This article was published in the November 2023 issue of Pet Food Processing. Read it and other articles from this issue in our November digital edition.
Pet food manufacturers must rely on their equipment and innovative technology to ensure they are providing the best solutions for their customers. Thankfully, improved equipment design and precision manufacturing have made today’s pet food processing equipment solutions much more reliable. Additionally, the implementation of smart software has improved process communication in the plants and throughout the entire enterprise.
When it comes to pet food processing, Lake Forest, Ill.-headquartered Handtmann Inc., is most known for its grinding, mixing and emulsifying equipment, and for its pet treat forming, pet food depositing and chub filling technologies.
Micah Jones, product manager for Handtmann, noted meat processing equipment and technology help streamline pet food processing operations in several ways.
“The speed and reliability of today’s sophisticated technologies increases the potential throughput just by reducing the unplanned downtime,” said Micah Jones, Handtmann.
“First, the speed and reliability of today’s sophisticated technologies increases the potential throughput just by reducing the unplanned downtime,” he said. “There is also much more labor flexibility because automated monitoring and simplified processing controls free up line staff.”
In the world of pet food processing, where levels of efficient automation are available for all sizes of operations, process improvement with smart solutions lets processors simplify their production while improving product quality and line reliability.
Ryan Van Maasdam, vice president of sales for Rome Grinding Solutions, Sheldon, Iowa, noted technology, specifically control systems, link equipment together, allowing individual machines to work together to help automate the production lines.
“Many pieces of equipment that make up a production line are not designed to be operated without product,” he said. “Control systems allow for monitoring of the product through the different stages of the production line, all the while communicating with each piece of equipment as to when it is, or is not, required to be running.”
Canton, Mass.-based Reiser is a leading supplier of processing and packaging equipment to pet food industry, offering a wide variety of equipment to help processors produce a higher quality product while maximizing production efficiency and profits.
“From single machines to complete production lines, our solutions combine specialized equipment, custom applications and in-depth Reiser expertise to meet any customer challenge,” said Jeff Zeak, national development manager for Reiser. “Our specialists know how to identify the most appropriate equipment, integrate machines, adjust the formula, program software and fine-tune installation for optimum performance.”
Whether for a new or an existing pet product application, the process for streamlining processing operations and selecting the right equipment for the product starts with a detailed interactive discussion about product parameter specifications and expectations of the project.
“Once details about the product project are determined, a Reiser customer center test protocol is outlined listing the test objectives and type of equipment that will be utilized to conduct the test,” Zeak said. “During testing of the formulation, process and product are all studied to ensure that they are representative and conducive to the proposed product and process. A test report with written and video documentation is submitted to the customer along with resulting product samples for their review.”
Through the interactive discussion, discovery and education, pet food manufacturers can make informed decisions about the processing operations and the proposed equipment.
Achieving product consistency
The goal of any pet food processing operation is product consistency and processing efficiency.
Van Maasdam noted that taking the operator out of the equation allows for consistent product. “Using a bit of trial and error in the beginning to set up ‘recipes,’ which can be programmed into the controls systems, allows for a much more consistent end product,” he said.
Zeak noted product consistency and processing efficiency can be obtained by using a variety of Reiser’s and its partner companies’ equipment. For instance, the double screw technology of the Reiser Vemag extrusion portioning equipment affords improved yield output through accurate portion weight control. Additionally, the robust equipment design, ease of disassembly for sanitation and maintenance reduces down time, sanitation and maintenance time, and improves line time efficiency.
“Seydelmann bowl choppers can streamline the process of grinding, emulsifying, cooking and cooling processed products by using an all-in-one batch process method limiting product transfers, the need for additional equipment, and reducing required space footprint while improving the consistency of the product and process,” Zeak added.
Reiser’s Variovac business and partner company, Repak, provide rollstock thermoforming/fill/seal machines with modified atmosphere packaging capability for improved shelf life and quality of packaged finished product.
“Reiser’s JLS company, which specializes in robotic end of arm tooling for picking products, can improve production efficiency of getting product into packages, packages into boxes, and boxes into cases,” Zeak said.
