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Crucial Factors to Consider When Expanding Your Food Processing Operation

No matter the size of your current food processing operation, you may someday need to expand. If and when that day comes, you’ll have to address important questions regarding the expansion’s impact on your production.

How will you maintain your product quality at higher volumes? What factors do you need to plan for to efficiently scale and sustain production levels? As production increases, how will you ensure food and worker safety?

How you answer these and similar questions will affect your expansion process in significant ways.

The production kettle you choose in your expansion process can go a long way toward addressing these questions. A commercial grade kettle is usually custom-designed to match your cooking and mixing process and can greatly influence your ability to effectively expand your operation.

Choosing the Right Type of Production Kettle

Determining which type of kettle best suits your food processing operation is the first major consideration in your expansion process. You’ll have to choose between the two primary types of production kettles and the mixing configurations for each.

Steam/Water jacketed kettles are generally available in several agitator configurations. These are single-motion, double-motion counter-rotating, dual-motion, propeller, high shear or a combination of single/dual motion with propeller or high shear. The type of product and the process you are performing will determine the best kettle/agitator configuration.

  • Single motion agitation is used primarily for scraping the kettle surface to prevent burn-on or keeping a light product suspended prior to going to the filler.
  • Double-motion counter-rotating agitation is the agitation workhorse of the food industry. This agitator will scrape the heat transfer surface and provide a uniform top to bottom mix in most products of any viscosity in addition to enhancing heat transfer rates.
  • Dual-motion agitation also scrapes the heat transfer surface as well as mixing light viscosity products with a secondary inverted Christmas tree agitator. Due to its geometry, the secondary agitator cannot extend to the bottom of the kettle and thus may not be as effective with higher viscosity products. Both the single-motion and dual-motion agitators can have an additional propeller or high-shear mixer added off to one side to disperse or blend light powders or provide additional mixing in light viscosity products.
  • Single-propeller or high-shear mixers can be used by themselves in a kettle being used for premixes such as starches and gums.
Steam/Water jacketed kettles can also be configured with inclined agitation, taking any of the single-motion, double-motion counter-rotating or dual-motion agitators and tilting them at an angle. Inclined agitation is typically used whenever products being mixed with vertical agitators or horizontal blenders have particulates that are difficult to keep in suspension or are being damaged. Inclined agitation provides a gentle folding and lifting action for proper suspension while maintaining product integrity.

Steam/water jacketed kettles are economical heating/cooling sources for food processing operations compared to self-contained electric- or gas-fired kettles. Self-contained electric or gas fired kettles are limited by size and cannot be customized with the agitation features of a steam/water jacket kettle

Self-contained electric or gas fired kettles are powered with a high voltage, 3-phase electrical connection or a connection to your building’s gas line. Though these kettles can be initially more cost effective than steam or hot water jacketed kettles due to their simplified power systems, their features, agitation, processing capabilities and service life tend to be more limited.

Self-contained electric or gas fired kettles are generally sold “off the shelf,” limiting their customization options. As a result, their mixing implements may be less robust than the steam or hot water-powered alternatives, minimizing their versatility in food processing operations.

Understanding the Right Kettle Size for You

Adding production capacity may be the main reason for your expansion, but sustainable success in scaling your operation is dependent on maintaining product quality and consistency. It’s vitally important to think about how your next kettle’s production capacity could impact your product’s integrity.

The food industry generally follows a guideline called the “10X Rule” when considering production expansion. The 10X Rule holds that production capacity can be successfully increased by as much as ten times your current output without negatively impacting your product. You should bear this rule in mind when considering your next expansion.

If you’re currently manufacturing your product in a five-gallon stovetop kettle, it would be possible to scale your recipe to support batches as large as 50 gallons without significant quality drop-off. Similarly, if you’re currently running a 100-gallon kettle, you could theoretically scale your production to 1,000 gallons, though an expansion of that size may require multiple kettles. 

More questions to consider when scaling up your production

Upgrading to your first commercial kettle or adding a new kettle to your existing line is an important and exciting decision. It’s critical that you plan for the impact it will have in both the short- and long-term. 

As you plot your next expansion, it’s also important to evaluate how much production space you’ll need, how your facility’s utilities and resources will support your new equipment, and how your new production will affect other parts of your operation.

For further insight on exploring and answering those questions, download the Lee Industries guide Going from Small-Scale to Large-Scale Food Processing.


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