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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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.
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:
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.
With the sophisticated demands in food processing and production, safety and quality, every component within food equipment is critical. Any machinery with moving parts has friction and ‘wear’ issues, and to accommodate most equipment uses a standard bearing. But in applications where the standard bearings compromise food contact areas, Mepaco offers the polymer bearing.
Standard issue bearings are typically ball bearings, mounted in a painted cast iron housing. While the painted coatings are a sealant and deliver anti-corrosive benefits, rust and paint chips can still exist and find its way into the product path. Secondly, maintenance, disassembly, and replacement of bearings is very time consuming in a busy production setting. And lastly, if used above an open product path, grease may cause product contamination. For these reasons, steel ball bearings are best used in equipment and areas where they will not come in contact with food.
In food processing environments, producers should consider polymer bearings to mitigate food safety risks.
The polymer bearing has a moderate up front investment – more than steel bearings – but the Total Cost of Ownership is lower, because of fewer maintenance, safety and sanitation issues.
Mepaco’s polymer bearing is a solid, self-lubricating polymer that is absent of ball bearings. This ensures fewer parts, lowering the chance for breakage or malfunction. In place of the ball bearings, the polymer bearing includes a self lubricating insert, which eliminates the need for grease. That insert can also be replaced without needing to replace the entire housing, reducing the Total Cost of Ownership.
In recent Mepaco systems, the polymer bearing is showing much promise in new applications within traditional food processing environments. While not steel or cast iron in build, the polymer is ‘holding up’, proving to display the durability and efficiency in design.
Polymer technology is changing the face of many industries, and the food industry is no different. The advanced polymer bearings available in Mepaco products represent the promise of innovative components. And with a lower Total Cost of Ownership along with improved quality and efficiency, the smooth polymer bearing should be a reliable transition for all producers.
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