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Conveyor solves loose chocolate dilemma

25 September 2016

The installation of a new moulding machine led to a conveying problem for a chocolate producer.  Food Processing finds out how the company overcame the problem of delicately handling the increased throughput. 

A new chocolate moulding machine was ordered by one of the UK’s premium brand chocolate producers to allow it to significantly increase its chocolate production. However, the new mould created two problems for the company. The newly moulded chocolates were being dispensed over a greater area than the plaque size that they were to be transported on and the existing conveying system was not able to cope with the increased throughput of 22 plaques per minute. To compound the difficulties, space for a new conveying system was also at a premium.

To solve the problem of the increased output, the company spoke to L.A.C. Conveyor Systems who was able to supply side on conveyors for installation either side of the chocolate mould exit conveyor to help gently ‘push’ the chocolates together. Due to the size and nature of the product it was not possible to achieve this using side guides.
The design team at L.A.C. Conveyor System design team realised that it was not possible to make a single conveying system that could deal with the throughput in the conventional manner due to the nature of the product being handled. The innovative solution they devised was to split the output onto two lines. This had the effect of halving the amount of plaques being handled by a line to 11 per minute.

Plaque handling
To achieve this outcome, six conveyors and a plaque loading magazine were devised. The split into two lines was created by using a transfer conveyor with a ‘C’ arm which allowed the first line to be able to pass the next plaque of chocolates under the ‘C’ arm as it performed its operation and continue straight to the tray loader position arriving at the same time as the transferred plaque. 

Due to the fragile and potentially mobile nature of the freshly moulded chocolates, careful consideration was given on how to handle the plaques as gently as possible. The simplest solution would be to purchase plaques that were stiffer. This solution was discounted as the plaques and trays that are used are a standard size across the whole of the manufacturing operation. The solution for the trickiest handling element was at the point where the plaques are picked up from the conveyor and deposited into the transport trays. To deal with this, a set of pegs move up either side of the plaque where gripper claws grasp the plaque and move it over the transport tray. Another set of pegs move up through holes in the transport tray and take the plaques at which point the gripper claws release their hold and the pegs retract to set the plaques safely into the trays for onward despatch. Dampeners are used to ‘soften’ the aggressive action of the pneumatics controlling the grippers to help create the gentle handling actions required.

The frameworks for the conveyors are made from grade 304 stainless steel, the belting from polyurethane and all machinery is built to food grade standards and is capable of withstanding full wash down procedures.

The conveyors are guarded using a clear acrylic sheet to allow operators to see what is happening to the product while it is being conveyed and limit switches have been incorporated at opening points to stop the machinery when access is required. 

Before installation in the factory the system underwent extensive trials at the L.A.C. Conveyor Systems manufacturing unit using samples of chocolate to ensure as near as possible real life manufacturing conditions before being passed ready for delivery to the customer site. 

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