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Food Processing Highlights From PACK EXPO East

A focus on mixing and blending innovations, along with automation and technology tools to offset the labor crunch are among the takeaways from the Philadelphia show.

Pack Expo East Philadelphia 2024
Michael Costa

PACK EXPO East in Philadelphia opened this week and is on track to be the biggest ever, with more than 500 exhibiting companies and an anticipated 7,000-plus attendees exploring 115,000 net square feet of exhibit space at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

I’ve had a chance to walk around the show floor and talk to several companies at their booths, and here are some of the highlights I’ve seen from a food and beverage processing standpoint, as well as specialized end-of-line applications.

Mixing and blending

At the Axiflow Technologies booth, the company showcased its magnetic agitators for mixing and blending applications. The agitator can be placed anywhere in the bottom a tank, and a magnetic drive holds it in place during processing, so there is no need for mechanical seals. Because there is no shaft attached to the agitator, the contents can be mixed almost until the liquid is emptied. Those at Axiflow say without a shaft to obstruct the spray of a clean-in-place system, aa single element spraying device is often all that is needed to effectively clean the internal surfaces of the tank.

Axiflow TechnologiesMichael Costa

MXD Process highlighted its ShearPro high-shear mixing technology for liquid processing of food and pharmaceutical ingredients. Tim Gunn, business development manager at MXD Process, says the company’s focus on offering turnkey solutions for processors is one element that helps differentiate MXD Process in the marketplace.

MXD ProcessMichael Costa

“We take a full system approach, so we designed a tank, so we design the tanks, mixers, and all the controls that allow you to use this piece of equipment to make a better product,” says Gunn. we can take your liquid processing system from a thought to a turnkey processing system. So, for example, you went from having 20 people on the floor down to two just for maintenance. So that’s kind of our niche.”

   High-volume shear mixing for powders and liquids at PACK EXPO East.

At the North American Process booth, the company’s core Infini-Mix inline mixing technology was on display, which can be customized in different sizes to match the production goals of end users. Joby Ferary, the company’s vice president of sales, says Infini-Mix offers the full range of mixing intensities from virtually no shear to high shear, and at the largest sizes, over 1000 gallons per minute.

Infini-Mix North American ProcessMichael Costa

“We do any type of inline mixing that there is, so it's not just high shear,” explains Ferary. “If you wanted to put nuts into chocolate, or fruit into yogurt, you don't want to do it at a high speed, you want to do it very delicately. So. a lot of what we do is inline, continuous, and delicate. We can make mac and cheese, pasta, vegetable soup, potatoes, and foods like that with our mixers. Those foods are normally done in a batch process, manually or with blenders, we but we can do it in line, so we’re unique in that regard.”

   Labor-saving robotic palletizer at PACK EXPO East.

Silverson Machines showcased multiple sizes of mixing and blending solutions, including the company’s tabletop mixer, which is perfect for R&D applications. According to a company spokesperson, Silverson Machines’ differentiating core technology is in the clearance of their rotor and stator configuration, which delivers a high degree of mechanical shear with no metal-to-metal contact, taking everything in and reducing the particle size. The end result is a homogenized, emulsified, deagglomerated, fully dispersed product.

Silverson MachinesMichael Costa

Filling and weighing

At the All-Fill booth, the company spotlighted some if its core technology for filling and weighing, including a piston filler for liquids, a linear scale/weigh filler, automatic and semi-automatic auger fillers, and a checkweigher. Raymond Arra of All-Fill says all their equipment can be integrated into a single line to customer specifications.

All-Fill HoppersMichael Costa

“70% of our business with the fillers is in food, but we also work with pharmaceuticals. Our checkweighers can be applied to anything that needs to be weighed, it doesn’t necessarily have to be food,” says Arra. “Our customer support differentiates us in the marketplace. We’re family owned, and if a customer has an issue, they can talk to our president if they want to, and have their problem resolved.

   Labor-saving labeling machines at PACK EXPO East.

Two different filling machines were also on display at the Modern Packaging booth—which is part of ProMach—the company’s SR8-DC rotary filling machine, and their SL1X1 inline machine, both of which can fill 30 to 40 cups per minute of foods like yogurt, sour cream, dressings, dips, juice, coffee pods, and much more.

Modern PackagingMichael Costa

Both machines feature labor-saving denesting of cups before filling, while the SR8-DC also has lid placing and heat sealing. The inline SL1X1 comes with rollstock heat sealing and cutting, along with overcapping.

At Carleton Helical Technologies the company spotlighted its core container handling conveyor for food and beverage applications—including craft beer—in a variety of vessels like cans, bottles, cartons, boxes, and crates of any size, at speeds from 10 to 20 containers per minute, to over 2,000.

Carleton Helical TechnologiesMichael Costa

Connie McDermott, general manager at Carleton Helical Technologies, says their container handling systems can be customized for any size operation, from startups to companies the size of Kraft Heinz and Procter & Gamble, which Carleton has worked with before.

Tech Tools

SmartSkin Technologies has created a two-step, multi-sensor system for predicting failure on lines for cans, bottles, and smaller items like pharmaceutical vials and pens. The first step is a SmartSkin drone replica of what is being filled—a can, for instance—placed in a line among an actual batch of cans being filled with beverage and seamed. The drone returns information in real time to SmartSkin’s software to show where defects might be occurring during the canning process, allowing operators to proactively repair their machines before batches of defective cans make it through to the end of the line.

SmartSkin TechnologiesMichael Costa

“Some of these lines run 1 million to 1.5 million cans a day,” says Joe Norris, customer and process technical support at SmartSkin. “We show fillers all the places where they may be impacting or creating a pressure impression on the can, which results in a crinkle or a dent. And the problem with cans is if you damage the internal coating, over time you create a leaker. So, the product inside, because you’ve crinkled the can, the coating has a fracture in it and you have leaks, which is why you’ll see drips coming out of cans in warehouses.”

QAD Redzone has built a reputation as a workforce management solution that focuses on training and retention of employees, especially crucial in today’s labor environment. Those at the QAD Redzone booth say this year the company is refining what they already do well, enhancing their main four modules: productivity, compliance, reliability, and learning. They are also launching their enterprise collaboration suite, which allows larger companies and manufacturers with multiple plants to communicate with each other using QAD Redzone’s software tools.

QAD RedzoneMichael Costa

End of the line

At the FlexLink booth, the company’s new labor-saving palletizing robot is aimed at the snack and baking industry, for speedy, lightweight palletizing of boxes up to 10kg (22lb). The palletizer comes with fully programmable HMI controls to formulate for the different box sizes and weights that an operation may have.

FlexLinkMichael Costa

“The snack and baking industry is still growing, with sales revenue at 13% for North America last year,” says Theresa West, senior business development, food processing at FlexLink. “Labor issues are still a big concern for all of us, so if you have errors on the line where you have people, this is going to help to eliminate those errors. I think this is a great application for snack and baking.”

Frozen foods take focus at Bradman Lake Group with their carton former and carton closer system, which can produce between 60 and 250 cartons per minute and can handle anything that goes into a frozen food carton, like ready-meals or bags of fruit or vegetables. The former is designed for cold environments and is constructed of anti-bacterial stainless steel for hygienic washdowns. The machine I saw on display at PACK EXPO East has already been sold to a frozen food co-packer, according to Mervat El-Rafei, sales and marketing coordinator at Bradman Lake Group. 

Bradman Lake GroupMichael Costa“This machine is very flexible,” says El-Rafei, “and we can take our former and modify it to form two different cartons at the same time, which is a very good option for co-packers working with different products.”

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