Total makeover produces a new generation of spiral freezers

 The incorporation of a self-stacking belt – the FRIGoBELT conveyor – eliminated the need for a bulky, difficult-to-clean support structure. The result was a more compact machine with more efficient air flow control, which reduced freezing time and achieved higher food quality and less weight loss through the formation of smaller ice crystals. To date, more than 2700 Gyrocompact freezers have been installed worldwide.
The Gyrocompact series was a major milestone for Frigoscandia, now part of the FMC FoodTech group. However, as various enhancements and new belt sizes were added to the range, the Gyrocompact family became somewhat differentiated. Spare parts for a newer model were not always compatible with an older machine.
Aware that Gyrocompact spiral freezer customers were seeking common features and parts across the whole freezer series, Frigoscandia Equipment returned to the drawing board to create a new, unified range of spiral freezers based on the proven Gyrocompact system. The result, which supplants all earlier models, is the new
M-series of Gyrocompact spiral freezers, chillers and proofers with enhancements in all areas.

In Asia, the Gyrocompact spiral freeze range has seen successful applications in many food segments. Per Friberg, Marketing Manager, Asia Pacific at FMC Technologies Singapore notes that prawn processors were among the first users of the spiral freezer. “We sold a lot of freezers for prawns in India, Thailand and Indonesia,” he said. By reducing freeze burn, product damage and weight loss, the adoption of spiral freezers played a crucial role in achieving the product quality and safety standards required by Asian exporters.
Later, as the Chinese food industry embarked on a modernisation drive, Gyrocompact spiral freezers were commonly used to freeze dumplings and steamed buns. In Japan, frozen TV dinners, karage chicken and other prepared foods are popular applications. “Space is at a premium in Japan,” said Mr Friberg, “so they have been buying many Frigoscandia units because we are normally only half the size compared to a competitive freezer.” The freezer’s small size also allows them to be delivered as a single pre-fabricated unit for quick installation.

Hygiene and cleanability

The current proliferation of quick service food outlets in many countries has increased the risk of food-related illnesses, with some 70 million cases and over 300 000 hospitalisations reported in the US alone in 1998. Inevitably, legislators are responding with more stringent hygiene standards, regulatory inspections, traceability requirements and tougher penalties for in-fractions. For those who supply frozen food to these consumer markets, the cost of producing unsafe food has never been higher. These concerns made sanitation the top priority in Frigoscandia Equipment’s recasting of the Gyrocompact spiral freezer, where the concept of cleanability has been taken beyond the freezing zone and applied to the entire freezer.
“One major enhancement that users have been pushing for is the cleaning of the evaporator coil,” explained Mr Friberg. The evaporator coil was previously located very close to the freezer walls. “But now we have made the coil much easier to access by moving it further within the freezer so that somebody can walk around, inspect and clean it from all sides.” The evaporator airflow also runs counter- current to flush water for optimal cleaning results.

A meticulous effort to eliminate bacteria traps, improve cleaning access and reduce cleaning time is evident in several other design improvements. New large, self-closing hatches that open to 80¢ª provide easy access to all parts of the freezer, making the product zone fully cleanable. The stainless steel infeed and outfeed are now pre-assembled and seal-welded onto the freezer enclosure, eliminating areas where condensate can accumulate and form bacteria traps. Infeed legs have been eliminated to improve cleaning access.
The freezer’s ‘open plan’ stainless steel floor is fully-welded, with elevated floor-to-wall joints (200 mm above floor), which slope to fully welded drains with bevelled edges for faster and complete drainage. Side guides are made from stain-less steel instead of plastic, and the open structure support ring is designed to minimise surface-to-surface contact between stainless steel and plastic parts. On the stand and drive system, horizontal surfaces have been reduced, with solid stainless steel rods replacing hollow horizontal beams.

