For meat and poultry producers, optimization of the cooking process is serious business. A yield increase of even a few percent can mean millions in long-term savings. In search of similar results, Findus, a leading international frozen food processor, sought an optimization tool for its flat-meat product line.

“We wanted to increase yield, decrease weight variation, optimize the use of our equipment and increase productivity,” says Kenneth Malmqvist, factory manager of the plated meal and meat plant in Bjuv, Sweden.


But until recently, user-friendly, cost-effective process optimization systems were hard to find. The company canceled initial plans to install an optimization system when the product it had selected turned out to be too complicated and expensive. However, FMC FoodTech was able to offer Findus an alternative solution, LINK Process Analysis, to help the company meet its goals.

LINK Process Analysis offered the advantages of a user-friendly system backed by the support of a company with expertise in food processing.

 

“Unlike the other systems on the market today, LINK Process Analysis doesn’t just log product or process data,” says Roger Bosson, LINK business manager for Europe. “It uses statistical process analysis to determine cause-effect relationships that help producers understand how changes to the process can optimize the final product.”

The first step in this approach is to thoroughly examine each specific customer’s process. LINK Process Analysis then measures, optimizes and controls the process to provide a cost-effective turnkey solution, with FMC FoodTech taking on full responsibility for project management and optimization.

The Optimization Process
LINK Process Analysis measures product data such as cooking temperature, weight and lot number as well as process data such as belt speed, oil temperature and stroke rate. This information is then stored in a single database that is searchable by time, product code and lot number. The data is analyzed using statistical methods to pinpoint how changes to the equipment settings affect the processed product. New recipes with redefined set-points and limits are then developed, after which the control tools and equipment necessary to run the process consistently according to the new specifications are implemented.


The LINK user interface allows operators to view product and process data in real-time for instant feedback on whether the product is running within specification limits. Managers can view the same information as operators, and can also generate reports using historical data to benchmark production results from different time periods or batches. Since LINK analyzes this information, it’s easy to see how machine settings, shifts, recipes, raw material and other factors affect the final product. In addition, LINK Process Analysis offers traceability, since the volume of a potential recall can be minimized when it is known exactly where and when the product was processed.

Real-world Benefits
LINK Process Analysis has enabled Findus to understand how different parts of the line interact with each other, and how product and process data are related. For example, optimizing the speed and temperature in a Teflon fryer and oven enabled Findus to reduce weight losses and increase yield. Better use of the equipment has also resulted in a significant improvement in throughput that led to a very short pay back.


In addition, the product quality now has fewer variations, whereas raw material fluctuations in fat and water content previously made variations in weight and yield common.

 

“LINK Process Analysis enables us to predict inconsistencies in the process much faster and more accurately than before,” says Malmqvist. “We can also adjust the settings to correct them earlier, making it possible to run the process within tighter limits. This improvement alone means large savings in raw material costs. We expect to see a payback on our initial investment in less than a year – and significant savings over the long term.”

The Technology’s Potential
LINK Process Analysis can be used on several production lines in different locations, therefore offering an even greater return on its initial investment. And while LINK Process Analysis was developed with protein processors in mind, its capabilities can be applied to other types of products, as well.


“LINK Process Analysis gives any processor with expensive raw materials and a cooking process that can be optimized the opportunity to increase profits and improve product quality,” says Bosson. “FMC FoodTech’s project management capabilities, process optimization knowledge, and system warranty enable processors to realize these benefits with a fast payback – and without straining their internal resources.”