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By Bob Sperber, Plant Operations Editor | 03/08/2011
When it comes to acquiring the latest technology, the biggest food companies in the world obviously wield a lot of power and influence with equipment vendors. But it's only a matter of time until everyone can benefit from the innovation that comes from such partnerships.
With that in mind, some of the best news for all cereal and breakfast food processors came on Feb. 1, when Cereal Partners Worldwide, Nestlé's and General Mills' joint venture, officially opened a new innovation center in Orbe, Switzerland.
In addition to support for product development, technology development and nutrition research, the new facility will offer "focused technical assistance for European manufacturing facilities" (there are 14 of them) and enable "collaboration and the exchange of best practices in development and manufacturing," says Mayank Patel, vice president of R&D and nutrition and regulatory affairs for CPW.
While he didn't name any specific technology as being the Next Big Thing, Patel did respond to Food Processing's request to spell-out areas he'd most like to see CPW's equipment manufacturers improve upon over the next few years:
Because the global cereal giant wasn't about to open its processes to the world, we turned to equipment manufacturers to offer insights on the latest developments in producing foods for the breakfast table. Their innovations and strategies cross many areas of food processing. And while a multibillion-dollar Nestlé or General Mills or CPW obviously has the ear of any suppliers, smaller processors, too, benefit from close relations with their vendors for better, smarter, faster solutions and service.
Capitalizing on trends
Vendors who listen to their customers find new opportunities for growth – like the Mexican food processor that saw a market opportunity to expand its product lineup by producing breakfast burritos. Early on, they discovered that individually quick-frozen (IQF) eggs "are extremely difficult to portion without destroying them," recounts John McIsaac, strategic business development for Robert Reiser, Canton, Mass.
"We provided this customer with a couple of double-screw machines, with the right pumping configuration to give him his exact weight and preserve that egg's identity," he says. Other fillers have difficulty pumping accurately, which causes issues in assembling complicated products. Additionally, the portioner's double-screw design reduces excessive compression of non-folded products for something relatively close to "a more homemade appearance, as if someone lifted them out of the pan," McIsaac says. He adds that this solution has been "a success story we've repeated over and over" at multiple companies.
This system along with others that help processors meet consumer demand for convenience are making for "another good year for breakfast food equipment," says McIsaac. Other successful systems include English muffin dividers, cheese slice depositors and higher-throughput sausage-making systems. This is in keeping with McIsaac's comment a year ago in these pages that Reiser has seen "a big increase in our business for machines related to breakfast sandwiches."
Vendors improve upon standard designs all the time to meet customer requests. And once a new feature is added, it doesn't matter if a large or small processor drove the idea, it's available to all.
A company will get repeat requests for a variety of custom add-ons. These include safety gratings; special ports on vessel covers (to accommodate feeding); pneumatically actuated covers; machine controls; choppers (for agglomerated powders); and spray bars (for adding minor ingredients).
Custom fabrication takes time, yet "significant numbers of off-the-shelf orders from customers demanding fast delivery," says Christine Banaszek, application engineer for Charles Ross & Son, Hauppauge, N.Y.
The company satisfies demand for fast delivery two ways. First, by stocking a broad line of standard and sanitary systems to give people more options when buying from inventory; and by turning popular custom-options into standard offerings.
One specific ribbon blender feature – a built-in discharge extruder at the bottom of the blender trough – is something Ross "used to build only for custom units but we're now starting to introduce as a more standard design," Banaszek says. It consists of an independent, direct-drive screw that runs forward during the discharge cycle and in reverse during blending. She says the feature "eliminates dead zones, enhances mixing and offers increased control over the discharge rate." The company expects high demand for wet applications including extruded ready-to-eat cereals. A die assembly can be used for extruding viscous materials.
Product & blend integrity
Gentle handling and retaining the integrity of mixes are key requirements for many processors. Key Technology, Walla Walla, Wash., introduced a horizontal motion conveyor that uses a different, rotating-mass drive technique to slide products along. Instead of lofting or bouncing products along as a vibratory conveyor does, the pan (conveyor surface) moves forward gently to convey the product, and then slides back under the product, too rapidly for the product to slide backward – and again cycles to slide the product gently forward.