Vegetable processor improves productivity and capacity of canning operation with a fully automated retort room
Far less labor is required in the new high-efficiency system.
When a leading canned vegetable processor replaced more than 20 manually loaded and unloaded vertical retorts with seven eight-basket Allpax jumbo retorts and a fully automated loading and unloading system, the new automated batch retort system (ABRS) increased the cannery’s productivity by more than 25 percent over the previous year’s production. The ABRS runs at speeds of more than 500 cans per minute depending on can size. One operator, situated at a state-of-the-art control station, oversees the entire retort room.
This canning operation runs only a few months out of the year following the fall vegetable harvest. The new system had to be installed and ready to run flawlessly 24 hours per day and seven days per week from the start of a harvest season, with high-efficiency expectations to maximize the yield of the harvest. The engineering, manufacturing, installation and training timeframe for the new retort room was extremely tight and mission critical. In the end, these hurdles were overcome with flying colors.
Allpax Products, a division of Pro Mach, delivered seven jumbo retorts to the plant within a six-month window, saving the company 20 percent of the capital cost of the project. Additionally, the new retorts’ dual process mode capability expanded capacity, made the plant more flexible and lowered labor costs within the retort room.
The cannery wanted to completely replace all of its aging retorts with a fully automated retort room. The company also wanted an automated retort batch reporting system fully compliant with new FDA regulations. The plant’s production requirements could only be achieved through the addition of 1800mm retorts, commonly referred to as jumbo retorts due to their 1.8-meter diameter and six-basket capacity.
However, the cannery’s retort room was not wide enough to accommodate 10 side-by-side jumbo retorts—the number needed to meet the planned increase in capacity. Allpax personnel examined the available floor space in terms of width and length, taking into account the space required for an automated loading/unloading system.
To overcome the space problem, Allpax manufactured retorts eight baskets long, not six baskets long like the standard jumbo retort. The eight-basket retorts are 38 feet long, eight feet longer than the six-basket versions. Allpax’s overhead orbital retort doors open up, not out, helping to ensure the retorts fit into the available space. The seven longer retorts stand in place of the 10 shorter units and still meet capacity requirements. Three fewer retorts also meant the food manufacturer realized a 20 percent cost savings..
To load and unload eight baskets of product in an efficient manner, Allpax developed a shuttle system that was very fast, yet small enough to fit into the available space. The supplied laser-guided shuttle carries two baskets at a time and traverses the floor at up to 275 feet per minute. The shuttle also has a built-in function to quickly link the baskets as they are loaded into the retort and de-link them during unloading. This novel approach decreases the loading and unloading time, while eliminating the need for a powered chain conveyor inside the retort.
New retorts process either cans or flexible packaging
The cannery asked Allpax to develop dual-mode jumbo retorts to process either cans or flexible packaging, giving the company both flexibility and the potential to lower future capital costs. Allpax has experience in both technologies and designed the new jumbo retorts as dual mode; saturated steam for can processing and water spray overpressure processing for flexible containers. Operators simply select the desired mode. No change parts are required to switch between modes.
Allpax provided the supervisory control and reporting software needed for retort operation and for generating reports to be used for FDA reporting purposes. Allpax personnel also programmed the fully automated retort room loading/unloading system, where filled and sealed cans are automatically loaded into baskets, transported to and loaded into the retorts, unloaded after the processing and transported back to the packaging line where they are labeled, packed into cases and shipped. The system is also equipped with a complete basket tracking system that automatically tracks and documents each move of every basket within the system.
The automated retort room—loading/unloading automation and seven jumbo retorts—can be managed by a single operator, a significant reduction in labor. For all the cannery’s programming needs, Allpax has a team of software engineers, available 24/7 to log into a retort system via a virtual private network to troubleshoot problems in real time. They also can provide any training support the customer needs.
To make the system capable of being commissioned and turned over to full production mode in the shortest possible time, Allpax set up all the equipment at its factory in Louisiana to run a full factory acceptance test over several days. The loader, unloader, shuttle, basket tracking system and retorts were set up to run in fully automatic mode at the maximum line speed. This allowed Allpax to test all the major components, their interactions and the complete control system so only fine-tuning was required once the equipment arrived at the cannery. The company’s operators went to Allpax for training prior to installation so they would be ready to run when it was installed.