In particular, the growth in powder formulations, including drink mixes for meal replacements, sports nutrition products and the like, has created a huge demand for specialized machinery, said Gregg Muench, GEMCO’s vice president of business development.
Muench said powder mix lines tend to have huge production runs, and manufacturers need blending machinery that is validated to churn out consistent blends at those volumes. Downtime is costly, he said.
“They need someone who can make a machine big enough to make it economical to put material through a packaging line. You never want to stop a packaging line if you don’t have to because it’s expensive,” Muench told NutraIngredients-USA.
“But by the same token, as blenders get larger, some of them can lose their efficiency,” he said.
Shaken, or stirred
Muench said there are some inescapable laws of physics that come into play when blending large batches of material.
“James Bond had it right. There are two ways: shaken or stirred,” he said.
“With some mixers, they have plows or ribbon blades inside of them to move the material. When you have huge batches, though, it’s hard to get enough horsepower behind those to mix all of the material,” he said.
That can lead to ‘dead’ spots in the mix, Muench said, resulting in a final blend without the necessary uniformity. Some manufacturers find it necessary to remix batches, he said, assuming the non-homogeneous nature of the resulting blend was caught by downstream testing.
Undesirable heating of material
Another issue that with large batches in paddle or ribbon mixers is the blades or plows might heat the material in an undesirable way just through friction. While an acceptable product can still result, it's a manufacturing parameter that must be allowed for in the company’s SOPs (standard operating procedures).
Muench said GEMCO’s tumble blender designs, honed over decades of manufacturing experience in the industry, eliminate many of these potential issues.
“To mix properly you have to move all of the product all of the time,” he said. “Tumble blenders move all of the material with every turn of the blender.”
Shape of barrel plays a role
But even in tumble blenders there can be nuances, Muench said. The shape of the barrel itself affects what goes on inside, and even the tumbling action, but itself, might not be enough, he said.
“If you’ve got a blend with, say, 40 ingredients, how do you ensure that it all gets mixed evenly every time? In some tumble blenders, when you look inside, the material is moving like a wave on a beach. In our slant cone design, the material is moving more like a figure eight,” Munch said.
Reduction in cleaning time
The company has also designed other advantages in, Muench said. Cleaning between batches can absorb a huge amount of a manufacturing facility’s time. Muench said GEMCO has proven that its blenders can be cleaned and dried and ready for a new batch within three hours. Combine that with the company’s partially automated raw material powder handing technology, which greatly reduces the amount of dust that gets spread around, and the choice of blender can transform the operations of a manufacturing plant.
For some SKUs, small batches might be order of the day because they don’t move off the shelves fast enough and shelf life becomes a concern. The cleaning time is the same whether a batch is the size of a five gallon bucket or one that could fill a tractor trailer, he said.
“I have one customer who does about 13,000 batches a year. With every one of our blenders, he could pick up an extra batch every shift,” he said.
Long history in supporting equipment
Muench said GEMCO has made it a policy to support used machinery, all of which is made in the USA, with spare parts, so there is a thriving second hand market in the company’s equipment. While that might seem as if it would undercut the new product lines, he said it works out in the end.
“We have been making blenders since the 1920s and we have data on their performance from the 1960s. The fellow who couldn’t afford a new GEMCO yesterday will remember that support and come back to us when he’s ready to buy new,” he said.