All under control
Meat processing company gains a competitive edge with high-speed interleavers
April 26, 2019
by Alex Love
The market opportunities for meat and cheese processors that offer pre-sliced portion controlled product, interleaved or wrapped with wax paper or plastic film, continue to expand.
With this value-added service, processors enable QSRs (quick service restaurants) and delis making fresh sandwiches to significantly speed service by eliminating the need to slice, weigh, or estimate portion size.
This reduces costs by preventing employees from inadvertently putting too much meat or cheese on a sandwich, while minimizing handling and adding a sanitary barrier between portions for improved food safety.
A similar approach is also used to provide delis with sliced ham, turkey, roast beef, or cheese in popular half pound or pound quantities for quick sale without the wait for slicing, weighing, wrapping or packaging at the counter.
Interleavers are automated, high-speed machines designed to dispense sheets of paper or film under, between or around meat, cheese and other products for portion control, inventory control, more sanitary handling, as well as ease of separation, improved shelf life, and shielding from light in the retailer’s case. This includes wax paper and plastic film added after slicing and before final packaging.
In the production line, the interleaver operates between the slicer and the final packaging equipment, with the slicer typically capable of the highest processing rates. Although this speed imbalance is generally acceptable, there are times when a processor needs to achieve higher packing speeds to satisfy an increase in demand.
This means the interleaver or packaging equipment, whichever is slower, effectively dictates the maximum throughput speed. If these systems are older or poorly designed, they can quickly become a bottleneck.
Based in Rading, Pa., Berks Packing Company is a family-owned meat processing business that recently took steps to expand its slicing and interleaving capabilities.
Previously, the company offered bulk packaging of ready-to-eat sliced deli meats, until clinents started requesting precise portion control.
“To manage their costs at the store level, our foodservice and retail customers began to ask us for portion control on the plant side,” says director of operations John Buckley.
To address this, the company purchased two high-volume slicers, which gave them the ability to deliver portion-control sizes. But to take advantage of this feature, their process line needed an interleaver.
“We needed a fast interleaver to keep up with the slicing speed,” says Buckley, relating that after looking around the company turned to Packaging Progressions Inc., Souderton, Pa.-based supplier of high-speed interleavers, stackers and card dispensers.
With the addition of ProLeaver 20300 interleavers from Packaging Progressions, the company can now handle many sandwich kit portions, including extra-thin shingles, fluffed portions, and folded portions.
Moreover, the company is now also able to maximize its slicing capabilities, feeding multiple slicing lines into one flexible system.
“The reliability and accuracy of the equipment is critical because we cannot afford production downtime,” says Buckley. “Our customers rely on us for the right amount of interleaved portions within a package, so it is critical that it is correct.”
According to Buckley, part of what makes such reliability and accuracy possible is a number of anti-misfeed features in the latest interleaving equipment.
To achieve maximum speeds and uptime, Packaging Progressions’ interleavers vary from standard industry offerings with unique features such as servo controlled product and paper synchronization; power-assisted paper unwinds; encoder enabled positioning for precise placement; debris filtering to prevent false paper feeds and reduce jams; jam detection logic to reduce paper jams; and a portion centralizer.
These design improvements essentially increase the accuracy and tracking of the items and the inserted paper to achieve high speeds reliably without misfeeds.
“We are running state-of-the-art, best in class slicers, but the interleaving, transferring, and final packaging all have to be married together for reliability,” says Buckley.
“If one aspect is not reliable, it can shut the whole operation down,” he says, noting that Berks Packing has also recently added a cleanroom facility to ensure the highest food safety standards possible.
“From hygienic food safety point of view, Packaging Progressions helped meet our needs and specifications,” says Buckley. “Interleavers like the ProLeaver 20300 go beyond simply addressing the need for efficient operation. “
With ease of sanitary maintenance central to the machine design, the ProLeaver 20300 design features standoff mounted components to prevent the trapping of any product scrap, while improving sanitation with ground and polished welds to eliminate bacteria harbourage points