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4 Tips to Address Emergency Downtime

Mepaco’s Service Team is often called out on critical downtime situations.  The goal for any food processor is to prevent these situations and if they are unavoidable, mitigate the time and cost associated with the breakdown.  To start with, here are the top four calls that Mepaco Services receive for emergency support:

Broken Shafts Agitators are failing when they start to develop cracks or start to rub the tub side wall of the processing equipment.  Agitators and shafts also fail when a tool or component drops into the equipment and damages the shaft or paddles. The damage is not always immediately apparent; a bent shaft may take months to start failing.

Gear Motors / Gear Boxes Oil leakage, hot temperatures and noise are all signs that gear motors or gear boxes may be failing. The motors and gear boxes commonly fail due to poor lubrication practices. They also may fail because of improper repair of the agitator and the gear motor and gear box may wear out prematurely.

Safety Devices Equipment is designed with safety modes and if the safety devices are damaged, whether accidental or environmental, the equipment will not operate.

Controls Internal programming errors, or physical damage to the HMI are also causes for emergency downtime.

In most instances, there are preventative measurements for processors to prevent downtime situations, but what can you do to mitigate the critical breakdown situation and get back online as soon as possible?

  1. Self-Repair of Shaft Agitator with After-Event Service Call Mepaco Services does provide emergency repairs, yet there is travel time and scheduling to plan. Some processors have maintenance capabilities to make their own repairs.  If the repair is viable by the internal maintenance team, be sure to schedule an after-event care assessment. Mepaco Services technicians will verify the repairs, fix if necessary and provide an assessment of the remaining life of the agitator. Agitators are a long lead parts component, so it is crucial to order the component if there is any indication that the existing shaft will not last.
  2. Emergency Replacement Program for Gear Motors / Gear Boxes Nord is a common component provider in Mepaco equipment. If your equipment has Nord gear motors or Nord gear boxes, the company does offer a weekend emergency expedite program.  There is a premium price for the service, but some processors choose the pay it to avoid the cost of lost production. In some cases, the gear motors / gear boxes may be able to be reconditioned, and after repair they can be used as a spare.
  3. Safety Device Failure While it is not recommended, some processors have engineered workarounds on broken safety devices to continue to run the equipment.  It is very important however, to schedule an after-event service call to return the system to the original safety features, programming, and controls. On new equipment, order spare safety switches, relays, and other controls devices so if there is any failure during transport, install or commissioning, that a new part is on hand to start production on schedule.
  4. Controls If there was unintentional change to the equipment software, in most cases it is possible for a remote programming repair or reloading of the original program.  If the HMI was damaged by condensation from high-pressure, caustic washdown or accidental, a replacement may be required.

The Mepaco Parts and Service team strongly urges processing customers to consider a just-in-case planning mentally for parts replacement. There are long lead times on agitators, cylinders, motors, gear motors, safety devices and HMI panels. 

After-event service calls or equipment-systems assessments are recommended to ensure production up-time and to alleviate safety risk.  If you have questions, or to schedule  service visit, call 920-356-9900 and ask for Mepaco Parts and Service.


When to Leverage Dual Zones in Thermal Jackets for Food Processing

There are various methods to heat and cool food product in cooking equipment. The application will dictate the best combination of methods and configurations ranging from stay-bolt or dimple jacket designs, to injected steam and thermal screw heating options.  On equipment solutions that use a heating jacket, a dual zone design may add versatility to operations.

Heating zones can be engineered for two separate zones that heat or cool independently.

The first chamber forms the bottom of the cooker tub to the centerline of the agitator. This zone has independent controls and can be used for small batches. The upper chamber can be activated to heat when the batch size and application demand.

The best-use application for dual zones are test market runs, small recipe variations, and staged cooking. Zoned heating jackets provide savings in time, energy, and cost for partial batch production. Depending on the application, significant efficiencies can also be realized by starting the batch in the first zone and adding the second zone to finish the batch.

The advantage of dual zones heating jackets is versatility of batch cooking processes and significant savings in energy costs.

The tenured sales and engineering teams in the Mepaco group are driven and dedicated to solving cooking and processing problems for industrial food processing customers. 


Case Story: What Can Happen When an Agitator Problem is Ignored?

Case Story: What can happen when an agitator problem is ignored?

A high-volume pet food processor utilized a Mixer/Cooker in their operations which produced 45-minute batches.  The application called for 28 RPM and mixing cold product at 35 – 45 degrees. During the process of loading different ingredients into the Mixer-Cooker, a Vmag buggy fell into the mixer, causing damage to the agitator.

The processor made repairs to the bent shaft and paddles and was able to get the Mixer-Cooker back online into full production. 

Many processors assume that if the paddles do not rub the side of the tub, that the agitator has had a successful repair. But in many cases (and in this case), there was extensive damage and over time the shaft began to flex, causing the agitator to break. This failure completely stopped production.

