Exclusive: The Latest Innovations in Cutting, Peeling, Slicing
Performance, efficiency, and cleanliness are three key factors for any processing equipment. Good performance creates a high-end product that consumers are pleased with, will minimize cost of ownership and complement other processes with a high-quality output.
Cut quality, capacity and price have been the three main criteria for a long time. A good cut quality results in high yield, which means higher revenues, and customer satisfaction. A higher capacity means less machinery and cost savings for the entire cutting deck including feeding system and evacuation system. How do these features translate into the cutting, peeling and slicing equipment for potatoes? We spoke to some of the key market players in these segments, to find out the latest innovation for processors.
One such company is FAM, which, together with Stumabo believe that potato processors are constantly looking for new sizes, styles and shapes to bring something new into the market and to differentiate themselves from their competitors. The irregular size (a mixture of different cut sizes done by one cutting tool) and homemade style are increasingly popular. Even though the product has been made by machines, which makes them cost efficient, they create a vibe of authenticity and nostalgia.
“FAM and Stumabo have invested a lot of resources the past years to become market leader in the potato processing segment. These investments have already strengthened our market position. With French fries processors because of the FAM Tridis range and a huge production increase of knives for hydrocutter systems. With chips processors because of the development of the FAM Centris product range, including FAM Centris 400P centrifugal slicer and the SureSet 16P cutting heads,” explain company representatives. “Everybody in the industry knows us thanks to the ground-breaking FAM Centris line, with SureSet 16P cutting head. Its innovations benefit potato chips processors worldwide. The 16 station cutting heads, fitting on the most common centrifugal slicers and shredders available on the market, incorporate longer knife life time, better yield, better surface smoothness, better cut stability and ergonomic design. It has given us a gigantic advantage over others on the market and is therefore protected with several patents,” they add.
This year, FAM is expanding their Tridis range. For the mechanical slicing of French fries, the Tridis 240P has been marketed since 2016 for high volume mechanical cutting. Since, it has been successfully used by leading large potato processors producing French fries at large capacities up to 14 tons per hour. The company says that it is the highest capacity French fry cutter/dicer available in the market. The FAM Tridis 240P uses optimized cutting tools and geometry to guarantee excellent cut quality at the highest capacity. It combines a capacity that is 10 to 40% higher than other machines available on the market, with the lowest maintenance cost. In addition, this year the company will release the FAM Tridis 180P, for potato processors looking for medium high volume. This machine is specifically designed for strip cutting flat and crinkle cut strips out of white potatoes and/or the increasingly popular sweet potatoes. The inside of the impeller wheel is large enough to accept a 180 mm long potato. This feature combined with the especially designed infeed chute contributes to the ability to make excellent and long cuts. For the fresh market, very smooth flat cut French fries can be produced. The FAM Tridis 180P is equipped with technology that helps avoid fracturing and feathered edges whether abrasive or steam peeled potatoes are processed. For the frozen market, also crinkle and deep crinkle French fries can be produced at capacities up to 5 tons per hour based on a 7/16” (11.1 mm) cut size. A newly designed infeed chute helps pre-positioning the potatoes in front of each impeller blade. This is essential if long potatoes are to be cut at their full length. Furthermore, the FAM Tridis 180P can also produce a wide range of dices from 3 mm (1/8”) up to 25 mm (1”) which makes it a very versatile and flexible machine.
Different process stages
Before the peeling process, usually potatoes arrive pre-cleaned with bigger stones and soil being removed in the processing factories, where they are filled in a water bulk hopper that feeds the peeling machines automatically. The remaining stones and soil sink down to the bottom of the water bulk hopper and thus, the potatoes are clean and ready for peeling. After the peeling process, the potatoes are discharged automatically to a roller inspection table and they are post-processed manually. From there the product can be transported to a cutting or packaging machine automatically. Water bunkers can be placed in between the different process steps to buffer the potatoes and to preserve the color of the product.
