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Food Industry Growth Forcing Manufacturers to Rethink Processing Equipment

Food manufacturing in the United States has evolved into one of the most dynamic industries in the country.  Consumer interest in healthier lifestyles has spurred a wave of new food products. Population diversity has introduced niche foods to the masses, and demand is soaring.  And food safety requirements have ratcheted up, driven by increased legislation and enforcement.


We’ve been a part of the food manufacturing world for over nine decades, so we know that change is a constant for the industry. But the pace of change today – and its impact on the food manufacturing process – is more significant than ever.


Here are some of the key implications we see that will affect how food manufacturers make decisions on their processing equipment:

The need for better food processing efficiency and productivity.


With competition coming from everywhere on virtually every product, and workers harder to find, it is mission-critical for processing equipment to contribute to better productivity within the food manufacturing operation.  Consider these issues:


Faster product discharge with no waste:  How hard is it to remove product from the kettle once it’s time to move to the next production stage?  Designs that feature an offset or inclined agitator integrated with the hemispherical design of the kettle can take advantage of a discharge port at the bottom-most part of the vessel. This provides a fast and efficient pathway for complete discharge of the product after each batch, even for heavier, thicker products. 


Increasing jacketing area to reduce cooking time: Extending the jacketed area around the upper part of the kettle (kettle sidewall) increases the heat transfer surface area, improving heating and cooling rates, thus resulting in a reduction in batch cooking times. Be aware that when making these adjustments, heating times must be calculated to produce consistent results and avoid changing important properties, such as ingredient color or consistency, in the final product.


Production bottlenecks:  Production bottlenecks can occur when cooked product must sit "on hold" due to a filler or packing system that is momentarily at capacity.  We’ve overcome this situation by right-sizing and staggering kettle production capacity.  For example, instead of two 1,000-gallon kettles, four 500-gallon kettles can run on a staggered basis.   In some cases, adding a holding vessel -- a separate tank (heated for cooked foods) placed at the end of the discharge pipeline path of each individual kettle – can keep product flowing steadily with no stoppages during batch process operations.


Get our eBook Going from Small-Scale to Large-Scale Food Processing for more insights


The need for more flexible and scalable food processing. 


New products are being tested and rolled out at a feverish pace.  Manufacturers must consider how their processing equipment can adjust to different processing requirements or quickly scale to meet growth demands.  Among the options worth considering:


Double-motion agitation:  Enhanced with an inclined angle-mounted design, double-motion agitation can be effective across a range of mixing speeds, allowing manufacturers to process products that need gentle lifting and folding action as well as those that require highly aggressive mixing. 


Increasing motor horsepower:  Extra power to a heavy-duty agitator can allow processors to handle powerful, robust mixing capabilities needed for a range of high-viscosity products while still allowing for lower-viscosity products to be processed easily.


Steam-jacketed kettle design:  For some food products, steam is the preferred heating source for processing, while for others water is a better choice.  A properly designed -jacketed kettle can allow manufacturers to switch heat sources, depending on the product needs.


Follow the 10X rule:  As a rule of thumb, your original batch processes can be expanded by a maximum of ten times without adversely affecting product. For example, if your current batch production capacity is 100 gallons in a 100-gallon kettle, you could, in many, but not all cases, generally scale your batch process up to a 1,000-gallon kettle.


Food safety first and foremost


FSMA places heightened requirements on food processors, and better sanitary design for processing equipment is on the priority list for many manufacturers.  Of particular importance in these designs:


Eliminating standing water:  Water can collect on flat surfaces of manufacturing equipment, such as lids or support structures. Lee’s custom design approach allows for optional design upgrades such as sloped covers and rounded legs that will prevent water pooling.  It is important to discuss such challenges with a Lee Applications Engineer so that consideration can be given to the special design.


Making Cleaning easier:  Higher-grade surface finishes to the vessel’s inner jackets, agitation and other product contact parts can improve cleaning efficiency. For surfaces that won’t come into contact with food, grinding and polishing to an enhanced surface finish will create smooth, sanitary and easy-to-clean surfaces.


Improving foreign material detection:   Some foreign material contaminants can be reduced with features like scraper blades impregnated with stainless steel powder, which make potential contaminants visible to both x-ray and magnetic detection systems.  Some X-ray detection systems can also spot non-metallic foreign objects such as bone or wood.


As food manufacturing changes to meet new demands and regulations, processing equipment will be an ever more important consideration.  Our Resource Center has a great collection of information to help you think through your situation.  Or contact us with a specific challenge.


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