This article was published in the July 2023 issue of Pet Food Processing. Read it and other articles from this issue in our July digital edition.
Pet owners today expect the same level of quality and safety in pet food as they do in their own food, so many pet food manufacturers are following good manufacturing practices stemming from the food and pharmaceutical industries, even when not required by regulations.
“For mixing and blending equipment, this requires design for hygiene with smooth interiors, quick cleaning and stainless steel construction,” said Rene Medina, executive vice president for Somerset, NJ-based Gericke USA. “We’re also seeing this move toward hygiene lead to a corresponding move from ribbon style blenders to paddle mixers, which typically achieve better homogeneity in less time in a configuration that’s much easier to access and clean.”
For the longest time, pet food manufacturers — specifically those producing kibble products — would start the processing line by grinding frozen blocks of various proteins. That meant grinding solutions only had to provide a machine that was suitable to grind those frozen blocks. However, more recently, many processors have moved toward using more fresh products and ingredients, so solutions were needed that could handle both frozen and fresh applications in one machine.
Pet food processors have also invested more in high-quality machines following the same health and safety guidelines as human food processors. This was not always the case as the standards were not the same.
Jeff Braunreiter, global sales support manager for Mokena, Ill.-based Provisur Technologies, noted the company has offered fully automated processing lines since its inception and many of these systems can be found in the largest food and pet food processing plants all over the world.
“The major benefits of an automated line are the reductions of labor force that is required,” said Jeff Braunreiter, global sales support manager at Provisur Technologies.
“We were able react quickly to these customers and offer a solution that we have proven to work,” Braunreiter said. “The major benefits of an automated line are the reductions of labor force that is required. Sophisticated electrical controls allow communication between all the equipment and remove the need for human interaction. This means you do not need people to start/stop all the machines and move the meat carts from machine to machine.”
When you eliminate the need for the meat carts, you eliminate the space the carts take up, as well as the labor force and time needed to keep the carts clean.
“Safety is another major benefit to this technology,” Braunreiter said. “The fewer people working on the production floor pushing carts around, the less chance for injury. All guarding and safety mechanisms that are in place on the equipment can be monitored on the screens of the central electrical system. This means less downtime and a guarantee that the equipment will not run if all safety mechanisms are not in place.”
Tom Bako, director of business development for BAK Food Equipment, Burr Ridge, Ill., noted there is increased demand for more premium ingredients, better nutrition and alternative ingredients.
“Demand is constantly increasing, so the main goal has recently become to produce larger quantities while maintaining the same quality,” he said. “Notably, quality that is good enough that even some pet food plants can process food for human consumption as well. Constant search for new solutions is the key to success.”
BAK Food Equipment offers energy-efficient machines that reduce operating costs, provide faster and more efficient mixing times, and can mix a variety of ingredients and viscosities.
“Our Mix/Cook series, for example, is of the top of the line for food heat treatment,” Bako said. “Users achieve high-quality, reproducible results that meet the high safety standards necessary in food production. We can equip the machines with a variety of mixing shaft options specially designed to ensure even mixing while maintaining the consistency and structure of the product.”
“Constant search for new solutions is the key to success,” said Tom Bako, director of business development for BAK Food Equipment.
These shaft options are coupled with an innovative system of scrapers made of the highest quality material to be extremely durable and heat-resistant to prevent burning. These mixers can be used for cooking the various ingredients demanded in higher quality pet foods, such as vegetables, rice, grains, minced meat and broth.
Product consistency and efficiency
Today’s mixing and blending equipment helps pet food processors achieve product consistency and processing efficiency.
For instance, Provisur’s mixing technology allows flexibility within the type of mixer. It can offer vacuum or non-vacuum and can offer overlapping counter-rotating paddles or ribbon paddles.
“Our overlapping counter-rotating paddles mix at a slow RPM while still creating a homogeneous mix faster than the competition,” Braunreiter said. “This proves to lead to very consistent, efficient and repeatable batches.”
Many process engineers would say mixing is the most important step in the process, as even a minor error at the mixer can cause a major quality issue that may not be noticed until production has been affected downstream. A major error in mixing usually wastes the entire batch. Pet food processors can look at the Froude number when evaluating mixing equipment for some guidance. This number measures how consistently and uniformly dry particles will be mixed in a given mixer.
