Making the most of your mix – technology advances in mixing and batching systems

Steve Berne

Automation and technology advances raise expectations of mixing and batching systems.

From crab meat appetizers to zucchini bread and everything in between, virtually all value-added food production involves either a batching or mixing system.

When it comes to blending operations, efficiency – with consistent quality – tops manufacturers’ lists of bottom-line goals. New continuous mixing systems and automated batching software provide processors the tools to achieve their objectives.

“Consistency ranks as a top issue with us,” says David Mayer, business unit manager for Ore-Ida’s West Chester, Pa., facility. Ore-Ida switched from a manual batching system to a continuous mixing and extrusion system from EXACT. Mixing about two years ago for dough production on its enrobed sandwich line.

“One of our main products is a laminated sandwich we call Papa Piroshki’s,” says Mayer. “It involves a top and bottom sheet of dough enrobing a beef or pizza-type filling. If the dough is not mixed properly or there is a line stoppage due to a breakdown up or down stream, the final product will vary in baked color, thickness and performance, and will not be salable.”

Ore-Ida produces about 4,000 lbs. of dough per hour on the continuous mixer. When quality issues arise, operators can make changes on the fly versus waiting until the next batch and wasting dough. “We had critical quality and dollar issues in consistency and waste,” notes Mayer. “We averaged 1,000 to 2,000 lbs. of unusable dough per day. Mainly, dough would sit too long before being used and lose its extensibility and other characteristics. Switching to the continuous system, our dough loss is now only 200 to 300 lbs. per day.”

As part of the continuous system, five ingredient tanks sit on one side of the room, holding water, oil, syrup or eggs, and two yeast tanks. These ingredients are metered into the continuous system on a volumetric basis. Flour, on the other hand, is metered on a “loss-in-weight” basis using weigh scales. “We were measuring flour volumetrically,” notes Mayer. “But, because flour is compactable, we were only getting an accuracy of about 2-3%, meaning flour weights might vary as much as 3% from mix to mix. The loss-in-weight design has an accuracy of 0.25%, a dramatic improvement.”

Before switching to the continuous system, the plant employed a 300-lb. vertical mixer, adding everything by hand except the flour. “It was labor-intensive as well as ergonomically unsafe,” adds Mayer. “It also presented the potential for human error. Incorrect ingredient order or slight mis-weighing could cause inconsistency in the dough.” Since installing the EXACT mixing system, two employees were reassigned to other duties, as the line is now totally automated.

“Additionally, we reduced our out-of-spec finished products by 50%,” continues Mayer. “Whether is was due to inconsistent dough mixing, prolonged floor time or human error, we have since realized a significant reduction in non-salable product, making a significant improvement in productivity.”

Mayer no longer worries about waste due to downtime. “All the operational components are integrated,” notes Mayer. “When one operation stops, they all stop. In our previous situation, when we were running a batch operation, if the line went down, we could be stuck with hundreds of pounds of dough that we either disposed of or tried to rework. With the continuous system, there is never more than 100 lbs. in the mixer at any one time.”

A final benefit comes from energy savings, according to Mayer. “By simultaneously adding all the components in their exact ratios, versus trying to mix together separately-added liquids and solids, we reduced our energy factor in this operation from 30% of cost to only 10%.”

Very Dairy Efficient

When Crossroad Farms Dairy, Indianapolis, Ind., began to suspect the efficiency of its old powder blending system, it turned to the promised quick payback of a powder/liquid mixing system from Silverson Machines.

Crossroad Farms manufactures a full line of dairy products, including all fluid milk items, cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, dips, drinks and frozen desserts. Its 192,000-sq.-ft. plant runs 22 million lbs. of milk per month. The skid-mounted Flashblend system from Silverson includes an in-line mixer, high-pressure centrifugal pump, venturi assembly and powder hopper designed to minimize product bridging. It also includes powder sensors, process valving and controls.

“We use the Flashblend system to add skim milk powder, cocoa, stabilizers and starches to high-, low- and nonfat cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, chocolate milk and other products,” says Will Debolt, plant engineer. “The system incorporates a high-shear mixer with an emulsifying head, ensuring the powder completely disperses and is free of agglomerates.”

Benefits to Crossroad Farms were a triple delight. It realized payback in only four months; cut blending time by 90%; and quality and consistency noticeably improved due to reduced foaming and material loss.

