Eating on the Run

The U.S. food service packaging demand will reach $7.6 billion in 2008 based on growth in away-from-home food spending,” according to a study released in 2004 by The Freedonia Group (Cleveland, Ohio). Food manufacturers responding to consumer demand for easy-open containers, portion control and grab-and-go packaging must be able to reconfigure production and packaging lines quickly and cost effectively. Yet, this is an area that has become more sophisticated. Conveyors and accessory fixtures that are not precisely integrated into a production scheme can diminish productivity and even compromise quality standards.

“The need to reconfigure, and inevitably replace, conveyor systems is an all-too-frequent occurrence with many food packaging operations,” says Bob Steele, president of Steele Equipment (Marysville, Mich.), a pioneer in the design and sales of modular conveyor systems.

“A major factor in configuring and reconfiguring a conveyor is the need to include optional components or accessories,” he says. “This could include a conveyor section that makes a radius turn, a device that counts items, cooling tunnels or sensors that detect unwanted foreign objects. In some cases, there is a need to make a conveyor more compact, or even run it overhead to get it out of the way. And the easiest, quickest and least expensive way to do that is through the flexibility of a modular conveyor system.”

Recognizing the need to meet frequently-changing production flows, Steele claims his favorite modular conveyor solution for light- and medium-duty applications is the DynaCon System from Dynamic Conveyor Corp. (Muskegon, Mich.).

Al Mitchell of Mitchell & Associates, a Milwaukee, Wis.-based manufacturers’ rep firm, and a 30-year veteran in the sales of manufacturing equipment, says, “it fits beautifully into many production and packaging schemes, and is a ‘quick-change artist’ that maximizes usage and ROI like nothing else on the market.”

According to Mitchell, food products often involve indexing, which requires that items must be conveyed in specific quantities according to exact timing. “With a variable speed conveyor motor and indexing capabilities, the DynaCon conveyor is ideal for applications such as inserting auxiliary packets into ready-mix fast-food packages. In a typical setup, the major ingredients are poured from a filling machine into master packages. In a secondary operation, the conveyor indexes a fixed distance up to 100 times per minute in lock-step synch with the filler line and deposits an auxiliary packet into the master Redi-mix package. That indexing capability can improve the efficiency of many applications.”

Mitchell adds that he also markets the modular conveyor into the dairy foods markets providing the food does not directly contact the conveyor. “For example, processed cheese wrapped and then packaged in cartons is a good candidate for the modular conveyor system,” he says. The conveyors are capable of wet operations because of the all-plastic/stainless construction.

Jill Batka, president of Dynamic Conveyor, says that the food industry is so large and diverse that the applications for the modular conveyor systems seem to be limited only by the size and weight of the product. “We’ve also sold systems for picking operations, such as a blueberry farm, where equipment has to be both flexible and highly portable, a prerequisite for many fruit and vegetable harvesting operations,” she says.

Here is a look at some attachments and accessories that integrate with the DynaCon conveyor systems.

Variable Speed Drive: Brushless, variable-speed conveyor motors have virtually no emissions and the conveyor belts are self-lubricating and contaminant-free. Variable control of motor speed means that belts can be slowed for certain operations such as label application or package loading.

Tholstrup Cheese, USA, with locations in Michigan and New Jersey, uses the system to synchronize the speed of the conveyor carrying cheese products from a scale to the packaging department where labels are applied midway with a label dispenser.

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