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.
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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.
The Mepaco®’s Field Services and Engineering Team have been on hundreds of calls for all types of food processing equipment service. Seal issues are one of the common requests for service. Here’s the top 3 trouble signs for split seal types and how to troubleshoot repair.
The Trouble Signs:
The Possible Problem:
Grooved or Broken Shaft
A worn shaft may cause a loss of vacuum in your equipment. Depending on the space available and the extent of the damage, a worn shaft may be repaired on-site. Ignoring a grooved shaft can lead to a broken shaft resulting in a catastrophic failure. The timeline to order a replacement shaft may take weeks. Even if there is an extra shaft in inventory, there is a minimum of two days of lost production to replace it. If you suspect a grooved shaft, call Mepaco®’s Field Services to troubleshoot the issue.
Worn Seals and Missing Packing
Seals should be checked for wear and sanitized daily. Seals should also be part of your preventative maintenance program, with two to four extra seals in your parts inventory, depending on usage. Changing the seal during scheduled times will help save lost production; instead of shutting down production to replace a seal.
Seals must be correctly installed with recommended packing. Check to make sure that the seal housing is within tolerance. Revisit the documentation for seal installation instructions. If you have new staff, ask for a training session by Mepaco®’s Field Services experts to have them watch and advise on seal installation and maintenance.
Mepaco® equipment features one of three types of seals: Split Seal, Air-Purge Seal, and Mechanical Seal. Each seal is specified for the best use in the type of processing application.
Split Seal: A split seal provides ease of removal and installation. The construction is made up of rubber and metal reinforcement. It can be specified for a variety of applications. It is easy to disassemble for sanitation and holds up to rigorous COP (clean-out-of-place) processes.
Air-purge Seal: These seals are often specified for applications with high food safety risks and abrasive food product situations. The internal components of the seal rotate with the shaft, so there are no typical issues with worn shafts or missing packing. These seals are engineered to reduce maintenance and sanitation costs.
Mechanical Seal: This type of seal is suitable for applications with coarse, gritty food product. These seals are precision-installed and are not forgiving with tolerance. Mechanical seals are engineered for CIP (clean-in-place) sanitation processes.
Contact Mepaco®’s Field Services for answers to your current seal issues, request an audit, or schedule a consultation for a seal solution to fit your application.
The process for sanitary stainless steel equipment fabrication starts with the selection of the metal and special handling of the material to prevent contamination. For many food and chemical producers, the level of finishing on processing equipment is determined by federal, state, and local regulatory agencies. In sanitary applications, the finish, as well as the material, must be designed to mitigate risk and allow for effective and efficient cleaning and sanitation.
A bead blast finish is commonly used for exterior equipment surfaces and can be found on the interior food contact surfaces. The bead blasting process utilizes bead material such as glass or ceramic beads to produce a non-directional, textured surface with a soft satin appearance and low reflectivity. The finer the blasting media, the more corrosion-resistant the surface performance. The RA values are typically higher than 45 but are dependent on the blasting process and the stainless material.
Bead blasting is commonly used when a uniform finish is desired in structural, material handling, or food handling applications. Many food manufacturers utilize a bead blast finish on the food contact surface area; all who have the equipment and sanitation protocols that comply with their industry food safety regulations.
Electropolishing is an electrochemical process that removes surface material from stainless steel. It produces an extremely smooth, mirror-like finish. The process includes immersing the stainless-steel component into a temperature-controlled bath of electrolytes charged with a DC power supply. Electrolytes used in electropolishing are concentrated sulfuric and phosphoric acid solutions.
Electropolished food contact surfaces comply with sanitation protocols, provide operational sanitation performance beyond compliance, and significantly reduce food attachment, which drives food safety goals and sanitation efficiencies for food processors.
Under 200X magnification, the 304 Stainless electropolish finish shows six times the smoothness measurement than the 304 Stainless Bead Blast Finish.
As microorganisms attach to surfaces, they become more resistant to both physical and chemical sanitation practices. It was determined that out of eleven different finishes tested, the electropolished finish was the most resistant surface to bacterial attachment.
Electropolished food contact surfaces commonly optioned in Mepaco’s cookers, mixers, pump feeders, vacuum stuffers, screw conveyors and inside chutes of dumping equipment. Agitators, shafts and augers can also be electropolished, to treat the entire food contact surface. Electropolishing services are offered in-house by experienced technicians; there is no dependency on outsourcing.
Mepaco’s food processing customers have more discretion in choosing equipment finishes, even in food contact environments. The type of food product, bacterial count, manufacturing function, and sanitation procedures all have an impact on the requirements of equipment finishes.
Metering Screw Conveyors provide surge delivery to downstream equipment, allowing continuous production. Load cells can be integrated into the metering screw to use the loss-in-weight method for measuring product displacement. Metering Screws deliver and surge the correct quantity of product to the mixers, cookers, or blenders downstream as required by the recipe.
The Metering Screw Conveyor is designed with a Clean Sweep Hopper that eliminates waste with a solution that mechanically clears food product between batches.
In the animation, a paddle agitator sweeps the sides of the tub and continually pushes product into the feed screw.
The spin ridge keeps product from barreling, maintaining positive conveyance until the food product is completely unloaded.
