Stuffing is an integral part of the ground meat and sausage production processes. Technological advances in sausage stuffing equipment and systems are making dramatic changes and the results are addressing processors’ needs for consistency and speed. Addressing those needs means focusing on three key areas for Buffalo Grove, Ill.-based Handtmann Inc. – stuffing precision, product quality/higher value and system efficiency in management control and tracking, says Thomas Kittle, president. The company has introduced a number of products and systems to meet industry’s stuffing needs. Handtmann offers servo-controlled, whole-muscle stuffing (HVF Deli Series) that adjusts real-time vacuum and other feeding analytics every two milliseconds to control size and weight to within 1 percent, he says. That control capability combines with a direct product path and other new features to reduce residual waste by 50 percent and cut set-up and clean-up time by 75 percent.

“The Handtmann adjustable vane cell replaces old screw technology, combines with servo-controlled Integrated Vacuum Management [IVM], one-turn product flow and optimized hygienic design to reduce air, lower drying times and dramatically improve both shelf-life and particle definition,” he adds.

The Handtmann Communication Unit (HCU) is now driven by automated data-capture and reporting software to collect real-time process information, from item-specific variations to operator handling differences, enabling anomaly assessments and optimization analysis for vacuum filler stuffing lines, Kittle says. It automates the CAR (Capture/Analyze and optimize/ Report and document) method of ongoing process refinement required by economic conditions and ever more demanding performance and product safety standards.

“The industry’s fastest-growing demand is for integrated stuffing systems that can flexibly meet changing market requirements while consistently delivering more efficient and reliable results over the lifecycle of the equipment,”
Kittle says. “We have eliminated hydraulics, dropped highmaintenance screw systems, created the most powerful and precise vacuum system in the industry and fully integrated these advances with next-generation ergonomic and product
flow designs, fully adjustable vane-cell technology and ultra-precise stuffing controls.”

The Handtmann VF series delivers exact sizes and weights accurate to less than 1 percent with versatility for processors filling up to 30,000 lbs./hr.

“Stuffing processes can now be driven by the industry’s most comprehensive automated data capture and reporting software which collects all relevant real-time process information and enables anomaly assessments and optimization analysis for vacuum filler stuffing lines,” Kittle says. “The 2011 Handtmann Communication Unit provides real-time management access to operating data, flexible information sorting and trending options, and customization to accommodate plant-by-plant and line-by-line differences with the widest variety of mix ‘n match analytic tools in the market.”

Technology and robotics are changing the definition of automation in the sausage industry, Kittle says. “For instance, we have worked with Handtmann customers to control the process so precisely that all hanging and cooking labor is eliminated,” he adds.

Integrating precision
Reiser’s Duo Drive technology is a significant advance in stuffer engineering, says Robert Reiser, Customer Center manager for Canton, Mass.-based Reiser. “It allows us to apply a minimum of feed pressure and yet maintain top-notch weight control with our double screws,” he adds. “Piece identity is excellent with this technology.”

The latest servo-driven Vemag stuffers use Canbus technology, which allows the stuffer to integrate with equipment both up and downstream. The new servo version of the Vemag 208 double-horn, high-speed linker performance is greatly improved, allowing for more gentle stuffing and less parts to clean at the end of the day.

Reiser says the benefits of this advance is delivered by the use of the Vemag double-screw technology, which allows the processor to gently and accurately convey product. “In conjunction with the separate control of the infeed speed [Duo Drive], we can maintain piece identity and produce exact weight portions,” Reiser says. “On the technology side, Vemags use ‘box in a box’ technology that shields the servo drives and electronics from water. Others have not invested in this type of protection.”

Referencing Reiser’s newest “smart” sausage stuffing equipment, Reiser says, “The Vemag HP E series of servo stuffer is the heart of our lines. Teamed with downstream equipment such as the LPG 208S high-speed, twin-horn linker, we can more efficiently produce more links on the table or the hooks. This is done by allowing a casing to be loaded on one horn while the other is producing – no downtime for casing change. For the smaller producer, the innovative 802 linker still leads the way for exact length, exact weight portions. All can be teamed with our high-speed servo TM203 cutters. We will also be introducing a series of linkers for the medium-size producers in 2011.”

As sausage processing systems become more integrated, sausage stuffers are being impacted by the use of robotics [or vice versa] in terms of speed and working as a total system. “We have been on the front lines of these applications,” Reiser says. “Our customers are increasingly interested in looking at ways to reduce labor, especially with loading of product into trays. We work with leading robotic integrators. Our 208 twin-horn lines are especially useful in these applications because they provide very consistent, high-quality product. This enables the robots to run at higher efficiency. Canbus technology allows us to seamlessly integrate with upstream and downstream equipment, including robotics.”

Reiser says weight control, productivity [and the ability to monitor it], hygiene and reduced costs will drive future evolution. “Customers are looking to increase portioning accuracy and decrease giveaway, and any additional technology or technology costs will have to achieve that goal,” he adds. “We will need to continue to make the machines easier to operate and lines will need to operate with less people.”

Risk control will remain at the forefront, he adds. “Our designs begin with sanitation and hygiene in mind – simple and easy to clean,” he continues. “Technology advances have allowed us to make our machines simpler. Information is displayed graphically in pictures. Diagnostic packages tell customers when there is a problem and maintenance is due. Some of our producers are already monitoring their machines from the office, or let us monitor their machines from our office. Production data is being gathered at the machines, ready to be exported to the customer’s production control systems, or simply to spreadsheets.”

Stuffer evolution
The role stuffers play has changed significantly over the past decade, says Alan Miller, president of Risco USA Corporation, South Easton, Mass.

“Although still used for traditional products, where an operator slides on a casing[over] links, they are being used as an integral part of complex systems,” he adds. “The stuffer could be controlling a whole groundbeef line where none of the remaining pieces of equipment are Risco, or actually be a slave within a system being controlled by even a piece of our competitive equipment.”

This required adopting an interface and follows industry norms that has all the inputs and outputs to control or controlled by other lines systems or machines, Miller says. “This interface is now fitting to all Risco stuffers. As a result, many are being used in Stork lines worldwide, where they are plug-and-play,” he adds.

Many of Risco’s competitive sausage stuffers run their own software, such as Windows. These are great systems for the control and visual aspects that make a good impression on a stuffer, he says. “However, industrial controls required simple clean-and-direct commands that have little reason to crash [Windows],” he adds.

“This increases reliability and simplicity when integrating a machine into a system. Understanding this: the Risco interface follows these norms allowing for ease of integration.”

Robotics are being used more in the sausage industry, especially with visual recognition becoming so refined, Miller says. “Visual systems that see a sausage, grab it and place it the right way in a tray are becoming much more cost effective,” he adds.

In addition, there is no magic to all this, when one understands the stuffer with servo drives, like a robotic arm, knows where the pump components are, Miller continues. “For example, it knows where the product pump is exactly, so it knows when to stop to give the right portion,” he says. “At any time during that cycle, it knows when to trigger the next process. So stuffer or robot, they are all speaking the same language and can be interfaced to speak to each other.”

The future of stuffers is clear, Miller says. “The basic machine will always be required by the small and medium processor that makes a simple, high-quality and traditional product,” he adds. “Hand made will never be replaced as this remains an art form. However, for the high-volume production of sausage and meat products, speed and efficiency are needed to reduce and control production costs and selling price. Here, the stuffer will turn into a pump set that is fitted into the system like a jigsaw piece – by itself hardly recognizable, but when fitted in its place, a complete picture system is completed.”