A better way of ingredient loading

Formed 30 years ago by former Auckland mayor Dick Hubbard, cereal maker Hubbards’ mission is to ‘make good food then make a difference’. It is New Zealand’s largest independently owned maker and supplier of breakfast cereals and has made the equivalent of three billion bowls of muesli and cereal since that time.

Hubbards is the number one brand in muesli within New Zealand and has specific expertise in muesli, granola, gluten-free, extruded, flaked, popped and puffed cereals.
As Hubbards continued their success and demand increased for its breakfast cereals, it became apparent that the company needed to invest in process equipment to increase output and gain efficiencies.

Floveyor, an Australian company specialising in powder and granule handling within the food and beverage industry, was approached to review the company’s processes, raw ingredients movements, hygiene requirements, and factory layouts in order to propose a suitable upgrade solution.

The challenge
Hubbards required a system to load and weigh dry ingredients from a range of sources including bulk bags, small, hand-tipped bags and plastic bins with minor additives into a batch mixer.

With over 40 ingredients used within various cereal products the system had to be versatile enough to handle a myriad of powders and granules, many of which were friable in nature. This meant they required a gentle yet efficient method of loading without being affected by the differences of each ingredient.

Before approaching Floveyor, the operation of loading raw ingredients into the batch mixer was labour intensive. It involved high forklift traffic, manually lifting flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBCs) directly into the mixer via a platform gate, and having operators working at heights to load minor ingredients, which in turn involved multiple pallet movements per batch.

What were the key elements driving change?
As demand for Hubbards cereals increased, there became greater opportunity to improve its existing methods of processing the products. The successful solution had to offer several improvements. These included:
• removing the need for operators to work at heights;
• improving safety and minimising manual handling;
• reducing and localising forklift movements and traffic while handling FIBCs;
• improving operator safety and time required for forklift operators;
• integrating the solution with the existing batch mixer, platform and loading area and fit within the roof clearance restrictions;
• removing human error from the weighing and loading of ingredients into the blends, which in turn would reduce unnecessary waste and improve batch consistency;
• improving ingredient feeding at rates of between 120-150kgs/min to fit within required batching loading times;
• providing guarantees on the system’s cleanliness, hygienic design and CIP processes to ensure food safety when changing over from gluten to non-gluten products and mitigating any cross-contamination risks;
•  ensuring prompt return on investment to allow commercial viability of the project and ensure profitability; and
• the design also needed to allow for the future addition of a second mixer when demand required.

“The system needed to be able to elevate the product,” said Hubbards’ operations manager Mike Rogers. “It needed to be able to convey product that is dust and as fragile as a cornflake, and as stock as a Cocopop (sugar dust). It needed to move up to nine tonnes per hour of product with densities ranging from 130 g/L through to 600 g/L. The system needed to be easily cleanable and quick changeover, potentially with cost-effective change parts so that any significant cleaning can be done offline. This had been a problem here for some time.”

Floveyor is a third-generation family business that designs, manufactures and supports materials handling solutions for powders and granules. Many businesses associate Floveyor as the original inventors of the Aero-Mechanical Conveyor (AMC) from 1958, also commonly known as the Floveyor.

Today, Floveyor is an original manufacturer of powder and granule handling equipment and solutions, servicing more than 50 countries and partnering with many OEMs as an integral provider to high-end applications everywhere.

Floveyor focuses on the design, engineering, and manufacturing of core equipment required to move powders and granules throughout the production process. It often reaches and supports its end users via geographically localised engineering companies, distributors, or OEM solution providers. Hubbard’s had an existing AMC on site and was familiar with the basic conveyor. However, Hubbards was unaware of the greater portfolio and variety of equipment and services that Floveyor provided. Floveyor was consulted on Hubbard’s behalf by a local New Zealand OEM, Mercer Stainless, regarding the ongoing ingredient loading headache Hubbards was experiencing on site and for which it needed a solution.

Getting a grip
In order to work out and propose the right solution for Hubbard’s, several factors were considered and explored as part of the discovery process. First, it was important to study the site constraints, hazards or clean zones, vehicle movements, existing equipment, and operator access locations. Then it was necessary to understanding the raw materials and ingredients and their different properties, as well as Hubbard’s process requirements, batch times and the accuracy of the outputs. It was also important to understand cleaning and validation procedures and also the current pain points Hubbards was going through. Finally, Floveyor had to know what time or commercial constraints the company was working under.

Making the solution work
Mercer had identified early in the process that the Floveyor AMC should be the right solution to transfer the ingredients as Hubbards needed to isolate nuts and other allergens on some of the products, while cleanability was paramount. Hubbards had several bucket elevators upstream in the process and was having a lot of issues preventing contamination.
The other process needs were also addressed. An Industrial F3 Floveyor AMC was specified based on its capacities and materials to be transferred. With upwards of 15,000kg/hr throughputs, utilising a 1.5kW drive, the conveyor was better in power efficiency compared to a pneumatic system. It also meant less particle damage, far lower operating costs and the ability to handle any variations within the variety of ingredients. The 76mm system was designed with a vertical then horizontal run, which meant it was within the ceiling height restrictions above the mixer.

A FIBC bulk bag unloader, suitable for loading with a forklift, allowed the bags to be dropped into the support frame, freeing up the forklift during unloading. The FIBC frame was supplied with bag massaging paddles to promote material flow and minimise any residue left in the empty FIBCs.

Formulation System
To manage the variable batch needs and differing ingredient weights required, the FIBC unloader was supplied with load cells for a loss-in-weight system, paired with a short 150mm-diameter dosing screw feeder that allowed controlled feeding of ingredients into the Floveyor AMC within 1 per cent accuracy. A touchscreen HMI control panel was mounted to the system to allow the QA team to program each batch loading profile and edit, as necessary. The HMI then allowed operators a simple recipe selection prompt screen, removing any variation in ingredient ratios. The system had visual light tower linked to the PLC, notifying operators if a FIBC needed replacing or attention was needed.

Manual bag tip station
Within every batch there was several ingredients that required manually bag tipping into the system. A rip and tip station was provided at ground level allowing operators to feed minor ingredients into the batch based on pre-weighed containers or allocated pallets with the relevant pre-counted number of bagged ingredients. This process was independent of the loss-in-weight system while loading into the single F3 Floveyor AMC. Due to the high conveying capacity of the Floveyor AMC both minor ingredients and loss-in-weight ingredients could be added at the same time. All of which was full assembled, prewired and dry commissioned offsite by Floveyor. It was then flat packed for modular export transport and supplied with all the necessary resources so Hubbards could be self-sustainable and not require proprietary knowledge to install, commission or maintain its new equipment. Direct objectives of the project were achieved in addition to the benefits and feedback from operations on site. These included the reduction of manpower with only one or two workers now needed in the area. The new system didn’t require product pallets to be lifted at height and manual handling of heavy bags. It also largely reduced forklift traffic in the area. The simple and hygienic design was well suited to Hubbards’ products, and also helped reduce cleaning requirements.

Rogers described the AMC’s simple, hygienic design as ‘awesome’ and very well suited to Hubbards’ products. There would be a good pay-back on the units with ease of cleaning compared to other bucket elevators onsite.

“I was also impressed by the depth and quality of the documentation from electrical drawings to the installation instructions and user manuals,” said Rogers.