Pilot plants preview product, process realities
Pilot plant facilities offer cost-effective opportunities to test the tools of production and new products in a real food manufacturing environment.
By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor | 06/09/2005
The Lake Mills pilot plant testing facility, in its 30th year of operation, is equipped for a wide variety of products and processes with a range of mixing and blending equipment, pumps, and heating, cooling, homogenization and freezing equipment.
The pilot plant stage provides an opportunity not only to test the suitability and quality of equipment but to optimize product characteristics as well. Accurate assessment comes from testing product variations in taste, color, texture and moisture levels with product run through equipment that matches or approximates the machines involved in full-scale production.
It also gives the processor clues to optimizing processes and production costs prior to investment and installation. Variables such as energy, labor, supplies and replacement parts can be factored into manufacturing and operations costs.
In addition to the Lake Mills facility, Invensys APV has a pilot plant in Tonawanda, N.Y., with evaporation, membrane filtration, drying and distillation equipment to test advanced separation technologies, and another in Grand Rapids, Mich., for bakery and snack products.FMC’s three Ts: Training, techniques and technology
FMC FoodTech (www.FMCFoodTech.com
) boasts that its seven Food Processing Technology Centers (FPTCs) spread across the globe serve more than 450 companies each year and accommodate more than 875 product applications.
The company claims its center in Sandusky, Ohio, was the first facility of its kind in 1982. Twenty-three years later, the company claims it is still the largest and most diverse test facility on the North American continent following its most recent $500,000 capital upgrade. Recent equipment additions include a new Accura 700 series waterjet portioner, Link Process Analysis, Link Line Control modules, and a ThermoFin conveyerized fryer.
The company recently named Ramesh Gunawardena manager of the Sandusky FPTC’s process and technology development. His goal is to help customers find new applications for existing equipment and potential opportunities for new or modified equipment. “Our (FPTCs) let customers test on actual production line equipment, giving them the opportunity to test new products in real-world conditions without the costly effect of tying up their own production lines,” he says.
Acknowledging that no equipment or processing system can manifest its capabilities if it is not run right, Chicago-based FMC FoodTech also offers an advanced training center where its customers can receive vital education and hands-on experience. Training classes range from coating and portioning to cooking, frying, freezing and refrigeration.Niro: Pilot plant-to-go
“Our pilot plant and (portable) systems comprise one of our real strengths,” says Mads Skaarenborg of Niro Inc. “I don’t think there are many companies that have as many pilot plant facilities and options as we do.”
GEA Niro Inc. (www.niroinc.com
) has a pilot plant facility in its food and dairy division center in Hudson, Wis., and another technology center in Columbia, Md., for chemical and pharmaceutical testing. But more often these days the company brings the pilot plant to the customer.
Extending the reach of its pilot facilities are a score of portable membrane filtration systems and a fleet of about 10 high-pressure pumps and homogenizers, plus a number of spray dryers and fluid beds. The company supplies these to processors at their own production sites under reasonable terms for process and product testing.
“Most companies employ our pilot plants because they have a product in mind but are not sure about it,” says Skaarenborg. “They use if for application development, or they want to be sure the equipment does what they want it to before they invest several million in it.”
It pays to check with any equipment provider on whether it has equipment or a pilot plant available for product or process testing. The cost will be small compared to the actual equipment investment, and you won’t need to factor in guesswork or shut down a production line to get what you need to make a decision. Besides, terms may be negotiable, particularly if a potential purchase rides on a successful test.