advantage of operator training.
To improve your cooker blender efficiencies, contact Mepaco field services for an efficiency audit, parts review, and training update on your equipment.
Our service techs, engineers, and application experts have pinpointed the five most congested production areas in food manufacturing plants. Here are their tips for mitigating these delays, starting with the loading of a system:
#1 Bottleneck: Inefficient and Ineffective Loaders
A common bottleneck is slow loading times preventing the start of batch mixing or blending. Some processors struggle with effective loading using non-integrated, manually intensive equipment causing higher than expected load times and product waste due to ineffective design for the application.
Ineffective feeding methods also add to processing bottlenecks including delays in food product barreling and other issues with non-positive conveyance.
Mitigation: While some efficiencies may be gained from an efficiency audit, new equipment solutions might be considered with an integrated recipe and process control package that drives automation. Depending on the consistency of the product, Screw conveyor and Belt Conveyor systems can be designed for the application to provide the necessary feed rate to load quickly and efficiently while maintaining product integrity and temperature. If the product must be delivered from a buggy, combo or vat, Column Dumpers or Vat Dumpers can also be designed for the application and fully integrate with the system.
#2 Bottleneck: Over-blending
While it seems like systems will gain more throughput from over-filling, it creates the opposite effect of over-blending and is a waste of production time and efficiencies. The consequences of over-blending are extended load/discharge and blend cycle times. A slight increase in the batch size leads to losses in the overall production rate, sacrificing quality and accuracy.
Some production bottlenecks are caused by inefficient feed rates or lack of surge, causing another case of over-blending.
Mitigation: The process may benefit from a different agitator to produce a quicker, more effective blend. It may also be a process issue where the recipes and timing require tuning to control the blender more efficiently.
The system may warrant an efficiency audit and adjustment to reach the gains and efficiency possible from the equipment. Some customers schedule yearly efficiency audits, having discovered that the service calls pay for themselves in improved quality, accuracy, and throughput.
An efficiency audit may address inefficient feed rates, or a new equipment solution with surge loading may offer more automation.
#3 Bottleneck: Overtaxed Agitators
Mixers and Blenders are the workhorses of a food processing line. It is vital to keep them well maintained. Flexed or stressed agitators do not perform efficiently and in some cases minor efficiencies turn into critical downtime scenarios when not maintained properly.
Mitigation: The drive end motor may not be shimmed properly. A bad bearing on the idle side may be creating flexing in the agitator. Over chilled food product will cause additional stress on the agitation process.
It is critical to understand the expected performance of your mixer or blender as well as the maintenance and inspection of the agitator(s). If plant personnel make a repair, it is important to schedule an after-event service call to make sure the repairs hold up to stainless welding fortifications and proper straightening to prevent future issues. There is a 3-month to 6-month lead time on replacement agitators. High volume processors often keep a spare agitator in inventory in the event of a critical agitator repair, so production can continue using the inventoried agitator.
#4 Bottleneck: Cooker Scraper Damage and Performance
Batch cookers set the pace for downstream processes and production goals in a prepared foods production line. It is not uncommon to run cookers for long periods, especially by high-volume producers. Scraper systems may degrade prematurely when preventative maintenance is stretched too far between intervals. Worn scrapers are a liability to food safety and product quality that can cause a critical shut-down if scrapers crack or break up into the food product; or become ineffective due to excessive wear.
Mitigation: Mepaco® field services experts recommend always having a complete set of scraper assemblies (including springs) in inventory. High volume processors often create blanket orders to maintain a steady inventory of scraper assemblies.
A preventative maintenance check on the scrapers is just as important to prevent downtime associated with scrapers. Evidence of product burn-on and product build-up is a sign that the scrapers are worn. It is important to note scraper usage compared to the hours of operation. Maintenance checks and sanitation protocols should include checking scrapers for cracks, missing pieces, and other signs of stress or wear.
#5 Bottleneck: Manual or Inefficient Unloading
When cookers or mixers are manually unloaded into buggies or vats, several minutes of production are lost compared to automatic solutions. The equipment must be shut off, the operator must manually remove product around the doors, then close the doors before taking the tote by fork truck to the dumper.
Mepaco® techs have also seen delays with unloading when downstream equipment is not ready or can’t keep up with the cooker or mixer.
Mitigation: In manual unloading situations, equipment such as screw conveyors, metering screws or pump feeders may be able to be planned into the system to automate the process, even as a retrofit, if the floor layout allows.
In situations where downstream equipment does not allow for product, Mepaco® has engineered buffering mixers, which will maintain the mix and the temperatures, in a holding state until signaled by downstream equipment. The blender can continue production when the previous batch is discharged into the buffering mixer.
The greatest efficiencies in a processing system result from a coordinated effort to automate the processes in the system by determining:
According to Deloitte Institute, production has significantly increased all manufacturing sectors in the United States and continues to grow at a rate of 4% in 2022. This uptick in the manufacturing economy coupled with labor shortages across the globe continue to make material sourcing and parts management unpredictable.
For planning purposes, parts that rely on overseas suppliers have longer lead times. Pipes, fittings, and electrical components are often produced overseas. Agitators, cylinders, motors, gear motors and gearboxes are at risk for longer delays.