The Gericke GMS Multiflux® paddle mixer line, for example, operates at a Froude number of 1.1, which is the optimal point where the centrifugal forces exceed gravity forces for a gentle, homogeneous mix. This gentle nature is also a major consideration when particle preservation of friable materials is involved.
Medina noted for speed, hygiene and product quality, the Gericke GMS Multiflux paddle mixer uses a proprietary, double-shaft design that achieves a homogeneous mix in 30 seconds or less, and after discharging the mixture, a full-size door opens to allow easy and complete cleaning.
“This saves a lot of time, workers appreciate the safety aspect, and it minimizes any potential problem with cross-contamination,” he said. “We also offer continuous mixers to help processors who are investigating switching to or adding continuous processing lines. We can deliver the same mixing capacity on a tighter footprint in a lean, automated manufacturing process.”
Medina added that automating the process eliminates concern for many of the labor and product consistency issues facing the industry today. This is driving the move to continuous mixing, though the process is most efficient and effective with recipes that aren’t likely to change very much.
“We’ve addressed the need for flexibility in a continuous process with our Turbo Compact Mixer, which is often installed at the end of a continuous mixing line when a base powder/ingredient is used for a majority of the recipes,” he said. “This mixer allows minor ingredients like flavors and colorants to be added to the common base powders and frequently changed.”
Today’s mixers offer advanced controls that can log data, monitor the process, predict issues, and transfer information to other parts of the manufacturing process and business systems.
“All our devices are equipped with a high-quality Central Control Station with software that allows users to control the entire line or process using one control panel, thus improving production and increasing efficiency,” Bako said. “All the monitored data can be saved as a file in the memory of a computer. In the event of an emergency, the data can be retrieved by the monitoring program.”
The machines can save more than 100 programs and recipes that allow users to improve the mixing process. In addition, the mixers can mix the products to the desired consistency in a relatively short time, which significantly improves the process and is especially important in the production of wet pet food.
BAK Food Equipment recently introduced its N&N Nadratowski MIX and MIX V series open and vacuum intermeshing twin-shaft paddle mixers to the North American market.
“These mixers are the ideal solution for any operation looking for quick, easy and uniform mixing of a variety of food products,” said Tom Bako, director of business development for BAK Food Equipment.
“These mixers are the ideal solution for any operation looking for quick, easy and uniform mixing of a variety of food products,” Bako said. “Not only will these mixers provide food processors with the perfect mix, but these highly reliable mixers will keep mixing for decades.”
An easy-to-use human-machine interface (HMI) features a color touchscreen that makes these mixers operator-friendly with software allowing for access control as well as manual and automatic operations. It includes as many as 100 mixing programs, each consisting of five programmable steps.
Regular maintenance on motors and gearboxes is important for mixers and blending equipment to ensure their longevity.
“Regular oil changes and fluid checks are key,” Braunreiter said. “Other parts on the machine that need to be checked or changed would be seals and gaskets. Making sure to rebuild grinding components as they wear out is very important to maintain great quality products.”
Cleaning and sealing are the primary maintenance issues in any mixer.
“Our mixers are basically made to last almost forever — we have mixers running in service for more than 40 years,” said Rene Medina, executive vice president at Gericke USA.
“The seals need to be monitored and occasionally replaced to safeguard the overall process,” Medina said. “Our mixers are basically made to last almost forever — we have mixers running in service for more than 40 years. The amount of cleaning involved will differ from one company to the next based on a wide variety of factors.”
PerMix’s cantilever designed mixers streamline cleaning by allowing the operator to easily open the machinery and access crevices and hard-to-reach areas.
In the years ahead, Bako is looking forward to the continued advancement of automation incorporated into mixing equipment to solve a major challenge that is affecting all manufacturing industries, including pet food — the shortage of labor.
Braunreiter noted it is clear the future for mixing and blending equipment is going to be more sophistication within the technology.
“Making sure the customer has the best possible products from our company, that in the end, will help create greater profit margins for our customers while keeping up with the demand of the market,” he said.
Find more articles about the latest pet food processing technologies on our Equipment page.