Mepaco has engineered Metering Screws up to 6000 lbs. capacity. The screw conveyor delivers metering, formulating and surge applications and handles ground and trim meats, prepared foods, frozen foods, and pet food. Design customization includes:
Contoured covers can be integrated on the screw conveyor, which allows for an increased incline angle, fully contained discharge and reduced footprint.
Processors can realize production efficiencies with options that include:
A typical floor layout is a DP3000 (Direct Pivot) Dumper feeding the hopper. For discharge heights greater than 120”, custom platforms can provide elevated load height and higher discharge requirements.
While not as common, the HD3000, LD3000 and CD1000 dumpers have also been used to feed the Metering Screw.
Surge loading metering screws used in a formulation system configured side by side often use a reciprocating belt conveyor to deliver product between hoppers, depending on the recipe demand.
The discharge chutes on Metering Screws can be static or pivoting. Controls can be programmed to direct chutes to multiple discharge locations.
Mepaco engineers and manufactures many types of Metering Conveyors, from the Clean-Sweep configuration to the Cross-Screw Hopper Design and the conventional center-screw hopper. Our engineering team works with the processor to specify and modify the design to meet the goals of the application.
This featured system doubled cooking batches within a minimal footprint used well-planned equipment selection, floor layout, and controls customization. Mepaco®'s cooking system featured side-by-side ThermaBlend® cookers, with a shared maintenance and sanitation platform.
The multi-recipe prepared foods processor benefited from flexibility in production scenarios. The system can run two batches at once, staggered, or different batches in each cooker, all driven by production demand and recipe controls.
The ThermaBlend® Cooker supports quick homogeneous batch turn for their multi-recipe production requirements. The wrap-around heat jacket design, bi-directional scraper system, and an application-specific agitator create cooking and blending efficiencies.
Further efficiencies of the ThermaBlend® cooker include the variation of processing capabilities in one unit, such as cooking, searing, caramelizing, sautéing, and blending. A versatile unit, ThermaBlend®'s is designed for large-scale cooking operations. Customization such as integrating vacuum and cooling, also provides added efficiency.
The batches are discharged into a heated buffering mixer that maintains product temperature and consistency until signaled for release to downstream operations.
The opposite cover design on the dual cookers with the shared platform and the electropolished food contact surfaces create a high degree of sanitation efficiency.
The system is highly controlled and reliable. Mepaco's ThermaBlend®'s are engineered with extremely robust stay-bolt ASME-rated jackets. Cookers are customized to the application, including experienced agitator designs to meet rigorous production requirements.
Two column dumpers are used to add ingredients to two ThermaBlend® cookers. The Mepaco® Column Dumper offers a very heavy-duty design and is engineered for maintenance ease. Mepaco® often makes modifications depending on the application, such as column heights, dump angles to 60 degrees, dumper capacity, extended chutes, and stainless upgrade kit.
Mepaco® has a new test cooker for processors with new products or recipes requiring cooking and blending. The test cooker is a 75-gallon ThermaBlend® unit with steam injection, vacuum, pneumatic covers and doors, and dual ribbon agitators. Learn more about scheduling a trial.
The Mepaco® brand has been around for a long time. The company began in 1932, and we are well known for our blending systems. Mepaco®'s team of long-standing technical sales managers, engineers, and project leaders work with customer teams to solve for the best solution that fits the application and production goals. Our equipment and systems uphold increased yield performance, optimal designs for ease of maintenance and operation, single-source manufacturing capabilities, the highest sanitary equipment finishes available and vigilant compliance of food safety criteria.
Mepaco has a new test cooker for processors who have new products or recipes that require cooking and blending. The test cooker is a 75-gallon ThermaBlend® unit with steam injection, vacuum, pneumatic covers and doors, and dual ribbon agitators.
The ThermaBlend® is designed specifically for large scale batch operations. All of the components from the tub to the agitators are custom designed to meet the needs of the blending application. It is designed with wrap-around steam jacket, fabricated by ASME certified welders, which offers massive heat transfer efficiencies.
Inquire about a trial of this test cooker in your facility and experience:
The controls provided on the test cooker provide flexibility for a rigorous test, including:
Contact a sales representative today to schedule a test!
Mepaco’s Food Processing customers often opt for custom and modifiable dumping equipment features that provide the highest level of personnel and food safety, highlighted in this animation.
Locking Mechanism: Pallet Retention cylinders secure the pallet on both sides to retain its position during the dump cycle. The locking mechanism is part of the PRS (Pallet Retention System).
Personnel Guarding: In the animation, personnel guarding is demonstrated for the entire dump-zone footprint and includes safety relays that control the e-stop position.
Elevated Load Height: Whether it benefits production or personnel maneuverability, elevated load heights can be customized into the dumping equipment solution.
Pneumatic LRS (Liner Hold Down): A liner hold-down is controlled to enter the tote to prevent the liner from separating from the combo and falling into the hopper. The liner hold-down prevents operators from having to reach and try to control the liner by hand.
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.
The Pallet Retention System (PRS) and the Liner Retention System (LRS) are both available on the DP3000 Pivot Dumper (shown in the animation) and the HD3000 High Lift Dumper models.
Other food and personnel safety options include:
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.
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