Humanitarian food relief increased more than sevenfold with bulk handling system

The installation of Flexicon’s solutions empowers Breedlove Foods to increase production of nutritious food products, enabling the non-profit organisation to serve more meals as part of its humanitarian food aid.

In the packaging room, two flexible screw conveyors move lentils from the two bulk bag dischargers outside to a transition hopper from which four interconnected flexible screw conveyors deliver lentils to four mixers

Breedlove Foods produces nutritious food products for humanitarian relief in the aftermath of hurricanes, earthquakes and other catastrophic events. The non-profit company produces shelf-stable packages of ingredients such as lentils, rice, soy protein, dehydrated potatoes, onions, and carrots. Packaged in 1kg, 500g and 130g sizes, Breedlove’s food products require only water and 30 minutes of cooking time.

The company installed an automated bulk handling system that enhances the production of its Lentil & Vegetable Blend products “more than sevenfold” while improving worker safety. Two Flexicon Bulk-Out BFF bulk bag dischargers and six interconnected flexible screw conveyors distribute dehydrated lentils to four mixers, followed by packaging. Purchasing lentils in bulk bags reduces ingredient costs, while discharging from bulk bags relieves workers of heavy lifting.

“Operators were manually lifting five, 45.4kg bags of lentils and adding them to the mixers,” explained Wesley Sloan, maintenance team lead at Breedlove.

A forklift now delivers a 908kg bulk bag of lentils from the warehouse to either of two side-by-side bulk bag dischargers, and positions a bag lifting frame immediately above the bag, allowing an operator to slide the bag’s four lifting straps into Z-Clip strap holders affixed to the lifting frame.

The forklift then raises the frame with suspended bag, and places it into receiving cups on the top of the discharger frame’s posts.
The operator then secures the clean side of the bag spout to the clean side of a Spout-Lock clamp ring positioned atop a Tele-Tube telescoping tube, which applies constant downward tension as the bag empties and elongates, to completely discharge lentils into the 566-litre capacity hopper below. Springloaded Pop-Top extension arms on the discharger posts raise the bag as it lightens, further promoting discharge.

Sloan elaborated: “With two bulk bag dischargers, we run one until it gets low and then run the other one. While number two is running, operators are refilling number one and there’s never downtime replacing product. Even with the 908kg loads in the work area, dust is not a problem.”

The Spout-Lock clamp ring positioned atop the Tele-Tube telescoping tube applies constant downward tension as the bag empties and elongates for full and dust-free evacuation.

From each discharger’s floor hopper, a 6m long by 114mm diameter flexible screw conveyor moves the lentils through an opening in the wall into the packaging room, where they discharge into a 28.3-litre capacity transition hopper atop a wye diverter valve that directs lentils into the four interconnected flexible screw conveyors feeding the four mixes.

The conveyors, with lengths varying from 3-4.5m, consist of a polymer tube enclosing a flat wire spiral driven by a 2.25W motor
beyond the discharge point, preventing material contact with seals or bearings. Lentils exiting the conveyor are gravity fed through downspouting to one of four mixers where operators manually add minor dry ingredients, including rice, soy proteins, potatoes and onion.

“Some recipes include 272kg of lentils from the bulk bag discharger, while many recipes and production runs are approximately 45.4kg,” he said.

At the control panel, the operator sets weight specifications and routing to a specific mixer. The batching system operates under loss-of-weight control whereby load cells supporting each discharger transmit weight loss data to a PLC, which runs a conveyor at
high speed as material is discharged into a designated mixer.

The PLC steps down the conveyor feed rate to dribble as the target weight is approached, stopping the conveyor once the precise
batch weight has been lost from the discharger.

“We’re getting excellent results from the system, and are achieving our goal of below 1% for weight variants,” Sloan claimed. “Our rates are extremely accurate.”

Blended batches are discharged into a hopper that feeds its respective packaging machine, which outputs 1kg, 500g or 130g packages.

Bill Miller, CEO of Breedlove, concluded: “Before the packaging upgrades, Breedlove’s daily production averaged between 200,000 and 500,000 meal servings a day. Now, we can approach 1.5 million meal servings a day. We have produced more than 22 million food servings for COVID-19 food relief, and the upgrades we completed played an integral part in that response.”

This article was published in Food & Beverage Asia April/May 2021 issue.