Our equipment provides and services best fit customers who need customization for their application. In this ebook, "7 Steps to a Application Engineered Cooking Solution," our application and technical engineers outline our process from concept to delivery, focusing on the ThermaBlend Cooker with customization resource charts.
1. Scope Definition
Technical, experienced Mepaco® sales managers visit the customer site and meet with the project team, which may include operations, maintenance, and engineering stakeholders. Mepaco engineers may visit the site to create or verify the plant layout to include the flow of operations and how to configure equipment based on traffic, existing equipment, and utilities.
Through the site visit and subsequent conferences, application experts discover the customer’s goals for the system, the existing processes that need to tie in, and special customer specifications required in the proposed solution, including:
• Production and volume goals
• Sanitation requirements
• Food safety solutions
• Personnel safety needs
• Footprint availability
• Automation goals
• Equipment and controls integration
• Product parameters and quality criteria
2. Refining scope
Engineering performs calculations to size and select the parameters for the equipment, and components required to meet production and operational targets. The controls group also assesses the recipe and automation goals to determine a solution for programming and devices.
After a collaboration of the direction for the system, a formal quote is provided and presented to the customer’s project and purchasing team.
The sales manager will present the application solution to explain the benefits of the system and how the equipment selection, layout and controls would solve the goals of the project.
4. Engineering and Approval
After Mepaco® receives the project and purchase order, a kick-off meeting with operations, engineering and scheduling launches the project. A project engineer is also assigned to oversee the system project.
The formal approval drawings are provided to the customer to ensure all scope details have been met and discuss any additional requirements.
After the drawings are approved, Mepaco® engineers begin the manufacturing detail for the fabrication of equipment. Detailing included CNC and fabrication programming, assembly drawings, parts and finishing details.
As with all projects and orders, detailed processes are followed and tracked throughout the manufacturing cycle in Apache’s enterprise system.
Manufacturing is scheduled after engineering detailing, considering shop availability, and confirming with the customer.
The controls team works concurrently to program the recipe and automation controls for the system. Control panels are wired and tested when the equipment is close to completion in the factory.
The system can be set up in our plant for a FAT (Field Acceptance Test) if required. Customers are welcomed at Apache Stainless and Mepaco® to go through the system parameters with our manufacturing team and engineers.
7. Transport and Installation
The customer provides a time frame for equipment delivery to install equipment.
Apache Stainless delivers equipment with door-to-door transport service.
The Mepaco® field services group are often called for start-up assistance, supervision, and maintenance training.
Download our guide, “7 Steps to an Application Engineered Solution”.
Processors upgrading production and processing equipment have a significant investment including machines, shipping, installation, and commissioning. To consider an upgrade of controls may also mean a change of procedures and processes. Food manufacturers must weigh their concerns, such as payback, capex budget, downtime, and life cycle costs. Mepaco® has helped customers with manual, entry-level, and advanced controls options. Here are some examples of the rationale why customers choose a which level of controls strategy.
The payback for a controls solution depends on the application. Artisan food processors with less production volume may be well-suited for manual controls. Another example of a simple controls package investment could also be testing equipment, R&D equipment, or perhaps short run product lines.
In food processing lines with automation as the driving strategy, many processors utilize higher-end controls with computerized recipes and automated controls of integrated equipment to meet goals and return on investment.
Financial reservations are a top concern for all sizes of companies to consider in an equipment or system investment. The pros and cons should be carefully considered on the system solution and the equipment and controls partner.
Increased production goals drive food processors to invest in automation to sustain growth and competitiveness, with other factors including food safety, personnel safety, and labor utility costs.
In some examples, a capital commitment to a new system with advanced controls are a solution to reduce loss of downtime, specifically downtime related to manual processes such as loading and unloading.
Some processors struggle with effective loading times when using non-integrated, manually intensive equipment. New equipment solutions with an integrated recipe and process control package can be engineered to solve automation goals and reduce or redirect labor.
Life cycle of equipment is affected by environment, proper use, and hours of operation. Stainless equipment, however, generally lasts a long time. Mepaco® has Mixers that are still in operation after 40 years.
From a controls package standpoint, advanced controls packages can be changed and upgraded unless it is a legacy system, which would require a full processor and software upgrade.
In a round table discussion of Mepaco® application specialists, engineers, sales and service technicians, the team offered up trends and considerations from component level options to entire system solutions that help solve automation and reduce labor in food manufacturing processes. For more information, read our e-book “Processing Automation Trends”.
Click here to download infographic.
Mepaco® cookers are designed with ASME thermal jackets. The jackets are pressurized and therefore regulated by ASME standards. The ThermaBlend® Cooker features an ASME stay bolt (also called stay-rod) constructed jacket. Mixer-cooker equipment may also have stay-bolt or dimple jacket construction.
