Case Study: Nex Flow Air Knife Making Chicken Nuggets and Delicious Muffins
Making muffins, or any mass food production operation has critical standards of quality that must be met. If cooking or baking is involved the heat needs to be precise and consistent. Similarly for the ingredients involved in the cooking or baking process.
Nex Flow Air Knives (also called Air Blades) are used extensively to replace drilled pipe or rows of nozzles and jets for blow off, drying and even cooling. As they are compressed air operated the flow rate and blow off force produced can easily and accurately be controlled for any of the applications.
This accurate control with compressed air operated air knives was especially useful in an interesting and unique application involving the baking of muffins that was installed some years ago. The muffins are produced continuously and then placed evenly spaced in rows onto a conveyor. As the muffins move along the conveyor sugar is added onto the tops of each of the muffins before they enter an oven. The conveyor is continually moving. The nature of the process of adding the sugar caused occasionally too much sugar to be applied to some of the products. As the muffins moved through the oven, the oversupply of sugar would create burnt tops or overly baked tops which were out of specification and had to be disposed of. While they may have been rejected I am sure some would have been disposed of by eager, and hungry personnel on the line in a very humane manner) The operation I must admit, was very pleasant to the smell and I remember it to this day! To prevent burnt tops – a mechanism had to be put in place to limit the amount of sugar on the muffins.
The means to remove excess sugar was achieved by using a stainless steel air knife at very low compressed air pressure. Very little energy was required to remove the excess sugar and it had to be finely tuned so that just the right amount of sugar was removed. The result is a perfect muffin every time. Yummy!!! The air knife needed to have a high quality in control of manufacture to produce the even flow required with low pressure across the length of the web to cover all the muffins. It also had to be in stainless steel as it is being applied in a food processing plant. Since Nex Flow air knives have this necessary high quality control, so no issues arise in this kind of application.
A similar food processing application came up years later at a factory making chicken nuggets. In this operation the company had previously used blowers to remove access breading on the nuggets. The reason is in the same vein – too much breading on the nuggets produces product that is out of specification. The blowers worked fine but very high maintenance is required. This is because the environment had to be cold for processing meat products and heavy wash downs of equipment must be done daily – thus creating this high maintenance environment for blowers. So instead, the plant switched over to using our stainless steel X-stream Air Blade air knives at very low pressure to remove the excess breading. As was with the muffins, it was all done on moving conveyors. Not only did the compressed air operated air knives perform the job well, it virtually needed no maintenance decreasing quite a bit of the cost. Because the pressure used was only around 10 PSIG for the blow off of excess breading the energy cost increase compared to what was used with the blowers was negligible. Another benefit was the very quiet operation of the air knife. At 80 PSIG the exhaust air noise level from the air knife is only 69 dBA and at 10 PSIG the sound was barely audible. The savings in maintenance cost, downtime, and personnel time for outweighed the slight increase in energy costs. Years of maintenance free, reliable product is assured with the use of the silent X-Stream Air Blade air knife. The much smaller footprint of the compressed air device replaced the bulky and noisy blower, creating more space and a better working environment for the employees.
In both operations and outlined above, it is important to have clean and dry compressed air. As compressed air makes contact with the food product in both of the above application – strict guidelines must be followed to ensure that the compressed air is free from contaminants with potential health hazards.
The reasons for choosing the compressed air operated air knives in both situations were similar:
First, it was used to improve the quality of the end product and the solution had to be tightly controlled (not too much, not too little). The compressed air solution allowed that to be done with the use of a simple regulator to set the optimum pressure.
Second, a simple and quick relatively low cost solution was required. In the muffin case, just the capital cost involved in getting a blower system would take a long time to get equipment approval, in addition to space considerations. As for the nuggets, the benefit of reduced maintenance and downtime alone, regardless of the extra benefits of less noise and more space was enough to justify the solution.
Third, easy installation, low noise, small footprint, and ease of use with near zero maintenance made the solution. In many processes you can still see open pipe and open air lines being used for drying, cooling, cleaning and moving products, but with very little investment, the process can be improved dramatically using the compressed air technology. Replacing open pipe, tubing, or drilled pipe using compressed air with the appropriate nozzle type from Nex Flow can reduce noise levels by 10 dBA or more. It can improve safety and improve the manufacturing process with paybacks in energy use in less than a year. When replacing blower systems, the maintenance costs should also be weighed in along with assessing the actual pressures used in the process. Another factor to consider is whether the blow off, cleaning, drying, cooling or moving of part is intermittent. A compressed air solution allows for an on/off switch, wherein blowers system have to be on all the time. This means that compressed air can be used “on demand” to further save energy.
Contact one of our personnel, so we can help assess your application to determine the best approach to improving your operations, in all sorts of industries that involve the use of compressed air. Our goal is to make sure that compressed air is used in the most optimum, most productive, and the safest way in a factory environment.