“In the case of high-speed, high-shear blending, our customers want to reduce or eliminate shear pumps after blending, and our Likwifier does that,” he says.
It’s common for mixing and blending equipment to heat or cool product during the process. The temperature change often is accomplished by “jacketed” mixing vessels that have a layer between the outer and inner walls, through which thermal fluid flows.
Heating and cooling product this way is energy-efficient and reliable from a safety standpoint, to the point where it can be established as a critical control point in a HACCP plan. When done gently, cooling can also help stabilize ingredients, Seiffer says.
“If we take the word cooking and replace it with temperature stabilization, we get many more applications,” he says. “Keeping product cool to avoid breaking down or separation of ingredients is huge, and we do it very well.”
Another way to cool product during mixing and blending is to introduce a cooling agent like carbon dioxide or nitrogen. This is commonly done with ground meat, which is cooled as much as possible to make it easier to form into shapes like patties and nuggets.
Scott Robertson, a vice president with RMF Steel (www.rmfworks.com), says some end users want cooling to take place as fast as possible, to increase throughput. The problem is that if the cooling takes place too fast, it could stiffen the ground meat or other product to the point where it might damage the mixing equipment. The best way to prevent this, he says, is to monitor the power that the equipment is drawing.
“Just keeping track of the temperature is something [end users] do, but you can also monitor the amps that the drive is using up. If those amps get too high, you can shut down the mixer before something gets damaged,” Robertson says. “When they’re using CO2 or nitrogen to chill down the meat, it gets cold and that product gets difficult to move. You don’t want to take it to where something might get damaged inside the mixer.”
Data enters the mix
Monitoring and acting on operational parameters are growing priorities for mixing and blending equipment, suppliers say. As with most other types of food processing equipment, it’s expanding its digital capacity in terms of generating and receiving data, storing formulations and other information, and even joining the industrial internet of things.
Langhorn says the most significant improvements to Ross mixing equipment have been to the control systems. “Not only do they monitor critical parameters such as temperature, pressure, agitator speeds and motor loads, but they also have the ability to prompt operators at critical stages of the batch or even call for automated delivery of the batch ingredients,” he says.
EnSight can be “as advanced as our clients desire” in automation, Seiffer says. “We can monitor and maintain temperatures. We can raise and lower in different times of a process. As an example, in our mixer/blender series, where cook times are longer, we can start at low temps to achieve specific results and then raise to a much higher temperature to set a product or prepare for hot-fill application.”
Digital capacity doesn’t just extend to operations. Holliday says that IKA-Works has developed magicLAB, which can capture and export critical trending data for an easier transition from lab to pilot phase to production. “Information such as tip speed, temperature, torque and time all can be collected and downloaded for any development process,” he says.
Because they are so fundamental to many food formulations and have such a direct impact on food quality, demands and expectations for mixing and blending often reverberate back up the supply chain from the consumer.
As Seiffer puts it: “I often feel like I am selling to the end user more than the processor.”