I see a lot of neat things working in the food and beverage industry, especially because I have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clients across different sectors.
Of course, food manufacturers know their product best, because ultimately, it’s their product. However, when it comes to their processing and the technology they use to make their product, I often encourage owners to keep an open mind.
Here’s the thing: Many times, companies can get boxed in and only focus on their particular product and the way things are “typically” done in their industry. Their factories and boardrooms can act as echo chambers for their ideas.
However, working for a firm like Stellar means getting to witness numerous processing challenges in certain industries and discovering solutions in others — and when those worlds collide, it can yield some interesting, innovative applications.
Here are a few interesting examples of how a solution from one industry or intended purpose can be applied to a completely different sector:
1. Smoke and Beans: Gentle Product Handling
No, we’re not talking about smoked beans here, but believe it or not, I’ve seen how tobacco processing and bean processing can “intersect” in terms of the technology used to handle these products.
A bean processor was looking for a more effective way to convey their product while minimizing breakage. Incidentally, the issues this client was describing were almost identical to problems listed by a tobacco processor I had worked with for a previous project. They both needed:
- An efficient method to convey their product
- Reduced breakage of product during conveyance
- Better dust control
Our team was able to adapt the contained system from the tobacco plant to meet the needs of the bean processor.
2. From Beans to Fruit: Managing Utility Usage
We were able to take lessons learned from the above bean processing project and apply it to yet another facility — one that manufactured packaged fruit.
This particular fruit manufacturer was looking for an energy-efficient blanching process that:
- Was clean
- Had a high flow rate
- Eliminated excessive steam loss
Basically, they wanted better utility control because their old method was costing them in steam leakage, excessive water use and high levels of wastewater. Our team discovered parallels between the aforementioned bean processing project and the fruit manufacturer in the design of the hydration and cooking system.
This was a perfect opportunity to repurpose a design to solve a different problem in a different context. Ultimately, we applied a solution from the bean processing plant (unrelated to utility usage) to solve the utility usage problem at the fruit processing facility.
This illustrates an important lesson for food manufacturers: The solution you may need is likely out there, you just may be looking in the wrong place (read: industry sector).
3. Alcoholic Drinks and Food Preservatives: Recipe Control
A dried food product manufacturer turned to Stellar to optimize how they applied preservatives to their products. The owner wanted to control their preservative recipes and be able to access different recipes with the push of a button — something they couldn’t do before.
As it turned out, I’d helped spirit manufacturers who were looking for a similar solution to easily control the various recipes of flavored alcoholic drinks. A unique matrix of valves and pumps was the answer for the alcoholic beverage producer, and by applying a similar equipment design for the dried food manufacturer, we helped them achieve their goals.
Unlocking Creative Food Manufacturing Solutions
When assessing a new project, I don’t just see equipment, I see a process.
It’s easy to fall into the closed-minded routine of viewing equipment as a “bean conveyor system,” for example, instead of a method to get a product from Point A to Point B. When you think outside of the box and consider processing technology from a high level, it can unlock opportunities for creative engineering. This design-focused philosophy is what drives our work at Stellar. It enables our teams to discover new solutions and applications that cross industry lines.
Stellar is a fully integrated firm focused on planning, design, pre-construction, construction, refrigeration, mechanical & utility, building envelope, and total operations & maintenance services worldwide. Visit the company's blog at www.stellarfoodforthought.net or learn about its projects at stellar.net.