When sales of its fully cooked sausages began to outgrow capacity at its headquarter campus, Johnsonville found a new home in the recently vacated Wigwam Mills factory in Sheboygan, Wis. It took more than a year to transition from sock manufacturing to sausage production, but Johnsonville engineers wanted to make sure that the 190,000-sq-ft facility was fully equipped with state-of-the-art production capabilities.
An important piece of equipment that the sausage maker wanted to reevaluate for the new site was its cook/pasteurize and chill process. After being made, the sausages get packaged in a form, fill and seal machine. From there, the packages are run through the cook and chill process—after which, they run through a quality check and then are boxed for shipping.
Before beginning production at the new Sheboygan plant, Johnsonville was proving out the concept of a cook and bake process, notes Matt Behrs, plant engineer for Johnsonville. “We had an inline cook/chill process that was very hard on our product, so it really bent it up and made it look terrible,” he says. “We were very challenged at coming out with a good-quality product using that system.”
The auger-style water bath unit tended to cause Johnsonville’s product to clump together, reducing water circulation on the product and causing inconsistent heat transfer across the product batch. To overcome the product clumping, the team looked at systems using agitation to maximize water circulation. But the product agitation, along with the use of an auger screw to push the product through the water, caused product package and label damage.
“Because it’s an auger inside there, it would come into flights and they would roll around each other—and they would literally move our labels around, and they would come out very crooked,” Behrs describes. “We had a lot of loss because of label misplacement after they went through the cook system.”
Product also did not pass through the auger system in a reliable first-in-first-out (FIFO) order. “It’s basically a washing machine, so the product didn’t always come out in the same order that we put it in,” Behrs explains. “The ability to make sure our cook times are proper—not too long or too short—is very crucial to our process. So the ability to have first in first out is imperative, and the process we had did not give us that.”
Getting all the sausages in a row
The cook/chill concept, however, worked well, so Behrs and his team set out to find alternative systems to incorporate into the new production line. What they found was an FPS Spiral Immersion System (SIS) with an Intralox self-stacking belt.
With a large capacity of water (7,000 to 8,000 gallons in each of the heating and chilling tanks), the system provides a very consistent heat level, Behrs says. “And my product comes out exactly the way it went in,” he adds. “They’re coming in perfectly flat, they come out perfectly flat. We’ve been very, very happy with the outcome.”
Johnsonville had looked at similar systems from other companies, but FPS won out on value, availability, and efficiency. “Johnsonville is very good at looking at the new and innovation, and we’re working with a lot of equipment out here that’s serial number one or two or three, so we’re kind of used to that,” Behrs says. “The system that was proposed to us through SIS, we thought was one of those upcoming systems that we really wanted to get ahead of and really understand how it works. So that was our deciding factor.”
Installation of the SIS was completed in January 2022. The system has a capacity of 3,500 lb/hr, “which is probably 500 lb/hr faster than we’ll ever go,” Behrs says, noting throughput limitations in downstream equipment.
Because the SIS was serial number two, Behrs says, it was not without its challenges in the beginning. “But the FPS group have been fantastic to work with. They’ve had people out here anytime we’ve had any issues, and they’ve worked through the issues,” he says. “My mechanics have gotten very versed in this, so we’ve been able to collaborate with their engineering to come up with some solutions that they now have in place on both of our tanks.”