As one of the top distributors of Australia’s favourite food brands such as Edgell, Birds Eye, John West, Leggos, Ally, Seakist, Harvest, Plumrose, CHIKO and I&J, Simplot Australia must make sure its five manufacturing facilities are operating in a cost effective manner. When the company’s Kelso plant wanted to maximize efficiency of their processing and packaging equipment they turned to Sydney-based TNA , a leading supplier of turn-key integrated packaging and processing solutions for food production companies worldwide, to eliminate the use of multiple conveyors, while saving on high maintenance and labor costs.
Simplot was using 15 conventional belt and plastic mesh conveyors to move their many frozen, crumbled and coated varieties of fish and chicken products from three processing lines to various packaging destinations. They were manually moving the conveyors to the different stations after each run, and had high changeover times due to washdown.
As a private label manufacturer and packager for numerous brands of frozen products for the retail and food service markets they needed a process that would be flexible while reducing the many unnecessary hours of manual labor.
“We wanted to have an easy-to-clean, hygienic conveying solution that would inflict minimum damage or stress to a frozen coated product,” says Glenn Hope, Simplot Project Engineer. Simplot found its answer in TNA’s roflo, a gateless food product handling and distribution system specially designed to seamlessly integrate with packaging and processing systems. The gateless design provides a gentle, low-force operation and transmission of food products, resulting in less breakage, flavour loss, and reduced structural fatigue.
“The roflo system is the perfect solution for frozen food manufacturers,” says Barrie Edgar, TNA sales manager northern region Australia. “The speed of the trays, reverse flow and stainless steel construction are ideal in keeping food frozen in a sanitary environment, with minimal maintenance and changeover.”
Processors are now required to perform rigorous washdowns of machinery and equipment to comply with stringent food safety laws. Cleaning equipment and changeovers result in lost production time, and so processors are looking for faster or automated ways of performing washdowns.
Since roflo is made up of all stainless steel trays, Simplot is able to wash the machine and its parts in minutes, which allows for quick changeover and alleviates sanitation problems from food getting caught in conveyors.
“The ability to clean via ’spray & wipe’ methodology allows us to clean the idle conveyors while others are being used. Cleaning time is minimal,” says Hope. “We run 24/7 with the new machines so we do not need a cleaning shift as we have had in the past. Labour previously used for cleaning is now used elsewhere in the plant.” TNA’s roflo system allowed Simplot’s changeover time to be reduced to 20 minutes from several hours with their old equipment.
TNA developed a completely integrated roflo distribution system that consisted of six roflo horizontal motion servo-driven conveyors that allowed Simplot to maximize the use of several infeed and packaging points. When designing the system, TNA had to take into account the limited amount of floor space. Thanks to roflo’s reverse flow technology, Simplot was able to utilize one rofloin place of two separate conveyors. Additionally TNA took advantage of the gateless horizontal servo driven mechanism and developed Simplot’s system with longer pan lengths of up to 12 meters (40 feet).
“With the old system we were able to run all lines at once but with considerably more pieces of equipment,” says Hope. “Now, with TNA’s roflo we have minimized the equipment installation and are still able to run required production line combinations.”
Simplot’s new roflo system offers the flexibility they were seeking. Now, one conveyor can be made into any configuration they need:
- Infeed line 1 feeds into roflo1. This then feeds into roflo 2, which then feeds packaging line 1. There is minimal accumulation on this line.
- Infeed line 2 feeds into roflo 3. From there the product can travel to the left via roflo2 to packaging line 1. If accumulation is required then roflo3 is reversed (to the right). Product is then de-accumulated by operating roflo3 to the left.
- If infeed line 2 is required to feed packaging lines 2 or 3 then roflo 3 operates to the right into roflo6. Roflo6 has a manual gate which controls whether product is fed into packaging lines 2 or 3. For accumulation roflo3 continues to operate to the right. However, the rate of product transfer is slowed to allow the level of product to build up in the pan.
- Infeed line 3 feeds into roflo5. This then feeds into roflo4. For feeding packaging line 1, roflo4 operates to the left. This feeds into roflo2. If accumulation is required the rate of product transfer in roflo4 is slowed.
- If infeed line 3 is required to feed packaging lines 2 or 3 then roflo4 operates to the right into roflo6. If accumulation is required then roflo4 is reversed (to the left). Product is then de-accumulated by operating roflo4 to the right.
Another advantage is TNA’s computer controlled software. This allows Simplot the flexibility of changing the routing of their process and packaging system by computer versus manually.
“There are limitations on the flexibility of the system, but this was done to reduce the complexity of the system while still providing a level of flexibility that was required by the customer,” says Tony Pearce, team leader, mechanical engineering, distribution TNA Australia. “Simplot can now run two processing lines simultaneously to the packaging line they choose. They are definitely experiencing optimal equipment utilization.”