Frozen food maker shakes up operations with vibratory shakers

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La Huerta, an Aguascalientes, Mexico-based processor, has been expanding its plant in Mexico gradually over the last few years to accommodate rising demand for its individual quick frozen (IQF) fruits and vegetables. Looking for world-class performance, superior sanitation and rugged reliability, La Huerta has installed Key Technology’s Iso-Flo vibratory shakers on every processing and packaging line to transport, mix and meter its products.  

La Huerta uses the Iso-Flo vibratory shakers on its three production lines and five packaging lines to annually produce 60,000 metric tons of frozen fruits and vegetables, which are distributed globally. The company uses an Iso-Flo dewatering shaker and an Iso-Flo fines removal shaker to transport incoming cut vegetables that have been blanched, washed and inspected before freezing. The shakers remove excess water and fine material from the production stream. After the freezing process, the frozen vegetables and fruits are size graded. Iso-Flo distribution shakers help remove any remaining fine material as they transport the frozen products to tote bins.

Some tote bins are taken directly to packaging distribution because those frozen fruits and vegetables will be packaged as stand-alone products. Other tote bins are placed at the top of Key Technology’s Veg-Mix, a system on one of La Huerta’s packaging lines that produces bags of mixed fruits and vegetables. The system receives each product in a separate infeed hopper and then declusters, meters, mixes and conveys the final mixed product to packaging. Each hopper has a smaller lower hopper that reduces buildup of thawed product and keeps them from sticking together, while a pipe infeed hopper prevents large clumps from jamming the Cluster Breaker, which breaks apart clusters of frozen food. The master override adjusts total line flow yet maintains preset mix ratios. Independent, on-the-fly adjustment of the Cluster Breaker and Vari-Feeder metering system enable quick, reliable change of product mix and metering.

“Our Veg-Mix ensures the right amount of each product in the mix, so we’re sure to stay within specifications,” says Luis Picazo, project and maintenance manager at La Huerta.

Iso-Flo Smooth-Cycle scale-feed conveyors with no-pinch, pneumatic slide gates convey both the mixed products and stand-alone products to the packaging distribution lines for bagging. One distribution system feeds product to multihead weighers that each feed vertical form/fill/seal machines. The other feeds semiautomated packaging stations. Designed specifically for feeding applications, Iso-Flo Smooth-Cycle conveyors maximize scale efficiency and reduce product damage with controls that manage the flow of the product on the shaker, speeding up and slowing down as needed to eliminate the mechanical stop/start transients common in scale-feed applications.

Return on investment

According to La Huerta, the Iso-Flo vibratory shakers have delivered consistency, reliability and efficiency to its processing and packaging lines. The Iso-Flo shakers operate with low amplitude, high-frequency movement, thanks to independent frame-mounted drives and spring-arm assemblies. As a result, the shakers distribute energy equally to all parts of the shaker bed in a controlled natural-frequency operation. This operating principle minimizes product degradation and offers quiet performance. In addition, this unique design reduces the vibration that is transferred to structural support and the floor, lowering the costs of installation, energy use and maintenance. Iso-Flow shakers also use Key’s contoured StrongArm spring arms, which are made of a proprietary composite material, that offer twice the life of traditional, straight spring arms, according to Key.

La Huerta says it also appreciates the hygienic qualities of the Iso-Flow shakers, which meet hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) and European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group (EHEDG) guidelines. In addition to stainless-steel construction and smooth beds, Iso-Flo shakers don’t have any lamination and feature 100 percent continuous welds, no-pinch slide gates and self-draining surfaces to prevent microbial growth.

“Every year, demand for food safety gets stricter, with higher standards for microbiology and more requests for audits. The shakers are designed to be easy to clean and hygienic,” says Carlos Gutierrez, plant manager at La Huerta. “Our equipment from Key helps us achieve high product quality objective with high sanitation standards, and, at the same time, it increases our efficiencies by maximizing uptime and reducing labor.”