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Special Feature: The right cut

Processors depend on reliability, precision, when it comes to slicers and portioners

By Lauren Kramer
December 06, 2010

There are a variety of slicing and portioning machines on the market, and most have a loyal following among the seafood processors who use them. Slicers manufactured by Ross Industries of Midland, Va., have been a fixture at High Liner Foods in Danvers, Mass., for more than 20 years.

"We use them to slice cod, pollock and a little haddock," says Ron St. Pierre, manager of processor-optimization solutions at High Liner. "They're made from stainless steel and with minor maintenance, they just last and last."

Ross' slicers offer flexibility on the size of portions the company requires, and the fillet cuts are straight and clean, St. Pierre says. "Fish reacts differently than other proteins, so when you cut a fish block, unless the cut is straight and clean the piece will crack on the fillet line. Sure, there are other, newer machines on the market using different technology, but the outcome is the same."

St. Pierre recommends looking at belt width before purchasing a machine. "A wider belt means more portions across and more poundage that can be produced," he says. "Obviously, all other belts on the production line would have to be able to accommodate the wider belt as well."

Other factors to consider are the portability of the machine, the availability of parts, the machine's power requirements and the availability and overall life of blades. "Look at the magazine size and flexibility too," he suggests. "A larger magazine mouth opening allows for wider portions for greater plate coverage. There would also have to be a way to shrink the magazine mouth opening to accommodate smaller portions as well."

Slicing and portioning machines are fairly expensive, so processors typically do their homework before making an acquisition. For example, Marel's machines start at just under $50,000 and go up to $200,000.

"These days we're designing the machines better and making them more user-friendly and far less maintenance-critical," says Denny Smith, Marel's general manager of sales. "For example, our new models can all be maintained remotely through the Internet. If customers need us to do work on their slicing machines' programming and parameters, we don't even need to go to their facilities."

Marel's 125 Vision Slicer 
incorporates Vision technology. That means a laser or camera works in conjunction with the machine's software, allowing it to analyze the product it is cutting in three-dimensional space.

"It is more accurate as a result," Smith says. "The software we developed in-house is advancing all the time, which means we cannot only see the products better, but cut them faster and ensure that the 
 cuts we're making are more accurate in terms of what the customer desires."

Marel's portioning machines, such as the I-Cut 10 PortionCutter, can be used for poultry, meat or fish. "The design of the machines makes it easy to clean, and the small footprint means it will fit into almost any plant layout," Smith says. Marel claims its GEBA SC 250 slicer is the fastest slicer of fresh salmon on the market today, capable of making 250 slices per minute. That's 30 percent more output than other slicers can deliver.

"We spend so much of our revenue on research and development work," says Smith. "But our customers need new products that make them more competitive in the market, particularly when it comes to speed of slicing."

Acme Smoked Fish in Brooklyn,
N.Y. has up to seven
 Marel slicers operating at 
any one time and rotates them annually. "They're the most expensive piece of equipment we own but they're terrific machines," says David Caslow, Acme's executive VP. "Their useful life is about seven years, and new generations of the machines can change angles and increase speed as their technology has improved."

Another slicer manufacturer is Salmco, which provides a series of German-made products sold and serviced by Scott Processing in Guelph, Ontario. "In the 15 years we've been selling these machines we rarely get a service call," says 
Edward Tautkus, sales manager. "Salmco makes about 10 slicing machines and they're reliable, well designed and well-engineered. They'll run for 20 years without any trouble."

Salmco's portioning machines range in price from $40,000 up to $100,000 and are fully automated, allowing customers to choose the slicing angle and speed. As for innovation or updates in technology, Tautkus is not worried. "They're state-of-the-art," he says of the portioning machines. "They're so advanced as they are, there's not much more you can do to improve them."


Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia


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