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Slicing solutions to help you cut back

11 December 2017

Suzanne Gill looks at a variety of cutting technologies which can help food companies to make savings – in waste, product give-away, and energy. 

Recent cutting developments have led to significant cost savings and increased quality for a large desserts bakery. Western Mechanical Handling (WMH) provided a bakery with a trial robotic cutting cell, where modifications to the unit have enabled the factory to reduce labour costs, improve product quality and reduce product wastage and give-away of its desserts.

The cutting cell incorporates a WMH conveyor and control technology with a Mitsubishi Electric six-axis Robot and Telsonic ultrasonic cutting blades to provide a robust, hygienic unit with the flexibility to cope with a range of product cutting and portioning requirements.  

Offering both radial and parallel cutting the unit is being used for dividing round cakes and rectangular tray-bakes into individual portions upstream of packing. It has also been used for slicing cheese and cutting large blocks into retail pack sizes.   

The unit takes individual products, cuts them to the desired pattern, then waits for the next cake to be loaded.  To register the cakes in the correct position for cutting a jig is used. The original intention was that products, which are baked in a disposable carrier, are removed from the carrier, placed in the jig and cut.  While this solution worked reasonably well, there were several areas that needed to be addressed to improve the process further – The carriers were awkward to remove without damaging the product; slices were moving during the cutting process meaning the jig was making small imprints on the edges of the cakes and It was found that a high level of waste was created when operators removed the unprotected individual slices.

Improvements were made when it was decided to try cutting the cakes while they were still in the outer carriers.  By protecting the cake in its carrier, the product could be held more firmly in the jig without damaging the outer edges and the delicate point was also supported when being handled, reducing waste caused by damaged pieces. Using this technique the carrier was much easier to remove when it had been cut. Tests carried out on the product cut in this way confirmed that there was no contamination of the product by the carrier and therefore this method of production satisfied their standards.

The perfect slice?
“For a sliced food producer, the perfect slice is defined by low give-away and a high percentage of on-weight portions. This translates into high yield,” said Norbert Brunnquell, senior product manager slicing and loading, GEA. Developed for integration into fully automated lines, the GEA DualSlicer is able to consecutively slice two calibrated logs such as round sausage, or two uncalibrated logs such as cheese, cooked ham or raw ham. It is able to deliver consistent slice quality and constant slice thicknesses – even with softer products – at an output of up to 1,600 kilograms per hour. 

GEA components – gripper, rotor head and positioning conveyor – have been developed to maximise product utilization due to fewer idle cuts. Independent drives for each of the two grippers which work in combination with the three-stage-portioning conveyor, helps the DualSlicer to keep give-away low. When used with the GEA OptiScan, where two logs are simultaneously scanned using X-ray, the line can achieve high yields

Saving energy 
With its Eco Slicing technology TREIF slicers can offer a reduction in energy costs. How? Most slicing systems require idle cuts to gain time for the transport of slices. TREIF slicers, however, do not. They require fewer blade rotations to achieve the same output and this helps protect the product during slicing and allows slicing at higher product temperatures which saves time for logistics and product cooling and therefore energy costs.

A small patented ‘air cushion’ allows the slice to come away from the blade immediately after slicing. Even with soft products that adhere easily to the blade such as boiled sausage, boiled ham or cheese, the pressure on the product is reduced during slicing.

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