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Customised weighing and filling system for diced meat

10 October 2021

An automated packing line for sticky diced meat, which incorporates two Ishida 12-head Fresh Food Weighers that combine to operate as four separate machines, has met the key challenge of managing the limited space available at Swiss meat processing company, Micarna. 

Micarna had been needed to be able to deliver a new product – fresh cooked lardons, strips of ham and chicken for adding to salads – to a challenging deadline. To give the product a longer shelf life, the fresh diced meat is packed in sterile conditions in a cleanroom. Cleanrooms are generally made as small as possible to reduce maintenance costs and floorspace, and to minimise the risk of contamination. As a result, the new packing system had to fit into a space of only 10.5m x 2.2m with a low ceiling height of just 2.8m.

Micarna’s technical project manager Patrick Nyffenegger explains the challenges of the project: “The low headroom was a major issue, because it ruled out a standard circular weigher. There was very little room for product feed and distribution, and the cleaning processes also had to be taken into consideration.”

The solution, devised by Itech AG which represents Ishida in Switzerland, involves the conveying of the fresh diced meat from the slicer to a crosshead feeder. When the system stops, the meat can be buffered in the feeder without the need to interrupt the cutting process. A mobile elevator is used for transferring the chunks of meat to a pivoting conveyor that supplies two crosshead feeders. From there, the meat is taken to another feeder that functions as a second buffer, which then transfers the lardons to the 12 vibratory feeders on each of the two 12-head Ishida Fresh Food Weighers.
The Ishida CCW-R2-112 multihead weighers in linear configuration were developed for the high-performance handling of sticky products in compact spaces. At Micarna, the two weighers are facing each other, working in tandem to pack the diced meat into thermoformed packs. Heavy duty ribbed plastic hoppers with scraper gates prevent the sticky meat from clinging to the weighers’ contact parts.

The two Ishida multihead weighers have been configured as if they were four single machines, discharging the required target weights into four separate collection chutes. These chutes are positioned so that the automated 2 x 8 distribution system only needs to make small lateral movements. 

The two weighers simultaneously fill 16 hoppers in the distribution system. A collector conveyor has replaced conventional swivel chutes, which reduces the distribution system’s overall height. To further minimise space, the project planners opted for a mobile support platform. For cleaning, the two machines are moved apart and all contact parts can be removed and reattached without the need for tools. The machine components are transferred to the washing facility on custom-made trolleys, designed to suit the confined space at the production facility.

Micarna is currently using its new packing line to weigh and pack six products with fill weights ranging from 65g to 90g. “Precision is essential for us, and with these pack sizes, overfilling amounts to less than 1g per pack on average,” said Nyffenegger. The setup achieves an output of 112 trays per minute, although even this speed is well below the capabilities of the two Ishida weighers. 

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