In 2020, Phoenix Custom Manufacturing sought to expand production and develop into a full-fledged contract manufacturer of protein powders, amino acids, functional foods and encapsulated dietary supplements. To lead the firm in its transition, Eric Manfull, an 18-year veteran of the food & dietary supplement industry, was brought on as general manager.
Manfull first decided to tackle Phoenix Custom Manufacturing’s nine-month backlog that was due to the company’s mixing equipment being unable to meet volume demands.
“The main bottleneck was the mixing operation,” Manfull says. “We needed to blend 150,000 kg (330,693 lb) a month, but we couldn’t even scratch at volumes like that with the equipment we had.”
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The company had tried to solve this problem previously with a used V-blender, but its shaft cracked. Manfull then reached out to Munson Machinery, an equipment provider that he’d had success with in the past, which offered a factory-refurbished 700-TS-90-SS Rotary Batch Mixer during the spring of 2022. Installation took less than a week with no significant issues, only time spent training operators, writing and implementing new SOPs, and validating the blender.
Faster blending with less dust and labor
The semiautomatic mixer was installed in a dedicated room containing a bag dump station and vibratory sifter fitted with a 10- or 20-mesh (2- or 0.84-mm) screen. To load the mixer, the operator empties 25-kg (55 lb) bags into the bag dump station which then feeds the material to the sifter using earth magnets and a chute connected to the mixer’s inlet, which remains stationary as the vessel rotates.
The mixer increases Phoenix Custom Manufacturing’s throughput as its batch capacity more than doubles that of the contract manufacturer’s other conical and tumble blender units. The company manufactures about 30 products, some having just two ingredients and others as many as 50. While the mixer handles protein and amino acid powder applications, the other blenders mix smaller-volume products.
Blends discharge from the mixer through a stationary outlet equipped with a pneumatically actuated discharge door that allows the operator to control flow. Protein powder blends flow into bulk bags holding up to 450 kg (992 lb). These are transferred in-house to packaging lines that fill pre-formed poly bags and pouches of various sizes. Other products are transferred to a capsule-filling machine and packaged in bottles. Some protein powder blends are shipped out for packaging elsewhere.
“It takes us an hour on each end to load and unload the conical blender of a 600 kg (1,323 lb) batch,” Manfull says. “We can charge the Rotary Batch Mixer with twice as many ingredients in 15 to 20 minutes and discharge in 10 minutes.” With the faster throughput, the company’s nine-month backlog could be met as well as current demand. “We do more in one shift with this mixer than we could in two shifts with other the blenders,” he says. “Instead of blending four days a week, 20 hours a day, we’re blending four days a week over one 10-hour shift.”
Manfull says employees like the Munson machine as it is easier to operate in terms of charges and discharges with fast blends. The mixer cleans and sanitizes within an hour. After the equipment has dried—a process that takes more time than cleaning—the mixer is back into production with minimal downtime.
Increased production, labor reduction and employee safety
Since installing the mixer, Manfull lists increased volume, labor and waste reduction, airborne dust reduction and more homogenous blends as benefits along with minimized downtime and the nine-month production backlog which was cleared within 60 days. Manfull says Phoenix Custom Manufacturing has seen an increase in contracts landed as well.
Production was previously 2,000 to 5,000 kg (4,400 to 11,023 lb) a week, but with the new equipment, the company produces between 17,000 and 25,000 kg (37,479 to 55,116 lb) of product. Manfull says, “It’s been key to our success and a huge savings in time and labor.”
The increased throughput per production day leads to less cost per man-hour, reducing labor by half, says Manfull, allowing the co-manufacturer to utilize its labor more effectively.
Waste is reduced by the internal flights serving a second use by directing it toward and through the mixer's outlet until the product is fully evacuated. The flights also prevent segregation and improve blend homogeneity.
The equipment provides better dust control which has improved the operation and employee health and safety. A flexible coupling seals the sifter outlet to the mixer’s inlet and ports on the mixer’s inlet and outlet chutes connect to a dust collector, with a single radial seal preventing dust escaping the drum. “The room stays much cleaner,” Manfull says. “We have 10% of the dust that was present before.”
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Along with the third-party cGMP certification Phoenix Custom Manufacturing has received, the contract manufacturer also has HACCP certification by SGS and is working toward obtaining other certifications, such as ISO standard compliance and organic, kosher, halal, and gluten-free approvals. These certifications will help across the company’s services, which include blending, encapsulation, sachet filling, bottling and packaging.