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Linear drives help automate application of lye

16 January 2017

An automated solution for lye application is helping artisanal bakeries produce traditional baked goods of high quality and industrialised speeds and volumes. 

WP Riehle is a manufacturer of automation machinery specifically for the baking industry. Early on in the process of designing new equipment, to provide a more efficient and economical method of applying lye – otherwise known as caustic soda – to pretzels, the company turned to Parker-Origa for the supply of automation components.

At the core of the new are linear drives, which have been specifically adapted to meet stringent hygiene requirements. These ensure precise movement of the lift table and automated in-feed.

From the in-feed, dough pieces are transported into a caustic soda application machine. The carts carrying the dough pieces are recognised by initiators in the feeding station and locked in place by means of pneumatic cylinders. A light barrier checks the position of the dough piece carriers and the operator releases them for transport once the correct alignment has been achieved. 

A lift table, driven by two electric linear drives, then moves vertically to the upper level of the cart. For the automatic transfer of the dough pieces, the lift table is extended horizontally by means of two pneumatic linear drives. 

A conveyor belt takes on the dough pieces from the first carrier, and once all pieces have been transferred, the lift table is lowered by the electrical linear drives to the transfer position for the lye application machine, the dough pieces are conveyed, and the unloading process continues with the next cart level. At the same time, the lye and optional salt is automatically applied to the dough pieces, which are then deposited onto a baking tray for transfer to the oven.

Exact positioning
The most vital part of this automated system is the feeding station, which transfers the dough pieces seamlessly from the carriers to the lye application machine. Two electrical linear drives with ball bearing guidance are used for the vertical movement and control of the lift table. Linear drives are suited to applications where precision and operating speed are vital. 

The linear drives are made additionally rugged with metal strip seals and boast an enclosure protection rating of IP54. This contributes to a long service life, particularly in dusty industrial environments, and makes the system easy to clean. The integrated guides of the electrical linear drives ensure smooth operation and minimise the risk of rotation. The parallel electrical linear drives for the lift table are synchronised by means of a connecting shaft.  

The horizontal movement of the lift table is carried out by two pneumatic linear drives. Despite their small dimensions, these drives are powerful enough to smoothly and quickly bring the lift table containing the dough pieces into the correct position. Since both pneumatic linear drives are fitted in tandem in the lye application machine, no separate guides are necessary. Furthermore, the rodless pneumatic linear drives are an ideal attachment point for the lift table. 

The resulting fully automated lye application machinery is able to process 200 trays per hour and its automated feeding and transfer system can be operated by a single person.

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