Lakeshore Technologies has been offering its toll processing services to the food and pharmaceutical industries since 1997. Though still a relatively small company—with just 15 employees at its facility in Norton Shores, Mich.—Lakeshore processes some 6 million kilograms of product a year.
Over the years, the processor has come to be known for its ability to solve metal contamination problems where others have failed.
This expertise came about after a very hard lesson early in Lakeshore’s history. When the company first started, it was running one line, with a mezzanine that went over the equipment. After it was installed, they realized there was one piece that wasn’t installed correctly, and they needed to drill a couple holes to fix it. Long story short, after running their first product, the customer found metal in it, and Lakeshore nearly went out of business with that loss of reputation.
“We had to find a way to stay in business, and magnets and metal detectors became our new best friend,” says Ricardo Lopez, Lakeshore’s president. “We wanted the strongest magnet we could find.”
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It was through this search that Lakeshore found Eriez and its rare earth magnetics. “We really looked into finding the greatest magnet out there,” Lopez says. “We went through a couple of magnetic separator suppliers until we came across Eriez and learned about their magnet’s ability to take 99 percent of the metal out of the product before going to the metal detector.”
A blind test commissioned by Eriez and conducted by Penn State compared 13 tube magnets from various suppliers to determine which would most effectively remove dangerous ferrous metal and weakly magnetic contaminants from process flows. It showed that the rare earth tube magnets from Eriez are able to remove metal contamination with a pull test strength that is 13 to 40% stronger than other commercially available magnets.
“We use the study as part of some of our audits to show how we compare to competitive offerings and provide evidence as to how and why our system is better,” Lopez says.
And Lakeshore uses the magnets to attract more customers—not only staying in business but actually becoming well known for its expertise in metal removal. “When FSMA [Food Safety and Modernization Act] was enacted, that helped us out tremendously. Most toll manufacturers at the time weren’t compliant with FSMA,” Lopez notes. “Even before it was enacted, we were already compliant.”
Mastering the metal detector
It was about seven years ago that Lakeshore moved beyond just Eriez magnets and into their metal detectors as well. They’ve never looked back.
For an existing line, Lakeshore had a metal detector from a different supplier that was failing. The Eriez sales representative from Hi-Pro Equipment, Russ Campbell, asked them if they wouldn’t mind giving the Eriez Xtreme Metal Detector a shot. “We did a demo, and we instantly fell in love with it,” Lopez says. “Since then, we’ve set about replacing every single metal detector with Eriez.”
One of the reasons Lopez was so enamored with the Eriez Xtreme was its ease of use—which in turn leads to better sensitivity and throughput. According to Lopez, he learned more about how metal detectors work within the first six months of having the Eriez Xtreme than he did in the previous 18 years of using a competing metal detector. Eriez makes its systems more intuitive, he says, and the settings on the screen are not only easy to use but also help in understanding what is going on with the products.
Metal detectors rely significantly on sensitivity and phase to operate. “I never used phase that much because I didn’t quite understand what it was manipulating,” Lopez says. “Eriez had a very visual measurement system on phase and width, and I was finally able to understand what that setting was able to manipulate. I was able to get a lot more sensitivity out of our metal detectors and push out background noise.”
This understanding made a big difference in how Lakeshore was able find smaller bits of metal in product. “If we wanted to look for very fine metal contamination, previously, the only way we would know it could get done is to go with a smaller aperture, like 2 in.,” Lopez explains. “The problem with that is it slows down the throughput. Now, because we understand it more, we only have 4- and 6-in. apertures. We can increase the throughput but still have the sensitivity we need.”
Meeting customer demands
Typically, a customer that comes to Lakeshore for help already has its own magnets and metal detector but is nonetheless having trouble solving a metal contamination problem. “What we’re doing is running product through our Eriez magnets and metal detectors,” Lopez says. “We take out the contamination and return their product as pure as possible.”
For Lakeshore, one of the biggest benefits of having the Eriez metal detection is the knowledge that they’ll be able to deliver results to a customer whenever it’s needed, Lopez says.
In one recent situation, a Lakeshore customer needed to double production—they make protein powders used in shakes, and couldn’t make it fast enough to meet demand, Lopez says. They wanted Lakeshore to open a second line, but the other line didn’t have a metal detector with the specifications that the customer needed. Eriez had a metal detector in its Quick Ship Program.
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“They had us up and running within a few weeks,” Lopez says. “They helped us land that second line.”
Early in its operations, Lakeshore steered clear of metal detectors as much as possible, relying instead on magnets. “We would prefer to run product through magnets, but customers did not accept this approach,” Lopez says. “We lost a lot of business because we weren’t willing to invest in a metal detector.”
Now, the Eriez metal detector is a key selling point, playing an important part in Lakeshore’s ongoing success, according to Lopez.
In one recent case, Lakeshore was able to help a large Michigan company that had introduced copper into its product. “It got into their system, and they hadn’t noticed it for a month,” Lopez recalls. “They had a whole warehouse full of material that had potential metal contamination.”
About to start the process of disposing of all of that product, the manufacturer remembered a small job that Lakeshore had done for its sister company, so approached them in a last ditch effort. Not only was Lakeshore able to find the small traces of copper, but it was also able to turn it back into a viable product.
In fact, Lakeshore has been able to help customers lower their sourcing costs by making products viable that are processed in less-than-ideal operations. One of the largest confectionery companies in the U.S. wanted to start sourcing polyols from China but found high levels of metal contamination in the product. The price was too good to pass up, however. “So they buy the raw material from China and they run it through us,” Lopez says. “Even adding our process, it’s still cheaper.”