Vacuum conveying system integral to growth

Automated material handling, including vacuum conveyor system, is the key toPiasa reaching twenty-fold growth.  

By Plant Engineering Staff December 9, 2003

One reason why lean manufacturing techniques are the order of the day is that it is increasingly difficult to use low-cost labor as a principal meansof gaining a competitive advantage.

New production strategies that incorporate automation and process integration are turning out productsranging from simple components to complex systems with levels of precision and productivity that no amount of cheap human labor can match.

At Piasa, a producer of food additives in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, a comprehensive plan to automate and continuously update processes that were previously performed by human efforts will increase the company’s output by 20 times its previous capacity.

“Making dramatic changes was vital to our future and competing with themajor players,” explains Ricardo Madrigal, a Vice President who manages Piasa’s engineering and R&D. “To give an example, with the limitations of our human-assisted blending process it used to take 20 minutes to blend 1.5 tons of a product such as a seasoning. Now that same output can be completed in 20 seconds. That’s a 60-fold improvement that comes from automating the process.”

When you consider that Piasa uses over a thousand different chemicalingredients to produce food additives such as spices, seasonings andflavoring ingredients, the importance of dramatically improving production becomes quite evident. Automation and process integration are part of a dramatic expansion plan that has led to Piasa recently relocating production to an entirely new plant that is 20 times the size of the previous one.

Outfitted with thelatest equipment and processes, the new facilities will accommodate Piasa’s growth far into the future. One of the systems that will enable Piasa’s aggressive plan is a pneumatic conveying system that dramatically steps up process throughput andeliminates the need for cumbersome human intervention. Provided by

Installed in September 2003, the new VAC-U-MAX system includes a bulk loading station that transports materials through a hopper and filtration system en route to Piasa’s advanced blending equipment. It also includes a customized, adaptable filling system that conveys finished products away from the blenders and into packaging machines, all of which is done with much greater speed and safety than by the previous manual system.

“Material handling is an integral part of our process operations,” explainss snack-food coatings and flour, we can pneumatically load the blenders directly from silos at an even greater rate of speed. Considering the efficiency of our new blending systems, this gives us vastly improved production capacity.

Introduced through Bicor, a major manufacturer of bulk material handlingsystems and flow control equipment, VAC-U-MAX offered Piasa the flexibility to adapt its pneumatic conveying system to optimize output.

Ben Samuels, a VAC-U-MAX sales engineer, studied the original Piasa production facilities in Monterrey to determine how the system should be tailored to meet present and future needs. VAC-U-MAX has extensive testing facilities at its New Jersey headquarters that enable the firm to simulate and fine-tune equipment according to specific application requirements.

Safety was another important benefit of the new pneumatic conveying system. The high-volume, automated combining of ingredients into the blender will remove the need for workers to climb ladders to load heavy bags into the system. Both the dump station and silo loading system will eliminate the use of small paper and vinyl bags containing ingredients, bags that used to end up scattered on the production floor, thus providing a cleaner production environment.

This elimination of bags will not only promote safety, but will also have an environmental impact, notes Madrigal, since wood and plastic used to make the bags will no longer be consumed.

“Our new pneumatic conveying system and relationship with VAC-U-MAX reflects a highly-developed business strategy that we can implement in a smooth and organized manner,” Madrigal says. “Through the improved conveying capabilities and removal of human labor we will be able to pass significant savings along to our customers, thereby making us more competitive in the markets we seek to serve. Our major competitors are attempting to achieve savings by improving their warehousing and distribution systems. However, we feel that lowering our production costs, and thereby our product costs, will be much more effective. Of course, we also have a very dependable distribution system.”

Madrigal adds that Piasa places a high value on people and jobs, and feels confident that jobs will be added in the long run. “I believe that our new operations and resulting expanded business will enable us to provide more jobs in R&D, marketing and sales,” he explains. “Our industry is becoming increasingly important to the food industry, and ultimately depends on people as well as an expended product line and improved process integration.”

For more information about VAC-U-MAX material handling or industrial vacuum cleaning solutions, contact VAC-U-MAX by mail at 37 Rutgers Street, Belleville, NJ 07109; telephone (800) 822-8629 or (973) 759-4600; E-mail: ; or visit the web site .