Specifically, ASME engineering and construction requirements include approved calculations, ASME-certified techniques and fabricators, testing, and ASME stamps and documentation.
With indirect steam heating, pressurized steam flows through a wrap-around ASME thermal jacket that cooks the product through conduction. Since the potential exists for burn-on, Mepaco’s patented scraper system keeps the surface clean to maximize heat transfer and mitigate sanitation issues. Product applications for indirect steam heating include stews, sauteed vegetables, scrambled eggs, granola, ground beef, and other food products that do not require additional moisture. The indirect steam cooking option can also provide caramelization if needed for the application.
Stay-bolt rods are individually welded between the inner and outer jackets providing a robust jacket design. Due to expansion and contraction caused by heating and cooling with constant blending agitation, the 90+ psig, ASME-rated stay-bolt jackets are recommended for demanding applications of the ThermaBlend® cooker.
Thermablend® cookers are also offered with direct steam injection (DSI). DSI is quick and efficient and eliminates burn-on and the need for a scraper system. Since steam is directly injected into the product, culinary steam filters provide clean steam for your process. Application examples include moist pet food, thick sauces, soups, fillings, and spreads.
Thermablend® cookers can utilize direct, indirect, or both steam heating techniques. Using both indirect and direct steam options will substantially increase batch cycle cooking efficiencies. The viscosity and make-up of the food product, processing, and production requirements dictate which type of Thermablend® and agitator option is the best solution for the application.
Mixer-Cookers are designed with either ASME stay-bolt or dimple jackets that heat product indirectly. Dimple jackets utilize a thin gauge stainless steel layer welded to the tub shell in a regular pattern. The punched and spot-welded areas are called dimples, which create turbulence of the heating or cooling steam or fluid flowing through the jacket.
Mixers, Pump Feeders, and covered Screw Conveyors may utilize ASME dimple jackets to maintain temperature control.
An equipment nameplate will display the ASME stamp and compliance information, and the final certification will be registered with the National Board and made available to the customer. Pressured stay-bolt or dimple jackets over 15 psi, will require ASME compliance.
Should there be a need for refurbishment or repair, please get in touch with Mepaco®, so your ASME jacket will remain compliant and altered by certified ASME specialists who will validate an R-stamp repair. Mepaco® also has compliance expertise with CRN (Canada Registration Number).
Mepaco® engineers equipment for the specific application in every project, providing high-performance equipment. The ThermaBlend ® Cooker has a lot of customization options to fulfill the production goals of the food processor. In fine tuning the specifications for a cooking solution, Mepaco® provides a consultative approach to the parameters around production, operation, product, process, safety, and automation.
Discussions around production goals will define the capacity and size of the unit. Other considerations that also factor into the capacity of the equipment are mixing time, cooling time, and how long it takes to load and unload the cooker. Mepaco® will consider the total batch time and how many batches in an hour / day can be maximized for the new cooking solution.
Operational considerations are the physical requirements of the equipment. What equipment is loading the cooker? How is it loading and what is the loading height? Are there footprint limitations or existing plant requirements? Which configuration, the single or the double agitator, is best for the application? What equipment will the cooker discharge into and what is the discharge height?
Mepaco® has significant experience in many food processing industries which may influence application direction. Considerations also include product type and size, moisture, protein, density, viscosity, and composition. With new products, Mepaco® encourages customers use our test cooker at their facility to determine the process and effectiveness of the ThermaBlend® cooker.
Next, Mepaco® must discover the processes required for the cooking application. The ThermaBlend® Cooker is a versatile unit that is capable of mixing, blending, cooking, cooling, searing, caramelizing, sautéing. The mixing or blending action and speeds are determined in defining the process. Also, scraper systems may be considered depending on the food product and process. The loading temperatures, cooking temperature, and unloading temperatures are all calculated to determine how the equipment will process the batch. Depending on the application, the process may require vacuum, cryogen, direct and/or indirect steam.
Under safety, Mepaco® will collect food safety and personnel safety requirements for the system. Sanitary design and sanitation requirements are determined, as well as construction materials, exterior and weld finishes, and guarding needs are all added to the project scope.
After the equipment solution is determined, the controls and automation strategy can be developed. Controlled processes, recipe programming, steam, glycol, or water control, and certifications, if necessary, are planned for the controls solution.
The ThermaBlend® Cooker is designed specifically for large-scale batch operations. All components from the tub to the agitators are custom designed to meet the needs of the application. The ThermaBlend® is designed with standard and modifiable options that include:
Start a conversation with one of our consultative sales managers for more information.
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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 lower 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.
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