“Flashblend is working very well for us since its installation two years ago,” notes Debolt. “In fact, we recently expanded its use to our ice cream mix line with similar results.”

Batching And Beyond

Controlling and managing batching systems can involve more than just adding a single piece of equipment. Developing, managing and controlling an automated batching system accounts for integrating recipe management/execution, record keeping, production planning and scheduling, simulation, process management, an operator interface, networking to business systems and production information management.

PID’s newly-released OpenBatch Professional 3.0 is a process hardware-independent, object-oriented software system. It allows complete simulation, monitoring and control of the entire process through many types of process control devices such as PLCs, DCSs and even PC-based controllers. It also incorporates relational database recipe management so recipes can be modified and integrated throughout the system.

Vintage Control

Making fine wine is a blend of art and science. The Simon Levi Co. knows this quite well. However, in this case, the art-science mix is more like a batch. To help track and manage inventory and manufacturing process for its Stone Creek-brand wine, the company uses an automated batching and inventory control system from BatchMaster Software.

Stone Creek produces wines from top vineyards in California as well as France. “Our sales have thrived in the past four years, increasing from 100,000 cases to 250,000 cases annually,” says Rebecca Martinsen, inventory control manager for Simon Levi. “The PC-based, modular software allows us to streamline our process from raw material inventory through final filling. Production and formula modules let us blend up to 26 different wine lots and produce our cased wines with various containers and packaging while maintaining inventories, and accurate, true costing on all materials used in the wines. We create master production batches, improving our consistency between batches and varieties.”

Stone Creek produces several production runs of each variety per quarter. Although the software can not physically sample the organoleptics of the wine, between the art of Stone Creek’s Wine Master and BatchMaster’s science, it tracks quality trends of each raw wine lot, reports sales inventory and monitors batch costing. “It also helps me in long-range purchasing plans, allowing me to maintain a tight, but accurate inventory,” notes Martinsen. “Keeping costs down holds our final sales price at a consistent, competitive level.”

Foxboro also offers a comprehensive batch control package centered around its “Intelligent Automation Series.” Industry application guidelines for its FoxBatch software allow the end user to set its own rules and descriptions for a particular batching operation. “A food manufacturer can literally build its own system using a ‘starter kit,'” says John King, Foxboro’s food industry marketing manager. “This system enables complete factory floor control, master scheduling, lot tracking and materials management.

“Food companies have experienced tremendous benefits by automating batching sequences and integrating all production operations,” continues King. “They report reduced waste, improved consistency and better productivity of their operation using DCS systems.”

For more information on mixing and batching, write in the appropriate reader service number; see pages 138 and 158 in Prepared Foods 1997 Food Industry SourceBook; or search our SourceBook On-line at :

BatchMaster Software Corp. 420 ExACT Mixing 421 Foxboro 422 PID 423 Silverson Machines 424

Inputs into the Mix

In an effort to provide timely, targeted, useful information, we need your input. To help us determine the current the state of mixing/batching systems as well as challenges you face during processing, please write in the appropriate answers on the reader service card and drop it in the mail to us. We appreciate your input.

1) What is the nature of the products you mix/batch? (Write in all those that apply.)

Liquid/Liquid – 391 Solid/Solid – 392 Liquid/Solid – 393 Gas/Liquid – 394

2) Describe the most common problem(s) associated with your mixing/batching operations.

Long Mixing Times – 395 Agglomerates, Lumps, Fisheyes – 396 Difficult Emulsions/Dispersions – 397 Tough-to-Dissolve Particulates – 398 Going to Continuous Processing – 399

3) What types of mixing/batching equipment or improvements would be most helpful to your operation?

Higher-Speed Mixing – 400 High-Shear Equipment – 401 Low-Speed Agitators – 402 Automated Batching – 403

4) What types of assistance do you need most from suppliers of mixing/batching systems?

On-Site Trials – 404 Field Installation – 405 Rental Equipment – 406 Scale Up/Scale Down – 407

5) Would brief case history write-ups describing how other processors have met mixing/batching challenges be of interest to you?

Yes – 408 No – 409

6) What other specific types of processing information would you like to see featured?

Sterilization/Pasteurization – 410 Cutting/Slicing – 411 Cooling/Freezing – 412 Filling/Closing – 413

7) In what format would you like to see this information?

Regular magazine issue – 414 Special magazine supplement – 415 Newsletter – 416 Internet – 417 Fax – 418 Direct Mail – 419

COPYRIGHT 1997 Business News Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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