There are a few choices to stay ahead of agitator care:

Preventative Maintenance:  Partner with Mepaco Services to inspect agitators to ensure the shaft is straight and look for stress and other damage.

After Event Care: Processors may be able to fix the shift to continue production, but contract with Mepaco Services to inspect the shaft and straighten if necessary.

Most importantly, processors should avoid emergency maintenance, causing down-time and lost production. 

It is not uncommon to have dropped tools into Mixers, so prepare for the event if it does happen.  Consider an audit to assess the life of the agitator and consider ordering a replacement so you can have duplicity for uninterrupted down-time. 

Delivery of agitator replacements are 3 – 6 months out due to the availability of stainless material.  Mixers, Blenders and Grinders are the work horse of the processing system, so be sure that agitator care and component availability are part of the maintenance program.

Mepaco Services offer on-site audits, training, and service contracts as well as emergency repair.


Challenges Solved by Application Engineered Solutions and Agitator Design

The Mepaco team engineers equipment and systems specific to the processing application in each thermal processing project.  In mixing and blending operations, application engineering is especially important because product quality and efficiencies are at stake. The food product, viscosity, texture, cycle times, and thermal processing technology including agitator designs are considered in the best cooking equipment solution. Here are a few examples of challenges that were solved by cooking solutions customized to the processing application.

Challenge: A mega prepared foods processor needed to accumulate flowable product after the cooking cycle, while waiting for downstream operations.

Solution: Mepaco engineered heated Buffering Mixers which kept the particulates in various densities in suspension until downstream operations signaled for more product. A single agitator with an inner/outer ribbon was utilized to meet the products' homogeneous state required for quality targets for downstream filling operations.

Challenge: A chicken processor required a scaled tempering, tenderizing, cooking, and shredding solution to replace manual processes.

Solution: Mepaco provided a 75 gallon double agitated ThermaBlend Cooker with ribbon agitators that performed well in each processing stage.  The cooker was controlled to temper the meat, massage, tenderize, cook, shred, and finally blend with a thickening sauce.  All five processes were completed in the ThermBlend Cooker solution, removing manual operations.

Challenge:  A fruit pie filling manufacturer wanted to streamline pie filling cooking and blending operations while maintaining product integrity.

Solution:  Mepaco engineered a ThermaBlend Cooker that cooked and blended the fruit, then continued cooking when the sauce compound was added, then cooled the filling within a short cycle to maintain product integrity and increase efficiency. The agitator design was a single shaft with dual paddles and a scraper system to prevent product burn-on during the cooking cycle, and blended ingredients with minimal shear.

CLICK HERE for a video introduction to the ThermaBlend Cooker.

 


Mepaco Parts Status Update: Just-In-Time VS. Just-In-Case

Updated 4/1/21

An uptick in the manufacturing economy, reduction of COVID restrictions, COVID vaccine availability and the Suez Canal crisis have made material sourcing and parts management unpredictable.

Apache’s material supply in stainless sheet and plate are produced in the United States. Pipes, fittings, and electrical components are often produced overseas. Further, some components such as motors and gear boxes may require parts from foreign suppliers to manufacture their products.

In 2020, many material suppliers and component manufacturers depleted inventory to manage budget during shutdowns and slow economic conditions.  Now, these businesses are scrambling with staff and resources to support demand.

Apache is being proactive with all sourcing solutions.  We are working closely to leverage our relationships and buying power with vendors to manage our sourcing needs.  We are looking into other supply partners and manufacturers with flexibility and less dependency on foreign manufacturers.

We do not know when the situation will normalize, but we can offer our expertise and advise.  If you haven’t done so already, switch from a “Just-In-Time” parts program to a “Just-In-Case” program.  Make sure you have long lead items in your parts inventory, so you don’t experience downtime in your critical operations.

Long Lead Time Parts:

  • Agitators
  • Cylinders
  • Motors
  • Gear Motors
  • Gear Boxes

Please note that even short lead time components are at risk of delays.


For more information, please contact parts@apachestainless.com or call 920-356-7347.
 


Surge Loading Metering Screw Conveyor is Key Component in 24/7 Formulation Line

The Metering Screw Conveyor with surge loading capabilities is the key equipment component in this (above) 24/7 formulation line.  

In the system above, pre-broken frozen food products (red meat, fish, chicken, vegetables) are delivered to a designated metering screw on a traversing belt which locates the exact drop position. Once the recipe is established and the demand is made, the applicable metering screws deliver product.

Load cells are used to measure product displacement over a given time (loss-in-weight method). Mixers, blenders, or cookers signal for the raw materials in a given SKU, and the surge loading metering screw conveyors will deliver the correct quantity of product required through the primary grinder and then to the batch for final formulation.

