Bacon processors want three things when they talk to automation equipment suppliers. They want labor reduction, throughput and a smaller, or at least manageable footprint, according to Zach Bearson, business development director and bacon segment lead at Kansas City, Mo.-based Weber Inc.

Application specialist, Scott Steinman of Canton, Mass.-based Reiser agreed and added, “Processors ask for anything to speed up the entire process for higher throughputs, reduced labor, and help with consistency of yields. Labor is an ongoing issue in the industry and any automation within the process will help reduce or will require less people.”

Tom Springman, managing partner at Kerres USA LLC, Muncy, Pa., and North America representative for Schiwa Slicing Technologies, Plüderhausen, Germany, added that another part of a customer’s move to automation includes a want of increased line availability with decreased downtime.

Overcoming obstacles

The nature of bacon presents certain challenges to processors. The irregular shape of pork bellies makes it difficult to automate the process of slicing and packaging and many companies built plants to accommodate the available manual technology of the time, when labor wasn’t as difficult to find. So, when processors ask for labor solutions along with a smaller footprint to accommodate existing space and higher yields and throughput to keep profit margins healthy, equipment manufacturers are listening and working to create partnerships to serve their customers.

“With bacon growing at an annual rate of better than 3%, the need for more throughput in the available space is paramount,” said Jarrod McCarroll, chief executive officer at Weber Inc. “We also hear from our customers that a truly integrated solution, controlled by one operating system, able to self-optimize and have the data available to make real time operational decisions is becoming table stakes as they move into the digital age.”

Equipment manufacturers can provide wider margins, higher throughput, consistency and labor reductions in more than one way. Automated innovations in slicing, packaging, flavoring, cooking, and process design provide avenues to achieve better overall bacon processing.

“Bacon processors, like most food processors, are looking for ways to reduce the need for labor,” said Craig Souser, president and CEO of JLS Automation, York, Pa. “In addition, there are yield increases to be had with a properly designed process.”

Peter Jongen, president of Thurne, a Middleby Ltd. subsidiary, Norwich, United Kingdom, pointed to automatic loading of sliced drafts into the packaging machine as an easy way to immediately eliminate human error and increase throughput.

Billerica, Mass.-based Wilevco offers another avenue to improved processing through automation. Bacon moved beyond breakfast food long ago. Along with its growth in uses and daypart applications, processors add many different coatings and flavorings to bacon. Wilevco developed an automated process to coat and flavor bacons without dipping or paper transfer.

Faster fabrication

Wilevco’s Spinning Disc Applicator (SDA) applies coatings with a wide degree of viscosity without airknives, dips or waterfalls. Its nozzle-less design provides consistent and accurate application including particulates, a key factor to providing flavored and coated bacon products, said Robert Reiser, president of Wilevco.

“The old process is messy, inefficient, wastes coating, requires tons of labor, and has a high risk of foreign material inclusion,” Reiser said. “…The SDA’s completely enclosed design recovers unused coating, saving producers up to 60% versus conventional systems. Ensuring that you apply the correct amount, not too much, not too little, is the only way to both provide the customer experience you want at the cost required to be price competitive.”

In January of this year, Burr Ridge, Ill.-based BAK Food Equipment announced it is offering a new technology from food equipment manufacturer Protech AB, Lönsboda, Sweden. The Spiral Bacon Smokehouse system uses a linear combination of processes from raw belly to seasoned, cooked and smoked product. The system can in-line inject, has optional liquid smoke drenching, can dry, smoke naturally and freeze pork bellies that are ready to press and slice.

“Spiral oven technology isn’t new to meat processing, but fully automated spiral oven cooking, smoking, and freezing technology specifically developed for smoked meats such as bacon is only available from Protech,” said John Bobak, founder and CEO of BAK Food Equipment.

Reiser and manufacturer Fomaco, Køge, Denmark, offer many automated systems to improve bacon processing and achieve the processor’s goals. Systems include brine mixing, combo dumping, conveyors and infeed conveyors to the injector and combing systems.

“The brine mixing system can be done with a human machine interface (HMI) that can hold individual brine recipes,” Steinman said. “This is done by a bar code scanner, built-in scale system, automatic draft, preset mixing times for each individual ingredient, and confirmation when each ingredient is done. This system executes automatically as well as in the correct order, with exact weights, exact times and confirmation when done.”

Fomaco’s IWC system requires no personnel and ensures the injector maintains and regulates pump pressure within the accepted range of percentages during production. Automated filtration systems, the CBF 500 Continuous Belt Filter and FM80 Continuous Filtration System of the injector filter debris from the return brine and secondarily eliminate any debris that may pass through the belt respectively.

“This also requires no employee interaction,” Steinman said. “When the pump is on the filtration system is on. The result of this superior filtration system is a more consistent pump pressure during the entire production shift.”

BAK Equipment.jpgSource: BAK Food Equipment


Weber’s automated bacon systems provide efficient and innovative slicing, transport and packaging. The company strives to understand a processor’s unique needs and goals through consultation before preparing a custom solution. Solutions include Weber’s knowledge of the industry and processes and provide weight-accurate slicing, careful transport and precise infeeding to the desired presentation in the packaging, according to the needs of the customer.

