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Nut butter output increases with bulk bag unloaders, screw conveyors

23 November 2010

MaraNatha Nut Butters was founded in 1982 in Ashland, Oregon when the husband and wife team of Robert and Chris Plotnik began delivering dried fruit from the California Central Valley to natural food stores in Oregon and Washington

As the distribution company grew, the family began producing their own specialty peanut and nut butters under the MaraNatha label. As the line grew in popularity, the Plotniks concentrated on manufacturing nut butters and today, MaraNatha is a manufacturer of organic and natural nut and seed butters.

As demand for the all-natural almond, peanut, cashew and macadamia and sesame tahini butters escalated, the company boosted output by increasing production rates and, as importantly, by reducing downtime between batches.

Limitations of the existing system
The company was using bucket-style conveyors to move peanuts, almonds, cashews and sesame seeds to various production areas throughout the plant. Using this equipment had two drawbacks:
 Cleaning was time consuming
 System was too slow to meet demand.

They were filling just 20-30 jars per minute with the bucket-style conveyors and they required two hours to clean between production runs because there were hundreds of buckets attached to a chain, all of which had to be disassembled and cleaned between products. The need to reduce sanitation time and get more throughput out of the equipment necessitated installation of an entirely new bulk handling system.

Everything manufactured is a Class 1 allergen and all direct-contact equipment must be cleaned thoroughly - but as swiftly as possible. MaraNatha then decided to go with a system of bulk bag unloaders and flexible screw conveyors from Flexicon because the flexible screw conveyors require less time to disassemble, clean, sanitise and reassemble between different product runs.

Replacement equipment cuts downtime, boosts production: The installed system includes five, model BFC bulk bag unloaders and flexible screw conveyors. Although each piece of equipment is not dedicated to a particular product, individual bulk bag unloaders are associated with a flexible screw conveyor that transports work in progress or raw materials to various rooms within the plant.

Two 4.6 m long flexible screw conveyors featuring stainless steel tubes were installed in the roasting areas to convey raw products, such as nuts and sesame seeds, to the roasters. Stainless steel outer tubes (as opposed to plastic) in the roasting rooms were preferred because of the ambient heat.

Three conveyors are used in other areas. One 4.6 m long unit feeds peanut, almond and other nut products to an industrial line, which processes materials and fills pails or barrels. Two others, 7.5 m long, convey raw product to the processing equipment, which processes the material into product that is eventually placed in jars for retail sale.

Sanitising these conveyors has proven less time consuming. A removable clean-out cap at the intake end of the conveyor tube allows for both reversing of the screw to evacuate any residual material and removal of the flexible screw for sanitising and flushing of the conveyor tube, in just 45 minutes This compares to two hours for the bucket-style conveyors.

The flexible screw conveyors consist of a stainless steel spiral inside an enclosed tube driven by an IP65 motor located at the discharge end. MaraNatha specified other food-grade features including stainless-steel hoppers and flexible screws.

The manager says the simple design and operation of the equipment outperforms the bucket-style conveyors it replaced. An improved output of 150 jars per minute from the new system compares 20 to 30 jars with the old one.

The BFC unloaders in the facility are configured with cantilevered I-beams with electric hoists and trolleys for loading and unloading bulk bags without a forklift.

The two unloaders in the roasting rooms are equipped with Spout-Lockâ clamp rings that make an air-tight connection between the clean side of the bag spout and the clean side of the equipment, preventing contamination of the product and plant environment. The clamp rings are located at the top of Tele-Tubeâ telescoping tubes that maintain constant downward tension of the bag spout to promote complete evacuation of the bag as it empties and elongates.

Immediately above the clamp rings are pneumatically actuated Power-Cincher flow control valves that cinch the bag spouts concentrically, allowing retying of partially empty bags with no leakage of the nut fines used in MaraNatha’s operation.

The three unloaders in the production room utilise conventional iris valves instead of the clamp rings and telescoping tubes described above because a sealed connection between the bag spout and the hopper is unnecessary.

To operate, the bag outlet spout is pulled through the open iris valve, the valve is closed, the bag spout drawstring is untied, and the access door is closed. The valve is then opened slowly to prevent uncontrolled bursts of material into the hopper, reducing the escape of dust.

From the original 1300 m2 building they now have 4180 m2 in three buildings, a warehouse in a neighboring town and a distribution centre in Northern California. The new equipment helped them achieve this growth by improving output five-fold due to the ease of cleaning and more efficient performance.

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