Metering screws have versatile designs that are suitable for different food handling requirements: 

  • Applications for the cross-screw hopper include trim meat and course or fine ground meats (fresh or frozen).  
  • The best-fit applications for clean sweep hopper designs are course or ground meats or food product (fresh or frozen).  
  • The dual-screw design is often considered in trim and / or whole muscle applications.

 

Metering Screws provide the surge loading benefits required to fulfill production goals in the batch formulation system above. The clean-sweep Metering Screw has an off-set screw agitator designed to clear food product from the hopper between batches. This batch processing line reduced labor and eliminated downtime with continuous, 24/7 large batch production: utilizing real-time material availability and on-demand formulation.

Visit Metering Screw page.

 


[Infographic] Why Mepaco Mixer-Blenders are still in operation after 40 years

The main reasons that Mepaco Mixers have a legacy in Meat Processing is the Total Cost of Ownership, created by blend accuracy, sanitation efficiencies and proven safety features.

The overlapping paddle blender will guarantee a homogeneous blend that reaches ½% deviation in less than 90 seconds of blending, resulting in:

  • More blender turns, which increase overall production rate
  • Reduced breakdown of fat cells that can lead to smearing issues on equipment surfaces and fatting out of the product in downstream processes
  • Yield improvements

Mixers are designed to fully discharge contents of each batch which allows for traceability from batch to batch. Electropolished finishes on food contact surfaces creates an ultra-smooth finish that produces efficiencies in sanitation.

Equipment designs, safety grates and safety relays prevent staff from reaching into equipment.

The robust build and workmanship quality, combined with blend accuracy, safety and sanitation performance is why these Mixers are still in operation after 49 years.

Visit Industrial Mixers


Why Agitator Solutions are Important to Quality and Throughput in Cooking Operations

The type and viscosity of food product, thermal processing technology, desired texture, and cooking/processing cycle times are considered when specifying the agitator solution. Primary consideration for mixing or blending agitator solution begins with the ability for the food product to self-level. Agitator configurations also include scrapers with indirect cooking applications.

In some applications, the agitator itself may not significantly affect throughput improvement, but the overall solution does. The driving forces for throughput in batch processing is cycle times, loading, and discharging.

However, the wrong agitator solution will not mix or blend the product well. Solids need to be homogeneous and remain intact during processing operations. Further, the product must remain in a mixed state throughout the process and discharge operations.

During project discussions, Mepaco’s application team defines mixing as adding ingredients for the correct mix and consistency, while blending provides a change of the food product's properties.

The thermal processing solution is customized to the specific application. The PLC is programmed to include agitator speeds, pauses, and direction changes for the desired results. Further, the Mixer or Blender equipment will be sized for the batch volume required along with options (vacuum, cooling, searing, caramelizing) to meet the batch cycle times, quality and throughput goals for the processing solution.

Visit Mixers or Visit Cookers


Practical Equipment Strategies to Remove Foreign Contaminants from Processing Lines

Large-volume automation in the meat processing industry brings a higher risk of foreign material contamination. Foreign material can include metal shavings and shards from grinders, mixers and dicers, wood and nails from pallets, and numerous other materials like plastics and glass.

The following are equipment options and proper maintenance practices that can help mitigate foreign material risk in food handling transfer areas:

  • In areas where a tote dumper is used to transfer meat to secondary processing equipment, equipment manufacturers can offer a PRS (Pallet Retention System) that removes the pallet out of the food transfer zone.
  • A drop belt conveyor can be included in system designs that provides repositioning of the meat product during conveyance to allow for visual inspection before the product is transported to downstream equipment.
  • Magnetic grates can be integrated into food transfer areas on processing equipment.
  • The best way to limit foreign material such as nuts, bolts, and metal shavings is to have a robust preventative maintenance program on all equipment.  Machinery vibration can cause nuts and bolts to loosen over time. Wear points on machinery that are not aligned can produce loose metal.  Brittle plastics such as seal holders, conveyor guards and plastic bearings can break down into small pieces and become difficult to detect. Proper construction of the equipment that withstands high-volume and high-speed production is equally important as regular maintenance audits to make sure the equipment is in good working order to help eliminate preventable foreign contamination.

[Infographic] Why Processors like Mepaco's Dumping Equipment

Mepaco’s Food Processing customers opt for custom and modifiable dumping equipment features that provide the highest level of personnel and food safety, including:

PERSONNEL SAFETY

  • Personnel guarding designed for the entire dump-zone footprint and safety relays that control the e-stop position; and optional pocket door designs that allow for safe fork truck access for loading and unloading.
  • Guards can be designed for different types of visibility and access, from gates to pocket and overhead access doors, depending on the requirements of the application.
FOOD SAFETY
  • A Pallet Retention System (PRS) that allows the combo to complete the dump cycle while separating from the pallet, limiting the potential for contamination in the food stream.
  • A liner hold-down that prevents the liner from separating from the combo and falling into the hopper.
  • An optional electropolished finish on the chute solves for sanitation efficiency and effectiveness.

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