“When it comes to the peeling there are basically two different ways from a technological perspective: You will find carborundum peeling systems and knife peeling systems on the market. One main difference between the two technologies is the resulting quality of the potatoes’ surface. The decision on which technology to choose depends on the user’s specific needs. For example, if you want to sell the whole potato a knife peeler is to be suggested, since it creates a neat and smooth surface. On the other hand, a corundum peeling system creating a rougher surface will be your choice, if you are going to cut the potatoes after the peeling process,” explains Rudolf Hans Zillgith, managing director of KRONEN. The company’s products are delivered to 100 countries around the world and we still see potential in several countries. “KRONEN’s goal is to offer tailor-made solutions for the individual requirements. We offer carborundum peelers such as the PL 40K for processing up to 600 kg per hour and the PL 25K for up to 400 kg per hour. The aluminum oxide abrasive removes skins paper-thin. Both machines can peel and wash potatoes, carrots, beetroots and other root vegetables. Besides, with PL 25S KRONEN provides a knife peeling system. It uses double-edge blades creating a very smooth surface with an appearance close to hand-peeled potatoes and still guaranteeing minimal waste,” Zillgith adds.
Potato processors use steam peeling because this process maximizes the yield, while reducing waste, from all potato varieties and all potato sizes. Sorting directly after steam peeling and before cutting is an area that has been highlighted by processors to enhance the performance of the cutting and slicing process, because it takes that variability out and provides real data. In recent years Tomra has focused on offering a complete peeling and sorting module. The module consists of peeling, loose peel separation, foreign material removal, whole potato sorting and integrated real time process adjustment. The output from the peeling and sorting module is fully optimized for the users’ process and provides customers will full data on the size range and quality that is supplied to the cutters.
“Tomra provides a unique perspective on the total peeling and sorting process and we try to use our position as a leader to advise customers on the options that are available to meet their requirements. Every customer’s needs are different and we believe that it is important to customize the solution to achieve the customers business needs,” say company representatives. “We see a higher focus on blending of potato varieties before steam peeling. Today’s consumer is more knowledgeable, has higher expectations and is looking for better taste and quality of their food,” they add.
Another take on the peeling process comes from equipment manufacturer Sormac, whose peelers also target the potato industry. In the carborundum version (CBS-60) the machine has a carborundum covered interior and a carborundum disc. The peeling disc can be taken out and is designed to enable the product to rotate within the machine. This allows the product to be peeled evenly around. In the knife peeling version (MBS-60), the product is knife peeled to obtain a smooth surface. Any potential bruising and peeling losses are greatly reduced thanks to precision knife adjustment and the blue rubber skin inside the drum. According to Sormac, the construction is very compact with the motor inside the machine. For cleaning purposes, the machine is equipped with legs. These adjustable legs can be supplied in different sizes.
Something for everyone
Equipment manufacturers say that every customer would like something unique, different, and exclusive, but there are only so many shapes and sizes of product. Curly fries, twisted cuts, waffle cuts, thin FFs, steak fries, and various flat and shaped chip products of different sizes and profiles are always being looked at. Coatings, different methods of frying/cooking are important also. Niche, batch processing methods appear to be on the rise along with increased emphasis on healthy vegetable options and increased snack options.
“While Urschel invents new machines and cutting methods, the company also expands on existing machine capabilities. Even though the basic concept of the Model CC has remained the same, Urschel has released their higher capacity, more user friendly, less scrap MicroAdjustable® Line of SL14 and SH14 slicing and shredding head assemblies for chipping and veg shredding. With the market demands of large processors, the new offering could mean fewer machines required or higher capacity and less operator interface to set and change knives. This is an example of an improved cutting method benefitting customers, and increasing the capability of the Model CC,” says Mike Jacko, VP of Applications & New Product Innovation at Urschel. “In addition to manufacturing, customers are challenged with creating and growing their product line. To assist with this, Urschel offers valuable free-of-charge test cutting services whereby customers may send-in their product, or witness test cutting in-person. This is valuable in gaining knowledge about the different cutting machinery care and capabilities. Partnering with Urschel, assists with product research and development, and gives added insight to capital purchases. Urschel technicians offer overviews of the different equipment, and is a great resource,” Jacko explains.
