With the profusion of regulations, microprocessor-based equipment, formulation, testing and other issues, the last thing that food packagers need to worry about is good old-fashioned material handling.
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Yet, this is an area that has become more sophisticated too and can definitely impact both quality and bottom line. Conveyors and accessory fixtures that are not precisely integrated into a production scheme can diminish productivity and even compromise quality standards.
Production optimization is compromised when the conveyor system does not include all the right features, either because they are viewed as expensive or are unknown to system designers. In other cases, traditional conveyor systems that start out fitting production needs exactly become “de-optimized” due to changes in production equipment.
When a conveyor system is holding you back, you may also hold back on product design or packaging changes, which can be devastating in the marketplace. A recent National Food Laboratory (Dublin, Calif.) study concluded that up to 56 percent of consumers have recently purchased products they would not have purchased otherwise due to new and exciting packaging. Yet, some food packagers are not able to even contemplate packaging changes because their conveyor systems are inflexible.
In many situations, the flexibility required to provide the right features and fit especially in changing production environments is best supplied by modular conveyor systems. A truly modular conveyor system not only helps optimize production, it also incorporates accessories that enhance quality and provide serviceability that increases uptime while lowering maintenance and replacement costs.
Tholstrup Cheese, USA (Muskegon, Mich.) has a short run conveyor system that requires flexibility including adjustable length and variable speed. Headquartered in Denmark, Tholstrup is known for its cheese varieties. The Muskegon plant produces Bleu, Brie, Havarti and Camembert.
A six-foot DynaCon system (originally 10 feet.) carries cheese products from a scale to the packaging department. Midway is a labeling machine located over the conveyor that applies labels to various types and sizes of cheese products.
“It is important that we can synchronize the speed of the conveyor with the label dispenser,” says Torben Siggaard, general manager. “Sometimes that requires adjusting the speed of product flow, and the easiest way to do that is adjust the conveyor speed. Some products are running at 44 products per minute, some at only 12 per minute. That’s a great deal of difference, and with our variable-speed conveyor drive we can adjust the speed easily.”
Siggaard points out that a major advantage of a modular conveyor system is the ability to make adjustments for unforeseeable circumstances. “The food processing industry uses a lot of equipment that is manufactured outside the U.S.,” he says. “So, it is a significant advantage to be able to adjust the length or speed of the system to fit the requirements of new processing equipment that may come from anywhere in the world.”
Serviceability is a major appeal of the modular conveyor system, which enhances its flexibility. In effect, it is the ability to reconfigure or even completely re-engineer the system, adding a variety of capabilities — without having special in-house engineering capabilities. Any number and type of module can be integrated quickly and easily. For example, accessory items available from DynaCon include a cooling tunnel module to cool products via air pumped into a covered section of conveyor; a stainless steel water bath module with a built-in cooling element; a drop zone reinforcement module to absorb the shock of impact; and exit chutes to control product flow by channeling products in a particular direction.
Carriage Candy Co. (London, Ontario, Canada) found that a modular conveyor with variable-speed drive and attached cooling fans provided a remarkably cost-effective solution for cooling its Kapow! Pops brand lollipops by 215 degrees F on a relatively short conveyor run of 14 feet en route to the packaging department.