Here's an infographic showing seven common parts in food processing equipment that should be in stock for the next planned shutdown. If a July shutdown is being planned, order parts now so you are fully stocked for a successful maintenance shutdown.
RECOMMENDED SPARE PARTS
LONG LEAD TIME
We are working closely to leverage our relationships and buying power with vendors to manage sourcing needs. We continue to partner with manufacturers who fulfill our quality and application specifications but have flexible sourcing solutions to meet our customers’ needs.
Mepaco is working on proactive solutions to help equipment owners better plan for replacement parts. We are looking into more tech tip education, systematic reminders, maintenance technology, and service offerings to help customers stay ahead of parts replacements.
Click here to download PDF
The Pet food processing industry has witnessed significant growth in the last few years, according to FPSA, Pet Food Processing Equipment Market Forecast to 2026. The study states that the growth is due to an increase in pet ownership and adoption rate and a rise in urbanization across developing countries. The changing consumer trends such as demand for nutritious alternatives and high-quality pet food and proteins have further led to changes in the pet food equipment industry.
Market trends and overall growth have led Mepaco to engineer more systems for pet food manufacturers. This blog highlights a bin formulation system that Mepaco has manufactured for numerous pet food processors. The bin system utilizes on-demand controls to provide around-the-clock formulation. The core equipment in this system are the Clean-Sweep Metering Conveyor, Belt Conveyors, and Load Cells.
CLEAN-SWEEP METERING SCREW CONVEYORS with SURGE LOADING CAPABILITIES
Clean Sweep Metering Screws provide the surge loading benefits required to fulfill production goals in the batch formulation system. The equipment is custom designed as part of a lineup in a bin configuration. Each hopper supplies different ingredients for the (mass scale) pet food production line.
Ruggedly built for continuous operation, the Clean-Sweep hopper design offers an off-set agitator that clears product from the hopper between batches.
LIW (loss in weight) Load cells are used to measure product displacement over a given time. LIW Load Cells provide a highly accurate way to utilize metering screw conveyors and provide processing efficiencies since all ingredients are delivered simultaneously.
Downstream equipment such as mixers, blenders, or cookers signal the raw material in a given SKU. The screw conveyors deliver the correct quantity of product required through the primary grinder and then to the batching bins for final formulation.
Belt conveyors deliver ingredients on-demand to the exact bin position with versatility and deliver formulated products to downstream operations.
This processing line reduced labor and eliminated downtime with continuous, around-the-clock large batch production: utilizing real-time material availability and on-demand formulation.
The Mepaco® brand has been around for a long time. The company began in 1932 and operated out of Oakland, California. The name Mepaco® stands for Meat Packers Equipment Company. For the first 40 years, Mepaco® was a significant equipment supplier to deli meat, sausage, and smoked meat processors. Mepaco® offered loaf molds and slicers, cooking and cooling racks, smokers, brine tanks, manual cutting tables and workstations. Mepaco® also offered Mixers. One of their earlier Mixers was called a Buffalo Mixer and was engineered to automate the sausage making process.
Early catalogs highlight that the mixer was also offered as a customized solution to include a heat jacket. The company would develop more equipment products around mixing and cooking in the years that followed.
Apache purchased the Mepaco® brand in 1993. The assets were moved to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. It was an excellent fit for Apache’s fabrication specialists because of our expertise in manufacturing stainless steel original equipment for processing industries.
With a background in heavy industrial stainless equipment manufacturing and ASME expertise, Apache influenced the equipment designs, especially processing equipment like mixers, cookers, and blenders. The equipment transformed into strengthened frames and components. Heat transfer technology was engineered to the level of expectations within Apache’s critical industry processors. Under Apache’s ownership, Mepaco® processing equipment began serving red meat, dairy, poultry, baking and processed foods industries.
Today’s Mixers, Cookers and Blenders designed by Mepaco® are highly engineered and highly controlled systems for large-scale batch operations. It is not uncommon for batch sizes to reach 8000 lbs. in Mepaco®’s Mixers and Blenders. Mepaco®’s equipment solutions are seen in more industries including pet food, plant-based products, and prepared foods.
The ThermaBlend® Cooker, debuted in 2006, is a trademarked brand. A highly efficient cooking/blending solution, the ThermaBlend® has a massive heat transfer benefit with highly efficient agitators and a patented scraper system that proves fast processing times. True to Mepaco®’s value to processors, the ThermaBlend® Cooker is engineered for specific customer goals, and is capable of cooking, searing, caramelizing, chilling, sautéing, and blending.
Celebrating 90 years in 2022, Mepaco® is known for its formulating and thermal processing solutions. Our value to processors is our ability to modify and adapt designs, functionality, and controls technology to solve processing problems. The need for this level of customization has grown into engineering entire processing room systems. Mepaco® has designed coordinated systems integrated with high-performance equipment for small and growing processing companies as well as Fortune 500 food manufacturing corporations.
The Mepaco® team, works every day to provide:
What does the future hold? Through interviews, conversations, and surveys, we are listening to customers and learning about what they need from our company. We are looking at new equipment products and making improvements in service support and resources in 2022, a direct result of recent customer survey feedback. To our customers, thank you for your business and the valuable feedback that helps us strengthen our partnerships.
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