To continue the register pertaining to slicing and cutting, in these two areas, the high speed cutting for any straight line or extruded shape along the long axis of a potato is often done by hydrocutting. This is done by pumping water and potatoes through a knife array in the desired shape of the cut. Other shapes have other methods of creating them using mechanical cutters or a combination of processes. Other supporting technologies are often to separate out non-product content such as soil, vines, rocks and other non-product elements as well as to size grade the potatoes prior to other downstream operations. This is done either electronically or mechanically. In many applications, raw potatoes are washed and peeled prior to slicing to remove foreign debris and skin. Debris, such as rocks, sticks, or vines, is removed from the raw product in early stage of the process. Vanmark produces machines such as rock removers, spreaders, and dirt eliminators to help separate product from unwanted debris during the receiving and handling stages which greatly improves the peeling processes, if used, and protects slicing knives from damage. Sometimes optical sorters are used as well to eliminate foreign material and debris. If the potatoes have tenacious soil or mud stuck to the skin, these may be run through a Vanmark washer with a customized set up to remove the heavy soil prior peeling.
“In addition to new shapes and sizes, demand for organic and green products is also on the rise. There are many farmers and small producers that serve this market. Vanmark recently launched an all new peeler with follow-on associated equipment suited for efficient continuous production in the range of 100 to 500 Kg/hour. This equipment features a compact size and clean design while maintaining the high performance and durability of our larger peeler/washer machines,” according to Tom Mathues, Chief Development Officer Grote Company, who retired last month. “Vanmark has invested in R&D initiatives to increase production rates and equipment reliability. This has included laboratory testing and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modelling. We also invested in advanced CFD software, which allows engineers to model behavior from simple single-phase liquid (water in pipe) to multiphase and gas-solid (product in water). This capability has been utilized extensively in designing hydrocutting systems. New laser and waterjet cutting equipment has allowed for increased manufacturing throughput, improved product quality, and decreased lead times. Process improvements with Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software has allowed Vanmark to design and manufacture more complex parts while reducing lead times without increasing costs,” explains Mathues.
One important market player who has recently introduced an innovative peeling machine is Heat and Control. The latest member of their FastBack® family of products is the FastLane slicer infeed conveyor, specifically designed to align and feed potatoes to Slicers. Slicer infeed conveyors reduce plugging risk and amounts of slicing scrap while improving slice quality and have helped many potato processors optimise quality with quantity. However, some potato processors are unable to use slicer infeed conveyors due to factory space and cost limitations. In response, Heat and Control created the space-saving FastLane which combines the gentle horizontal motion of the FastBack Model 260E-G3 with a multi-lane pan that singulates product for delivery into multiple rotary slicers. This ensures that only available slicers receive successive product while unavailable slicers remain unfed.
“With typical slicer infeed conveyors, when an individual lane needs to be closed for service or blade changes, an operator pushes a button which forces an overhead paddle down into the product stream to prevent the desired slicer from receiving product. However, this forceful downward motion creates pinch-points where an operator may be injured. The FastLane eliminates hazardous pinch-points by using basal-mounted, air-actuated paddles which use upward motion to dam lanes and which descend without a mechanically applied force,” explains Heat and Control.
Cheap is not always best
Considering all of the above, the companies contacted for this article conclude that high efficiency is important because it represents reduced product loss, damage, or waste. This saves processors money and makes the most of the raw product coming in. Moreover, sanitation and cleanliness is a key part of processing equipment as food safety is among the top priorities for processors to create a safe product and a safe work environment. Here, machine design plays a pivotal role in achieving a clean processing area. This is why paying a lower price for machines absent of these three features will cost more in the long run with lower quality product, high operating costs, and potential for sanitation issues.