Keeping It Moving
by Lynn Petrak
Conveyors and belting systems are designed for speed, versatility and sanitation.
As any plant operator can attest, keeping pace with modern business demands requires equipment that keeps pace with production capability.
In an environment where time is money and glitches are liabilities, moving things along in a dairy processing facility often, and to a greater extent, involves the use of conveyors. Conveyors and belting have been fixtures in manufacturing facilities for years, but are now found virtually from receiving to shipping, from traditional systems to tabletop models to integrated systems that perform a host of other functions.
Reflecting their increased usage, the latest conveyor and belting equipment is engineered for the typical dairy demands of speed, versatility, reliability and sanitation. In a dairy plant that moves hundreds of products by the minute, with changeover for product and safety purposes, conveyors become the circulatory system, so to speak, of the body of production.
“Filling lines are getting faster and that drives your packaging requirements too,” confirms Fred Beer, president of The Deam Co., an Ontario-based manufacturer that recently merged with Westfalia Technologies Inc. of York, Pa. Beer says automated systems that are quick, rugged and designed for often-harsh settings like dairies also help cut down on labor to eliminate manual transport, handling and extra steps in washdown.
Those that build conveyors and fabricate belting systems for installation in dairy facilities continue to tweak their equipment to meet processors’ needs. Given the fact that conveyors have been used in automated sites for decades and have a fairly long life span, up to 15 or 20 years, the upgrades are often a next-generation refinement in technology, an expansion in application or an integration of capability with other types of equipment.
Clean and Simple
Some conveyor upgrades are done to help dairies keep their lines running as safe as possible and to meet today’s stringent requirements. Such conveyors feature easy disassembly and reassembly and are constructed for effective sanitizing and washdown.
According to Beer, Deam (now known as the Deam Systems division of Westfalia; Beer will lead the division) recently offered something new to the marketplace. “One new style we’ve done in the past year is one with an interlocked style that meets FDA-standard designs for handling packaged or raw products,” he says. “We did it specifically for a dairy running a clean room.”
In addition to its newest addition, Beer says that Deam’s conveyors are being used in new ways in dairy plants. “In dairy coolers, they’ve gone to different rack styles, versus conventional drag chain, to reduce manual labor,” he observes.
Belting, too, is increasingly designed for sanitation, especially with FDA and USDA standards for dairy plants, including 3-A facilities. For example, Dallas-based Volta Belting Technology Ltd., which offers homogenous conveyor belts for dairy and other food processing facilities, regularly upgrades its belts to be durable and easy to clean. In addition to its flat belts approved for use in federally inspected 3-A dairy plants, Volta offers dairy manufacturers its SuperDrive®, a hygienic positive drive conveyor belt. Its material and structure eliminates crevices where bacteria can grow, and the integral teeth mesh with the teeth on the drive pulley for a smooth conveyor belt drive.
Rolling with the Changes
Modern conveyor designs also reflect changes within the dairy industry, as processors seek greater versatility in their machines to complement their diverse product lines and production and storagemethods.
For instance, conveyor and belting suppliers have added new models to their lines that are equipped to handle plastic bottles instead of traditional cartons. Dairy Conveyor Corp., Brewster N.Y., has added a vacuum conveyor to its line that uses a vacuum to hold bottles to the conveyor to prevent tipping.
Likewise, the Versa Container handling system from Rosemont, Minn.-based Cannon Equipment Co. was developed as dairy processors began to use more bottles for fluid milk.
Versatility, along with speed and sanitation, was a factor in the design for the new Model 1510 autoload infeed and discharge conveyor developed by Sheboygan, Wis.-based General Machinery Corp. The 1510 conveyor, used during the wrapping of cheeses, is built on a stainless tubular frame and is made in different widths and lengths to suit a manufacturer’s requirements and is equipped with a variable speed drive system. According to spokesperson Marsha Binversie, the new model is also able to handle the range of packages and sizes now offered by cheese manufacturers. “Exact weights are becoming the norm on cheese portions,” she says.
Span Tech, Glasgow, Ky., offers the HO-Series Horizontal Offset Conveyor as part of its WhisperTrax modular flexible conveyor line. The compound-curving nature of the conveyor allows customers to accomplish multiple curves with one conveyor.
Conveyors have long been used as part of a system in a plant, teamed up and timed with fillers, cappers, wrappers and other automated machines. These days, they are integrated in new ways and as part of bigger systems.
Delkor Systems Inc., Circle Pines, Minn., for instance, supplies spot packaging and tray packaging system that feature conveyors and belt systems at key transfer points. To meet manufacturer demands for versatility and efficiency, Delkor provides features like in-feed systems for multi-pack laning.
Another innovative new system incorporating conveyors comes from Toronto-based A.T.S. Engineering. The Canadian firm supplies bulk filling lines with built-in conveyors, among other system. “It’s a whole new style of machine, an all in one machine using conveyors with a pail filler before the conveyor, a pail de-nester that kicks onto an indexing tabletop belting conveyor, which is next to a filling station. It’s a bulk filling system for cream cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, cream cheese and things like that,” explains Anthony Subryan, chief executive officer and general manager, adding that the system is equipped with a PLC screen for easy use and consistency and flexibility in filling. After weighing, Subryan says, the product goes into a shuttle-type lidding mechanism, where a lid is placed on the pail through a conveyor with friction belting.
“It came out a bit ago, but we are really getting into the dairy industry,” he says of the bulk filling system, adding that much of the interest stems from processors’ desire to reduce or redirect labor while ensuring accuracy. “It eliminates people from the line and takes away errors because it is all automatic. Someone just loads it up and stands back.”
Another trend in conveyors and belting in the dairy industry is the increased used of such systems on the back end of the business, for case handling and storage. Many conveyor companies offer box and pallet conveyors for manufacturers again looking to use automation for labor and efficiency purposes.
Dairy Conveyor Corp., for instance, offers a range of systems for such usage and recently developed a conveyor for corrugated containers that are becoming more common in plants. Last year, another tabletop and cable conveyor company, Bloomsburg, Pa.-based Dyco Inc., developed an accumulating conveyor that can be used to handle both containers and bottles.
Lynn Petrak is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.$OMN_arttitle="Keeping It Moving";?>