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Equipment Focus: Portioners and slicers

The cutting edge of technology brings processors greater functionality, more user-friendly machines and easier maintenance

Anthony Coia
February 01, 2005

For many seafood processors, the ideal processing machine does its required tasks accurately, consistently and quickly, with flexible options, little maintenance needed and easy clean-up.

Current models of slicers and portioners incorporate these attributes in user-friendly designs that offer more accurate functionality and reduced manual handling. The machines also incorporate new software that enhances operating efficiency with more precise slicing and portioning and greater production flexibility.

Easier to use and maintain
Torp of Toronto, Canada, introduced a slicer called the SilkCut 90 Mark II in May 2003 as part of its new generation of slicers. This machine is designed primarily for slicing whole sides of salmon.

Arne Nordtorp, company president, says the SilkCut 180 Mark II is sturdier and easier to take apart and clean than the previous line of SilkCut machines.

He adds that the Mark II is also easier to control, which gives more precise cuts and better yields. It holds the tail firmly in place, slices more slowly for the last couple of inches, which gives a more controlled slice. Users can program features such as slicing angle, thickness and speed for different fillet sizes.

Ken Meuse, smokemaster at Browne Trading in Portland, Maine, has used the SilkCut 180 Mark II since November for slicing cold-smoked salmon and sablefish. Meuse also uses the previous version of the slicer, the SilkCut 90, and has noticed a number of improvements with the new machine.

“The slicing efficiency is the same as with the previous version, but the cleanup and maintenance are better,” he notes.

The previous model featured a rotary dial to control the speed and angle of cut. The dial would become corroded by cleaning chemicals and then need to be replaced. The new version uses a sealed keypad with buttons underneath, which prevents infiltration of corrosive substances.

Another improvement is the spiked belts that feed the salmon into the slicing blades. Meuse says that with the previous version, cleaning required twisting the quarter-inch spikes with a knife; with the Mark II, the spikes are removable, making clean-up much simpler.

In addition, the Mark II’s electronic drive system is more conveniently positioned. In the SilkCut 90, the drive was located inside the cabinet. It would have to be removed and hung on the cabinet door in order to grease the bearings.

With the Mark II, the drive system is already mounted on the door, and a wider cabinet allows the operator to swing the door open and closed easily.

An improved guard over the blade mechanisms features stainless-steel louvers that let the user see the fish being sliced. This replaces the SilkCut 90’s plastic hood, which became clouded from the cleaning chem­icals and would crack.

The earlier hood design also had rubber gaskets a­round which bacteria could accumulate.

Another feature Meuse appreciates on the Mark II is the magnetic contact switch that turns the machine off and on. Before, there was a contact switch system comprising a flat stainless-steel paddle and a pin inside the door.

When the operator lifted the hood, the slicer stopped. Meuse says the problem with these parts was that they broke at least once a year, but even after the pin was replaced, the slicer would still run when the hood was lifted and had to be stopped manually.

The Mark II can be shut off at three locations, an advantage in case of an emergency. Buttons are located on top of the cabinet, on the service door and on the back side. Previously there was just one button on the front.

Another slicer upgrade is the ScanSlicer from Scanvaegt Inter­national A/S in Aarhus, Denmark, which was first installed in North America in August 2004 at Orca Specialty Foods Ltd. in Surrey, British Columbia.

The high-speed, multiple-angle ScanSlicer is designed for semi-frozen or frozen fish fillets such as salmon. It operates at speeds of up to 260 slices per minute, reports Chris Bjerregaard, vice president of sales at Scanvaegt U.S. in Gaines­ville, Ga. The machine slices the salmon and feeds it onto a grader, which reaches a target package weight with a high level of accuracy.

“The ScanSlicer significantly reduces the need for manual labor because it slices accurately at high-speeds, which takes at least twice as long manually,” says Bjerregaard.

More precise portioning
Recent improvements in portioners have come from software upgrades, such as FMC’s Frame Grabber Version 7 software, which has been used to refit its DSI 512 Portioner.

Clear Springs Foods, a Buhl, Idaho, a trout processor, had used the DSI 512 from FMC FoodTech in Chicago for several years. Brian Beeson, maintenance manager at Clear Springs, says he was looking for more versatility and user-friendliness in producing its signature Clear Cut filets or butterflied portions.

Previously Clear Springs pro­cessed its fish by placing it crosswise on the conveyor belt. The portioner’s robotic head with high-pressure water traveled left to right across the conveyor.

With FMC’s Frame Grabber Version 7, Clear Springs changed to a down-belt configuration, in which the head of the fish face the portioner, a rotation of 90 degrees. Beeson says that there is less movement of the robotic head.

“[The robotic head] makes the cut as the fish moves underneath it, and it moves faster. Previously it had to move with the fish as it was making the cut,” he says.

The result is a smoother cut and a higher production rate, from 35 to 40 filets per minute to 50 to 55 filets per minute. Beeson says that the new software makes the portioner more user-friendly because there is flexibility in determining the entry point, depth of cut and exit point on the fish.

For example, if the trout had a larger strip of fat, the user inputs in millimeters how far from the edge of the fish to do the flap cut.

Clear Springs also wanted to make better use of the portioner’s IT capabilities. The user inputs a standard density determined by weighing the fish and calibrating the portioner. The density is calculated by the software.

This calibration process is repeated until the weights from the scale and the portioner are equal. The portioner only has to be recalibrated periodically, and even then the change is miniscule.

The fish is then run through the vision section, a scanner that uses four light stripes, each of which is deflected a bit depending on the dimensions of the fish. The scanner takes several images of the fish, using a beam of light to determine length, width and thickness. The density input figure is adjusted until the machine weight and the actual weight are equal.

Since the software calculates the fish’s parameters in advance, it knows how much to cut for a particular portion size with just one cut. Bob Bottemiller, senior software engineer at FMC Food­Tech, says that the new software addresses subtle, clean-up cuts for fin or head removal as opposed to rough cuts.

For example, it can locate a “V” cut for pinbone removal. Normally with the V cut there is a rough edge on the fish, leaving behind pin bones, which would need hand

“The software enables the machine to cut precisely so that there is less waste,” says Bottemiller.

The software is also used to determine different cuts, or types of portions, such as butterfly or clear cut, depending on size. If the individual fish is too heavy, you could make an alternate cut. Under the old program, if the fish fit the specifications, the portioner would make the cut, or it would pass through if it did not.

The new program enables different kinds of cuts on different portions, or the portioner may pass over an individual fish. This helped with production speed, because the fish would only have to be run through once. Beeson says that the throughput has increased 10 to 15 percent due to the software.

Scanvaegt is rolling out the ScanPortioner B55, which is designed for tuna loins and other round products as opposed to fillets. The ScanPortioner scans the tuna loin in three dimensions in order to portion accurately, which eliminates shrink. Manually, the process is not as accurate. It addresses the need for accuracy in portioning or restaurants and retail.

Bjerregaard says that a problem in the past was in portioning round loins rather than flat fillets, because the scanner was designed for flat filets, which were in two dimensions, not three.

The B55 scans in three dimensions and can portion tuna steaks to specific weights. The ScanPortioner B55 handles up to 150 portions per minute.

The latest models of slicers and portioners meet seafood processors’ needs for versatility, ease of use, cleaning and maintenance and productivity.

February 2005 - SeaFood Business


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