“Our automated retail solution, which facilitates growth while reducing both line labor and required floorspace, seems to be shining above all the rest,” Bearson said. “We believe it’s truly a game changer for retail bacon producers.”

Fitting an automated system into an existing plant will always be a significant obstacle, said Springman. Kerres USA offers a wide range of Schiwa products to maximize space and ensure customers receive the best possible solution for their unique situation.

“Schiwa offers a completely tailored, customized slicing solution to all of our customers,” Springman said. “We sit with the customer to find specifically what they need, and what they desire to accomplish. The customer is supported by Schiwa through the entire process of discovery, offering the line, building the line and of course into the full operation of their new system.”

Comprehension and consultation

Tom Van Doorn, director at MP Equipment LLC, a Middleby company, stresses the importance of conversation before purchasing MP’s integrated bacon processing equipment. The customer/consultant relationship should be unique with the customer having complete confidence to approach MP with trust no matter the size of the solution MP provides.

“We talk with them about their budget and production goals, operating cost reduction goals and where they need to be for the amount spent,” Van Doorn said.

Jongen added, “We make an assessment on site (if available) and work out various options and discuss these with our customer.”

Middleby’s Pacproinc, Souderton, Pa., focuses on its customers’ vision of the end product/package and works from that point. The company stresses listening and honest feedback about what is possible, which gives customers a clear vision of the solutions available to meet their needs.

“If we understand the desired final product, we can ensure the equipment that leads to the final package are the correct pieces that are best for the job,” said Nate Riordan, vice president of global sales.

Wilevco’s Reiser added, “We listen to our customers, it sounds simple, but in practice it doesn’t happen enough. Few things can be as valuable as a plant tour and a conversation with the people responsible for making the product day after day after day.”

BAK Food Equipment’s Spiral Bacon Smokehouses’ fully integrated design allows for a somewhat easier initial consultation. The company works within the existing facility to integrate the self-enclosed system. BAK then focuses on aftermarket support through factory trained technicians and in-stock parts for all the equipment.

“We provide support physically on site as well as remote support 24 hours a day seven days a week of the system,” said Thomas Bako, director of business development at BAK. “Prior to installation, our trained engineers can help producers to design, plan, install and commission the Spiral Bacon Cooking system to integrate with existing systems and maximize productivity.”

McCarroll and his team at Weber emphasize today’s demand for customization. Their philosophy on matching the need of the customer with the best equipment and processes is based on understanding the customer’s goals and taking them on as their own. McCarroll maintains this is the best approach.

“It’s not about selling equipment,” he said. “It’s having the right solution, even if it’s not in our portfolio. The days of having a stock equipment, one size fits all approach, have long passed and every new challenge has a different need or result that we need to address.”

Weber makes sure it meets the customer’s needs today, as well as in the future, by assigning a team consisting of a project manager, salesperson, technical service person and aftermarket specialist to every partnership opportunity.

JLS automation.jpgSource: JLS Automation


The bacon team

In late 2022, Provisur Technologies, Mokena, Ill., Reiser and JLS established a partnership to create and offer a fully automated, retail bacon slicing line. The “Bacon Team” integrated a CashinSX bacon slicer from Provisur, a JLS Harrier loading system and the Reiser thermoformer.

“The CashinSX slicer utilizes on board 3D product scanners to proactively scan the belly and ensure accurate weight control,” said Mike Collins, product specialist, bacon and cured meats, Provisur. “The slicer also automatically rejects the seam areas to provide a clean running line with minimal downstream debris, which facilitates automated loading.”

JLS’s automated Harrier system will load boarded or unboarded drafts into thermoformers. The Harrier’s proprietary technologies facilitate the loading process including pick and transport, as well as folding the flap.

“The system also has the capability to report what the efficiency was – number of good products picked and loaded versus the total number presented to the system,” said Mike Newcome, vice president of sales at JLS.

Peter Monte, director of national accounts for Reiser added, “The interaction between the JLS robot and Reiser thermoformer has been fine-tuned over the last several years in the field. Our end effectors have been improved as has the speed control once the draft has been loaded into the pocket to improve capacities and retain proper draft placement until the package is sealed.”

The retail bacon line can increase throughput to 75 drafts per minute with only four people working it. Customers who want to increase line throughput and yield can add the Hoegger X4 press to directly feed the slicer and the Hoegger TrimX upstream.

The Bacon Team uses a highly consultative and collaborative process to understand its customers’ operations. Things like belly supply, processor challenges and goals, case packing versus draft loading all play a role in the review of possible solutions. The team will also evaluate any constraints regarding footprint and layout to ensure the level of automation is physically feasible.

With more than 100 years of “on-the-floor experience,” the Bacon Team knows the challenges of bacon processing that come from the variability of raw materials. The team works with customers to find the exact balance of simplicity and flexibility.

All the challenges of communication with customers, planning, coming up with the right solution require dedicated work. The project teams representing the Provisur, JLS and Reiser partnership strive to deliver clear installation schedules, smooth operations and an accelerated ramp up to full production, giving processors the automation they need to solve their biggest problem.

“The biggest challenge that our customers have almost universally, is access to labor which includes the reliability of them showing up daily,” Newcome said. “Our automation is there every day ready to go to work.”