When your mission is to make the world’s freshest pickle, you can’t afford any jams in your cucumber processing line. A major pickle manufacturer experienced this disruption in production at least two to three times per month because the conveyor that transferred the cucumbers from the water wash tank was prematurely wearing and breaking. The manufacturer turned to Schebler Food Equipment, Bettendorf, Iowa, to find a solution.
“We started by simply observing how the line was currently running,” recalled Britt Brockhage, business unit manager for Schebler. “We monitored the lines to determine what the problem was. This helped us think about how we might change things to improve performance, increase the longevity of the equipment and decrease down time.”
Schebler’s team determined that the problems with the belt actually started in the wash tank. Raw cucumbers were dumped into the water and a flighted conveyor pulled them up an incline and down a long conveyor. This overloading caused the long conveyor to go over its capacity because of the product load and length.
When the belt started to experience excessive drag due to the overload, operators had to manually scoop the vegetables from the tank into a mobile tub and roll them to the operator stations which were sometimes 100 feet away. While this labor-intensive alternative kept the line running, it significantly slowed production.
“We tried to determine if the design was inadequate or if the equipment was just old,” said Brockhage. “At the end of the day, the options were replacing the whole unit with a new conveying system, replacing the conveyor belt with a different style better suited for the application, or retrofitting the longest section. The latter was the most economical choice.”
Schebler retrofitted the customer’s existing conveyor to break it into two lines to reduce the drag on the existing belt. This was no easy task since the line still had to have one continuous flow. A ten foot modular section was removed and replaced with a retrofitted section that made up the three lanes in that area without taking up any more floor space.
“We specialize in custom-designed solutions,” Brockhage observed. “When an application demands more than a catalog ordered piece of equipment, we develop custom designs using many off-the-shelf components.”
Brockhage noted that retrofits also can be a solution in situations when increases in production or new product introductions dictate changes in line design and retrofits to conveyor cooling applications.
“Manufacturers may not have the money budgeted for new equipment but they have to do something. They ask us what can be done to get the production out of existing equipment without investing a lot of money. Retrofits can save them money compared to purchasing new equipment and get them out of jam quickly and economically.”