One of the biggest problems pet food processors face is the variation in operator efficiency. To counteract this, Handtmann solutions are designed for operators of varying backgrounds and experience levels to consistently produce quality products efficiently from setup and operation to tear-down and sanitation.
“Automated control of precise processing parameters for the most complex recipes and products combine with hygienically designed solutions to let processors improve both consistency and efficiency,” Jones said.
Evolving through the years
As the category and complexity of pet food, snacks, treats and supplements continues to grow and change over the years, so has the machinery used to produce these products.
Designing pet food processing equipment machinery with reliability, low cost of ownership, short and direct product flow paths, ease of use, personnel and food safety, and sanitation are important factors that have evolved in recent years., as well as making assembly/disassembly easy and intuitive with tool-less or minimum use of tools required.
“There are many types of machines utilized for processing various consumable pet products,” Zeak said. “Today, a piece of machinery that affords flexibility of use offers great production and profitability advantage.”
As an example, Reiser’s Vemag vacuum extrusion portion forming dividers are used for the manufacture of dry, semi-dry and wet food products, and a variety of dry and moist treats and supplements, as well as different product shapes, including strips, sticks, bites, balls, random particulate and pellet shapes, and other shape varieties.
Within the category of vacuum extrusion portion forming dividers, there are several system options available.
“A traditional Vemag vacuum extrusion portion forming divider will use a duo drive infeed scroll spiral with vacuum suction assist in the hopper to transfer product material to either a double screw or hub vane delivery system feeding the desired forming and portioning attachment,” Zeak said.
Another option in vacuum extrusion portion dividers is the Vemag Total Vacuum System, which uses a vacuum pump to suck the product material from a feed hopper into a closed top hopper through an adjustable inlet valve that increases the surface area of the material being pumped in order to remove entrained air. Product material is then transferred into the double screw using a duo drive infeed scroll spiral and vacuum suction assist. The double screw, available in various profile configurations, moves the substance to the desired forming and portioning attachment.
Across the board, from grinding and mixing to the final package, today’s equipment allows for higher throughput while maintaining a level of product quality that has not been seen before.
“The industry is not as dependent on highly experienced operators, so the technology has developed to fill that gap efficiently,” Jones said. “The ability to store recipes that are repeatable batch to batch and shift to shift is just one example. Further, advancements in engineering make today’s solutions smarter, more reliable, and with longer service intervals that make a profitable difference to the bottom line.”
Jones noted Handtmann solutions are known for designs that feature accurate portioning with a short product path that means less friction and gentler handling for consistently high product quality.
“That, coupled with our grinding, mixing and emulsifying technologies, lets us deliver full-line solutions that offer more versatile production than ever before,” he said. “The forward thinking of our Handtmann technologies is unique — and matched only by the deep knowledge, experience and commitment of our technical and support teams to the success of our customers.”
Today’s equipment is more productive and more complex than ever. Therefore, regular maintenance by trained staff, planned service based on today’s longer intervals, and attention to operational alerts by today’s automated process monitoring systems is vital.
“Handtmann supports these needs with an industry-leading training and customer care program that puts our technician’s expertise in the hands of plant teams through training both onsite and at our headquarters,” Jones said. “We try to think ahead for customers with preventive maintenance programs, a rapid response support program called HVISION that with smart glasses technology that puts our technician next to the customer virtually and is resolving their most common issues in less than an hour.”
An added value is that HVISION is Microsoft Teams-based so it becomes a go-to, all-in-one virtual support tool that processors can use for rapid virtual support with their other suppliers.
“We also offer preventive maintenance and replacement parts programs, a variety of application optimization services and extended warranties for beyond our standard two-year Handtmann warranty,” Jones said.
Zeak’s recommendations to keep equipment running at full efficiency are to follow on-screen HMI reminders for scheduled maintenance, routinely cleaning equipment inside and out, installing automatic lubrication systems, using logs to track maintenance problems, and conducting preventive maintenance to reduce down time.
Find more articles about the latest pet food processing technologies on our Equipment page.