Testing out a new piece of machinery on a production line can often be a slightly unnerving event for everyone involved. The supplier wants to prove the worthiness of the machinery while the customer expects to see results and conclude an exhaustive search for a technology that fits their application. Often times the benefit(s) of the equipment are not always apparent immediately, but in this case, both the supplier and customer learned something new within the first few seconds of testing.
When it comes to packaged shredded cheese, it is important for the manufacturer to coat the shreddings in some kind of anticaking agent (cellulose powder, potato starch, cornstarch, etc.). This prevents the cheese from forming clumps in the bag upon delivery to the customer. The process of coating the cheese with the powder tends to be a messy one. A coating drum is usually the machinery of choice here. It might do a great job at ensuring the cheese is coated evenly, but it often leads to significant ingredient loss. Not only is this costly for the manufacturer, it is often very, very messy. The “lost” starch can be found in the air, on the floor of the production line, clogging up air intakes, and on the factory staff themselves. While this might give the factory floor (and everyone on it) a lovely non-stick coating, the price to pay is beyond just the lost product. The off-dusting can lead to costly air filter replacements, worker dissatisfaction, and increased line downtime to clean the powder off of all the affected surfaces.
Such was the case at a processing plant in Western New York. They had called upon ARBO Engineering to test a Seasoning Application Systems (S.A.S) unit on one of their shredded cheese lines. The technology uses a high-voltage, low-current corona discharge probe to ionize the particles within the coating drum. The technology had been adapted from a spray-painting process where electrostatics are used to ensure an even coat of paint particles. The ionized particles of paint are drawn towards any electrically grounded object. The system is set up so that the nearest grounded object is the item that needs to be painted. Upon contact with the item’s surface, the charge on the paint particles get canceled out.
Using a novel design adapted for the food industry, S.A.S electrostatics ensures an even coat of seasoning or powder on food items. When the system was tested at the manufacturer, not only did the starch coating on the cheese improve, the mess described above was completely eliminated. Before installing the system, plumes of airborne starch could clearly be seen with the naked eye exiting the output of the coating drum. The powder instantly settles unnecessarily on nearby equipment and the factory floor. After installing the S.A.S system and applying power, the air exiting the coating drum was dust-free. “It was like a science center demonstration,” says Jonathan Zicherman, an ARBO service engineer who assisted with the test. “It was fascinating to see that at the press of a button, the air exiting the drum was completely particle-free”. Within that small testing period, the amount of starch fed into the drum could already be significantly reduced since there was no longer any wastage. Needless to say, it would not be the first S.A.S unit this customer would order from ARBO.