The feature that characterises major manufacturers of food equipment is the range of options available to bolt onto a basic platform. Driven by the increasing fickleness of today's customer, and increasingly competitive markets, most food products have to be continually refined to retain consumer loyalty. Eric Russell reports.
Designing and producing one-off plant has always been expensive so the principle of modular options that can be supplied from stock, or produced just in time, helps meet customers' special needs cost effectively.
This method of manufacture has been enabled by computerised systems that help control stockholding; that can produce designs quickly and cost effectively through rapid prototyping and virtual reality software; and which support production scheduling.
Within Europe, the UK is the largest market for convenience foods and products that require coating, forming or frying, second only to the USA. So a UK distributor such as DSL Food Machinery offers a huge range of machines and peripherals. But Andrew Sear, director, says most machines just deliver products into a container so a key function of the company is to provide handling solutions that link production machines to packers via conveyor systems.
DSL can provide machinery for just about every aspect of food production from dicing, intelligent and semi-intelligent slicing, mincing and flaking, to skinning, blending, portioning, bandsawing and trimming, injecting, marinating, de-grinding and cutting shapes by water jetting.
An indication of the sophistication of today's machinery is shown in the new IBS2020 bacon slicer that the company distributes in the UK for AEW Delford Systems. It cuts 25 slices per second and uses vision technology to assess each slice before cutting. It compares each slice with the previous cut for lean and fat distribution and rejects those that are out of specification. This enables high on-weights, minimum giveaway and accurate, downstream grading.
New engineering innovations ensure superb quality stacks at over 100 packs per minute. The IBS2020 Vision Slicer can operate as a stand alone machine or it can be integrated with a range of manual or automatic production lines.
Terry Starkey, AEW Delford Systems spokesman, says the company offers automatic portion control, slicing, sawing, shaping, checkweighing, grading, weigh price labelling, wrapping and sleeving technology either as stand alone machines or fully integrated systems.
AEW Delford also offers a converger that has been specifically designed to meet the need for channelling products from any multi-lane packing machine into a single line. Featuring microprocessor-based electronics and a series of clutch-brake belt conveyor systems, the unit takes products from a multi-lane discharge and spaces them into single file. It can be changed to any configuration within minutes and can operate as a stand alone machine or it can be integrated with a range of manual or automatic production lines.
In a combined project, Noord-Oost Nederland (NON), the ATO research institute and Tuinderij Vers, a leading Dutch producer of fresh cut vegetables and fruit in Brielle, have developed a new method for peeling oranges quickly and efficiently.
NON says present mechanical methods lead to high peeling losses while the orange parts are often damaged, which results in loss of juice and low quality. Peeling by hand is particularly laborious and therefore not cost-effective. In the new method, food grade enzymes are placed under the peel of the orange. These enzymes decompose the white tissue between the peel and the fruit so the orange is easily loosened from the peel. Then the peel is removed and the orange can be divided in parts easily, simply and hygienically. The parts stay intact, which leads to a long shelf life of at least 10 days and a high product quality.
The system also conserves the flavours very well and the parts are attractive to look at. This makes them particularly suitable for use in fruit salads and bakery products where visual quality is important. The system can process between 100kg/hr and 1000kg/hr. Experiments are being conducted with mandarins and grapefruits, where initial results are said to be good.
Built to spec
Swiss company Azzar says its Provatec 790 C-Frame machines are special machines, built according to the customer's specifications. Thanks to the fully hydraulic drive, the hydraulic unit can be completely separated from the forming unit. The system accurately deposits a variety of fillings for stuffed sandwiches, multiple-layered products, egg rolls, meat pies, appetisers, calzones, peppers, shrimp and mushrooms.
This versatile equipment can also deposit the top and bottom portions for chicken cordon bleu as well as the top, bottom and filling for chicken kiev.
C-Frame machines can be delivered with working widths from 400mm up to 1000mm and help automate the production of new, innovative products.
Azzar says, for some applications, it is necessary to have the forming unit of the portioning machine situated directly above a conveyor belt, packing machine or a similar processing machine. Since the Provatec machine is fully hydraulic driven, the forming unit can be separated easily from the main cabinet and can be built up into a C-Frame processing system.
Provatec has designed a rotor filling system as well as an advanced mould plate breather system. Both of these innovations effectively portion all types of products. The system eliminates common problems associated with patty processing, such as bridging and overworking. A rotating spiral moves the product toward the rotor and results in identical portions of perfect texture.
Baader has recently introduced four new food machines. This results from the company's continuous development programme of new, innovative and process-oriented machines with high customer benefits.
The company says its key objective is to ensure greater profitability for its customers by developing innovative concepts that work efficiently in practice and produces high quality results. So its employees and sales partners work closely with users in its policy of continuous improvement.
Its new 444 heading and gutting machine is intended to replace the obsolete gutting cabinets used in the industry. It offers significant ergonomic improvements and is able to perform a 100 per cent salt fish cut.
The company's 541 saltfish splitting machine will replace the former Baader 440 and it says the machine is much awaited by the market. The new design is more efficient, provides better working conditions for operators due to its ergonomic design and is easier to maintain. Also new is the 988W whitefish machine. This high-tech unit cuts the pinbone strip out of the fillet and portions it into the required pieces. All operations are fully automatic, enabled by an intelligent camera system and the latest cutting technique. And the company says its Canpolar Baader-Inspector System offers a world first innovative concept whereby defective fillets, such as those that still retain skin or pinbones, are rejected automatically by an intelligent camera system with the latest recognition software.
Turkey-based Hurmak Enterprises Group comprises four companies that produce a wide range of production plant for a number of different industries in more than 30 countries. Equipment ranges from its H Series of bakery rotary carriage ovens with their two heat chambers; option of heating from diesel fuel, gas or electric power; and clean air circulation to the general purpose PM planet mixers, ideal for beating, mixing and dough kneading in catering kitchens. For heavy production plant, equipment includes flour rolling mills, silos, sifters, semolina purifiers and bran finishers plus the peripherals of conveyor systems, fans and filters, baggers and weighers.
In Italy, Impianti Tecnologie Alimentari (ITA) was established by a team that had been working for over 30 years in the international food industry and is based in Parma, well known for its tradition in food processing. It also has a factory in Zaragoza, Spain, to meet the needs of local markets. It designs and manufactures bottling, pasteurisation and aseptic filling lines; fruit processing and concentration plant; and autoclaves.
Northwood Food Machinery in the UK is a family run business specialising in stainless steel equipment for the food industry. It offers a full service from initial design conception through to installation and commissioning and is able to offer bespoke solutions in most sectors of the food industry.
Recently, it commissioned a bespoke cheese cutting machine designed to handle a variety of cheese blocks. The design provides an efficient and cost effective solution to the dairy which had a requirement to pack several different products on one line.
The primary function of the machine is to portion 60Kg blocks of Emmental but, within a matter of minutes, it can be adapted to cut Gouda, Mozzarella and Cheddar blocks. Due to the physical size and weight of the Emmental blocks the cutter construction is extremely robust and its large bore guided cylinders deliver the high forces necessary to cut this type of cheese.