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3 Ways Agitators Impact Thermal Processing Solutions

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.

Agitator Selection

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.”

Intended Use

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.

Maintenance Strategy

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.

7 Upgrades That Increase Cooker Production Right Now

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.

  1. Controls Monitoring and Verification.

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.

  1. Agitator Control.

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. 

  1. Scraper Maintenance.

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.

  1. Seal Maintenance.

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.

  1. Vacuum Monitoring.

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.

  1. Increase sanitation efficiencies.

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.

  1. Training Refresher.

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.

Mepaco - 90 Years in the Making

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

  • Ruggedly engineered, reliable equipment
  • Maximum yield performance
  • Optimal designs for maintenance and operation
  • Vigilant compliance for personnel and food safety

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. 

New ThermaBlend® Test Cooker

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:

  • Quick homogeneous blending while minimizing shear.
  • A durable, bi-directional scraper system keeps the heat exchange surface clean, minimizing burn-on while optimizing heat transfer.
  • The massive heat transfer area, highly efficient agitators and patent pending scraper system dramatically reduce process time over conventional batch cookers.
  • Vacuum cooking to further reduce process time.

The controls provided on the test cooker provide flexibility for a rigorous test, including:

  • Status Monitoring
  • Alarm Indication/History
  • Alternating Mixing
  • Modulated Steam Jacket
  • Cooking to Temperature
  • Pull Vacuum on Product
  • Up to 30 recipes
  • Temperature Setpoints
  • Speed Setpoints
  • Rockwell Controls System Components

Contact a sales representative today to schedule a test!

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