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Lightening the load

Moving bulk dry materials like powders from place to place in a plant efficiently isn’t easy. Fugitive dust from these powdery substances can create product waste, lead to sanitation issues and compromise worker safety. Food Sciences Corporation knows this all too well. The maker of nutritional protein products recently installed an automated vacuum conveying system to mitigate dust while processing its protein powders to improve cleanliness, safety and efficiency at its Mount Laurel, New Jersey, plant. 

Established in 1976, Food Sciences Corporation manufactures more than 125 protein products to support metabolism and lean muscle mass for health care professionals and consumers. Its product line includes bars, puddings, shakes, snacks, soups, breakfast items and protein powders. 

Containment strategy

With increased consumer demand for healthy protein-based products, Food Sciences Corporation wanted to boost production of its protein powders. So it recently added auger filling machines to accurately and quickly fill bottles and other containers. With the protein powders received in super sacks, employees manually loaded them into the infeed section of the filling machine. The filling machine then metered the powders into canisters for packaging and distribution. This powder-handling method proved to be inefficient for Food Sciences Corporation. The manual refill process not only slowed production, but it required operators to climb ladders — putting their safety at risk — and caused fugitive respirable dust clouds and combustible dust hazards. 

In search of an automated powder-handling solution that could maximize the value of its new auger fillers, Food Sciences Corporation chose to install the VAC-U-MAX Vacuum Conveying System with twin-venturi vacuum producer. The vacuum conveying system conveys the protein powder via wand from the super sack. The system conveys the material 15 ft. into the 4-cu.-ft.-capacity vacuum receiver, which then dispenses the powder to the auger filling machine via timed vacuum sequencing. The freestanding system is mounted on a column hoist to raise the vacuum conveyor for operation and lower it for cleaning and maintenance. All product contact areas are made of stainless steel and meet USDA and FDA requirements.

“We needed to automate our packaging process and increase production,” says Scott Hoffman, project supervisor at Food Sciences Corporation. “Previously, we manually scooped and dumped the powdered ingredients into the infeed section of the filling machine. With the new vacuum conveying system, refill of the auger filling machine is automated with a level probe in the surge hopper, assisting in maintaining constant head pressure in the auger filler.”

Reaping the benefits

Food Sciences Corporation’s new VAC-U-MAX Vacuum Conveying System fills about 30 to 35 500-gm containers per minute or 2,000 lb. per hour at 1 cu. ft. per minute. The system’s convey rate is maximized to 3,000 lb. per hour to stay ahead of use rate. 

While the vacuum conveying system provides an automated solution that has increased Food Sciences Corporation’s throughput, the company also chose the system because it makes operations more efficient and safe. Employees no longer have to climb up to manually scoop the protein powders into the auger fillers — reducing labor costs and eliminating a safety hazard. In addition, the venturi power unit operates using compressed air and has no moving parts, which helps to decrease utility expenses and makes it easy to install.

“We focused efforts not only on automation, but also lowering energy consumption,” explains Michael Sobers, director of operations for Food Sciences Corporation. “We find the VAC-U-MAX Vacuum Conveying Systems very economical, with low compressed-air consumption.”

The vacuum conveying system also accommodates fast product changeover, is easy to access for cleaning and maintenance, and complies with the Food Safety Modernization Act, according to Hoffman. “The Food Safety Modernization Act increased our awareness of good manufacturing practices, with strong focus on training and automated manufacturing practices,” he says. “The VAC-U-MAX vacuum conveying systems are very simple to disassemble without tools, quickly cleaned and returned back into operation.”