Uptime and flexibility

Freezer efficiency has not been left out. “We also wanted to further improve the performance to make a freezer that can run longer between defrost without stopping,” said Mr Friberg, “because today factories run more shifts than before – they don’t stop after 10 hours.
A crucial change involved moving the location of the evaporator fans. Mr Friberg explained: “We have seen that when a customer is running more and more shifts, you get a build-up of snow. One area where you have a lot of snow build-up in is the fan. By moving the fan from the front of the evaporator to the back – what we call the dry side – the result is extra product uptime and greater freezing capacity.”
In addition, over-pressure handling is improved thanks to a new static outfeed tunnel which full further extend the time between defrosts and air in-filtration.
The linear belt take-up has been simplified, with reduced number of belt windings. Tension on the re-turn rail is thus minimised, enhancing the belt’s life. Evaporator face area has been in-creased for greater runtime, and optimised air flow velocity through the evaporators maximises heat transfer and frost pick-up.
The state-of-the-art touch-screen control system is user-friendly, needing no major training for process control. Recipe handling is a new option using the new advanced FRIGoSCAN control system. Modem capability allows for remote diagnostics and trouble-shooting. Mr Friberg highlighted one lesson gained from Frigoscandia Equipment’s past experience in serving customers in developing markets, saying, “In some parts of Asia, you have high fluctuations of power, so you must have a very reliable control system that can take this voltage fluctuation – it cannot have instruments that are too sensitive.”
The freezer’s operational reliability sees gains from the use of fewer components compared to the older generation and at the same Frigoscandia Equipment will be able to offer 6 more standard lay-out options compared to previously. The M-series’ modular concept expands the user’s options for specification alternatives while increasing reconfiguration flexibility, such as common wall assembly with a second freezer. Installation time is drastically reduced – an Italian frozen pizza producer who is running the M-series managed to cut installation time from three weeks to two. Various evaporator coil and fan configurations (35 evaporator sizes in one to six fan/evaporator blocks) can be chosen to obtain the optimum performance base load and for the user’s freezing need. Footprint-to-capacity ratio is improved by a third with a mid-capacity boost option for added fans/evaporators. A uniform stand design for all layouts means adjusting link heights for freezing different products is just a matter of changing stand brackets and belts.

No freeze on investments

The M-series was launched at the IPA food processing machinery fair in Paris in November 2002. Mr Friberg reports that the frozen food industry has responded positively to the development. “They are happy that Frigoscandia Equipment is taking the lead especially in food safety.” He expects the improvements in sanitary design in particular to attract the interest of Asian processors, as they strive to hold their ground on the hygiene front in international markets. Already, Mr Friberg revealed that six units of the new freezer have been sold in the Asia Pacific, with some going to the poultry industry in Thailand and others to meat processors in Australia. Despite the uncertain broader economic outlook, Mr Friberg observes that the Asian frozen food industry has bucked the trend in capital investment. Only Japan suffered a major slump, as incidents of label falsification wrecked buyer confidence. “But at the same time we have had a record year in Australia, Southeast Asia and China,” he said, “we are selling more now than we used to.”
From Frigoscandia Equipment’s perspective, the frozen food market in Asia is still far from mature. Thailand, for instance, continues to send huge quantities of poultry products to European fast food chains and new players are still entering the fray – Vietnam alone now has a number of frozen food processors. In the past year, Mr Friberg has seen no let-up in investment activity from both the largest integrated processors as well as the smaller up-and-coming players.
“I think there’s room in Asia for both the big producers and the smaller ones,” remarked Mr Friberg. “We haven’t seen much consolidation in Asia as in Europe and the US, where the processors just get bigger and bigger and you end up with four or five big players. We believe this will happen eventually in Asia,, especially in a country like Vietnam. They will merge and build bigger and more efficient factories to become stronger and have more buying power for raw material. But this will not happen so quickly.”
For the moment, the region’s frozen food industry is still going full steam as structural changes in the market compel companies to upgrade their operations. From being suppliers of block frozen produce, Asian exporters first shifted to IQF products, then to steam-cooked food and now, value-added products. “People are buying more fully-cooked lines for chicken for example, for roasting, grilling, steam cooking,” noted Mr Friberg. With the rising cost of further processing in end-markets, buyers are asking for products to be shipped ready-to-eat from Asia to the destination country. “So processors are willing to invest even more money to make the product evenmore convenient.”

Clean and controlled processing

Moving down the value chain to further processing involves more than just adding new units to the production line. Mr Friberg cautions: “When you are dealing with value-added products, there are more processing steps involved and you must control the process more closely. It is ready-to-eat, so what you are putting into the bag is going into the mouth directly.”
Hence, processors should resist the temptation to cut corners with solutions that are unable to assure product quality and safety. An oven with poor control systems may under or overcook a variety of products, as temperature fluctuations are not registered fully.
To overcome such problems, FMC FoodTech offers centralised control systems that monitor temperatures along the entire line as well as the food, and automatically adjust cooking time and temperature to prevent undercooking.
At the end of the process, the freezer is often regarded as the “most important machine in their line” by customers, according to Mr Friberg. Having produced a tasty product, the last thing a processor wants is a freezing system that could possibly contaminate the product. “Also it’s one of the biggest machines in the line, which is a headache for the producer, because they need to be able to clean it easily.”
From this stand-point, the introduction of the M-series is a timely counterpoint to the evolving ambitions of Asian frozen food processors seeking to capture greater value and returns from their investments.

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