Machining & Automation: Speedy Separation

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by Kip Hanson

Ontario-based food processing equipment manufacturer realizes big benefits after bringing its work in-house


THE PROBLEM The high cost and questionable lead-times of sub-contracted parts
THE SOLUTION Invest in CNC machining equipment and make the parts yourself

Had a good hamburger lately, or some chicken nuggets at the local drive-thru? Chances are good that POSS Design Ltd. is in part responsible for that tasty snack. This 37-year old manufacturer of meat recovery equipment has sold more than 950 machines to food processing plants in 62 countries, and is a global leader in mechanical deboning, desinewing, and skin/fat separating devices.

Yet as vice president of operations Rob Williamson explains, the company realized five years ago that it would be unable to remain competitive if it continued sending its machining work outside. POSS Design began investing in CNC equipment, and today has several Okuma LB 4000 EX lathes, a Genos M560-V vertical machining centre with 4th axis, and “an old Dainichi conventional lathe.” Its most recent investment, however, has taken POSS Design to the next level, cutting manufacturing costs in half and turning what was once an expensive replacement part into a commodity item, a productivity win that even a vegetarian can appreciate with the investment of a Hartford machine equipped with a FANUC robot.

Skimming the cream
It’s called separation, and if you’re queasy about where your food comes from, you might want to skip this part. POSS Design provides a variety of dual-stage recovery machines that safely and automatically recover the edible parts of chickens, turkeys, pork, fish and beef from the bone and other “hard” parts of the animal carcass. Premium grade coarse or finely ground meat goes one way, while the unusable parts go another, often at the rate of 18,000 kg. (40,000 lb) per hour on machinery boasting 150 – 200 hp. POSS Design equipment is also used to separate pork skin and fat, remove water from vegetable peelings, process animal “trim” into edible products, remove sinews and cartilage from beef shanks, and turn what might otherwise be waste material into pet food and gelatin. It might seem a grisly process to some, but none would argue that it’s an important one in a world hungry for animal proteins.

The screen plate cell is equipped with a Lang Technik Clean-Tec chip fan to automatically remove chips and debris between cycles for automatic part loading.Keep ‘em separated
Food safety is paramount to POSS Design. That’s why virtually all of the machined and fabricated components used in meat separating equipment are made of food grade stainless steel, from augers and blades to chutes to housings. One of the more important of these is the screen plate, a 14 gauge metal disc with a series of milled slots or drilled holes that, when stacked up, serve to separate the meat from the bone and other tissue. And because of the positive design, the screen plates also serve to reduce temperature buildup during processing, important when handling raw meat.

“Our largest separator uses around 250 screen plates, one right on top of another in a stack that fits inside the machine,” Williamson says. “Over time, the plates wear out and our customers send them to us for rework or replacement. We can rework each plate maybe four or five times, but it takes a lot of time, and then you have shipping costs, inventory, and other logistics to deal with. Our goal was to produce consistently high quality, uniform, new plates cost effectively enough that they’d become a disposable item.”

Job one was to bring them in house. Williamson was charged with finding a machining centre and automated material handling system so the screen plates could be produced in an unattended manner. After researching options, he turned to Roger Jefferies, sales manager for Hartford machine tool distributor Ferro Technique. “Ferro conducted a time study and we visited their Mississauga location,” he says. “We felt very comfortable with their ability to support and deliver the product to our expectations.”

Connecting the dots
Jefferies says Hartford is Taiwan’s largest builder of CNC machines. Its founder Chen Chien-Chih traveled to the US in 1965 to study machine tool manufacturing, and upon returning to Taiwan, decided to name the plant after Hartford, the capital of Connecticut (similar to how Bridgeport Co. founders Rudolph Bannow and Magnus Wahlstrom named their knee mill after the original factory’s location). Fifty years later, Hartford’s parent company She Hong Industrial is much larger than Bridgeport ever was, and is reportedly the country’s top exporter of machine tools.

The screen plates are held in place with a series of control-activated hydraulic clamps.None of that mattered to Williamson. He just wanted a dependable CNC that would meet his objectives. He found it with the Hartford LG-500 F1 vertical machining centre, a compact, linear guideway machine with a FANUC control and 10,000 rpm, perfect for the small cutting tools and fast, light duty milling needed for the screen plates. Best of all, it was already equipped with a robot interface, the second piece of POSS Design’s production puzzle.

Over the coming months, Williamson worked with Ferro Technique and one of its partner machine tool integrators, Kraaft Technologies, to install the robot, design and manufacture the necessary fixtures, grippers, and material handling, and prepare the machine to run around the clock with no one in attendance. Aside from programming and proving out the complex toolpaths needed to machine the screen plates, this meant installing and configuring Renishaw probing, tool life management, and remote monitoring to wake someone in the middle of the night if something went awry. Williamson also had to work with an area fab shop, committing to purchase of the 316 stainless steel coil stock needed to make the screen plates and arranging for regular delivery of the laser cut blanks.

Production manager Jiri Mildner deserves a big hand for the success of the screen plate project.Faster parts, better quality
That was six months ago, and Williamson says the new system is everything he could have hoped for. “It was a good investment. We’ve eliminated most of the hand work needed to deburr the parts previously, and the probing helps to assure accuracy and process control. We’re able to make the parts for less than the cost of reworking them, which was our original goal.”

That’s good news as Williamson looks at the rest of his screen plate production—the new Hartford and its FANUC robot are currently making only three of the 14 part numbers used in POSS Design equipment, the balance of which are still being produced elsewhere. “We’re still looking at the numbers, and whether it makes sense to bring them in-house, but we’ll probably install a second Hartford and use the robot to feed both machines at some point,” he says. “For now, we’re happy with the way everything worked out. We had a very tight budget going into it, and between Ferro, the FANUC system integrator, and our in-house programmer Jiri Mildner, it all came together nicely.” SMT

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