Marshmallow Plant Goes Pneumatic

When the Ghostbusters battled an angry 12-story walking marshmallow man in the classic 1984 movie, white goo covered half of New York City when they finally destroyed it with their backpack-mounted nuclear accelerators. In real marshmallow plants or other food manufacturing facilities, explosions and mess are no laughing matter. The fact is that many food ingredients, such as starch, flour and sugar, are not only explosive when combined with air but also dusty, sticky, messy and time consuming to clean from equipment and facilities.

Conveying such powdery material in the manufacturing/packaging process can not only be dangerous, but also eat away at production efficiency through unnecessary downtime, cleaning, maintenance and product loss.

Marshmallow manufacturer Doumak Inc. found the secret to managing these problems by using flexible pneumatic conveying systems. Not only has the pneumatic conveying system at one plant made the facility safer by minimizing dust exposure, it has added about eight hours a week to production by eliminating product/packaging bottlenecks, cleaning and maintenance, and has also reduced product loss and improved product quality.

Essential to plant efficiency is the ability of conveying equipment used in production to properly coordinate with packaging equipment. When a packaging machine goes off-line, product should be reroutable to operating machines; and the conveying equipment should adjust speed when packaging machines fill bags of different sizes.

In the marshmallow-making process, numerous pinch points of other conveying equipment can compromise product quality. When an excessive amount of starch remains, product quality can diminish and production costs rise as material goes to waste. Traditional equipment can also add to clean-up time, necessitate operators to wear dust masks/respirators, or even pose an explosive hazard if dust or powders, such as starch, mix with air in certain combinations.

To maximize production efficiency and product quality at its Bensenville, Illinois, marshmallow plant, Doumak turned to Vac-U-Max, designer and manufacturer of pneumatic systems and support equipment for conveying, batching and weighing dry materials.

After testing to ensure required product quality, feed rates and other variables, Vac-U-Max installed two pneumatic conveyor systems at the Bensenville plant that deliver finished marshmallows from processing to packaging, when each of six packaging machines signal for more product. Vacuum receivers pneumatically convey the marshmallows through six FDA- and USDA-approved hoses to the packaging machines on demand.

"With pneumatic conveying, if a packaging machine malfunctions, we can easily divert product to the other machines at the touch of a button," says Mike Morgan, maintenance supervisor at the facility. "And we have individual feed control, which allows the packaging machines to run at maximum efficiency, no matter what size the product or bag. There's no overfeeding one machine and underfeeding another. The flexibility of pneumatic conveying adds about eight hours a week to production, eliminating many production/packaging bottlenecks."

"There's virtually no maintenance or cleaning necessary in the pneumatic conveying systems," adds Morgan. "We just clean or swap out hoses, and check the motor and oil twice a year. That adds perhaps 30 hours a year of production."

With the pneumatic conveying systems, vibratory pans shake loose excess starch from the marshmallows as they exit the cooling drums. The starch goes through filter separators and is recycled to manufacturing for reuse. On the sides of each filter separator are explosion vents to safely redirect energy from any dust-triggered explosion, should one occur. Because the pneumatic conveying systems are enclosed, they keep loose starch from getting airborne and provide nearby workers with a cleaner, safer environment.

"The systems reclaim about 1,000 pounds of starch a day and reduce product loss by up to 2 percent," says Morgan. "They put the starch back to good use."

An additional benefit of the pneumatic conveying systems is they require 70 percent less factory floor space. The extra floor space allows Doumak to store raw material next to the production line, saving travel time to restock at a central supply location.

"With pneumatic conveying systems, product quality is better, production is safer and up to 15 percent more efficient," concludes Morgan. "That's important for those of us in the food or confection industries, where 24/7 plant operation is common and downtime must be kept to an absolute minimum."

Vac-U-Max, http://www.vac-u-max.com/, 888-241-6992.

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