15 Jan 2016

Cutting, Slicing & Dicing – Weber, from Interfood

Interfood is the sole supplier of the Weber range of slicers in the UK and Ireland.

Market Drivers

Finding ways to increase efficiency and therefore optimise profitability has always been a focus for the meat industry. This key objective has not changed and is perhaps more relevant than ever as to survive in this ever increasingly competitive market, being able to provide quality products at the lowest possible cost is imperative. The prime goals in slicing have therefore not changed, namely maximising the efficiency of the line, optimising yield recovery and improving the capacity of the slicing line.  For many years now Weber has been constantly pushing the boundaries of development in the performance of slicing lines. This is both in terms of capacity, with slicers getting bigger and faster, and also in the technology associated with scanning and weighing systems to provide optimum control and accuracy. These two key factors are now being combined even more closely within the same slicing lines, providing the optimum solutions for both capacity and yield recovery from a single machine capable of slicing a range of products.

Examples of product categories in which Weber are focusing on these key factors include: Bacon and Gammon; Premium and Natural Whole Muscle Cooked Meats; and Fresh Meat.

One significant new market driver which has impacted on meat slicing operations is the increasing adoption of irregular shaped products which present their own challenges in terms of slicing.  These include whole muscle type cooked meats, gammon steaks and high quality bacon. With such products the cost of the raw material is higher and therefore the need to maximise yield recovery even more important. Bacon is an excellent example – a natural product that varies considerably from animal to animal, with irregular shapes and inconsistent length products.  High volume slicing lines are needed but yield recovery on these large volumes is key in controlling manufacturing costs. Interfood, the sole distributor for Weber in the UK and Ireland, is able to offer systems to slice up to three backs or streaks simultaneously, with fully independent and proactive control of the slicing characteristics of each primal.

Proactive scanning

Proactive scanning technology is a big area of development and has advanced significantly in the last few years, in combination with the Weber Vario gripper system. This can now be employed utilising traditional camera based systems or the latest X-Ray systems for products with varying fat to lean ratios or with internal cavities.  Multi track scanning, along with fully independent control of each piece of product being sliced, now provides a high capacity solution with the accuracy needed to ensure the lowest cost of operation and the highest possible yield recovery.

Irregular shaped and inconsistent length products can now be sliced with confidence in multiple log applications where higher capacity is needed. Historically this would have been at the expense of accuracy which obviously has a direct negative effect on attainable yield recovery.

This technology can now be employed on the medium sized Weber orbital blade machines though to the complete range of the Involute blade machines and right up to the 905 series machine, with its massive 620mm wide cutting throat. Proactive scanning technology is now available to scan products up to 785mm wide and up to 1600mm in length. This has been made possible by Weber’s latest LED scanning technology incorporating a robust open frame structure which is more user friendly, simplifying the operation, improving hygiene and making it less susceptible to changes in the environment

Customer focus

Reduction of labour through the integration of automation is a key driver in many capital projects. Interfood and Weber can offer a wide range of solutions, including robotic loading and complex conveyor solutions. The integration of portion control systems that clearly identify and mark individual portions that require intervention without the need to remove them from the production flow can maximise productivity and reduce labour requirements. This is being actively employed in many installations through the use of laser projectors that track each portion through the system and then mark them.

Food robotic options are also available which can mix products and portions to meet the increasing demand for attractive presentation.

Support is also key and not just in terms of service. Although Interfood has a fully dedicated and large service team that concentrates solely on the Weber product line, the company can also offer optimisation programmes to ensure that line performance is maintained. This can be through training or technical input and even with the help of in-house product technologists if required. On-line technical support via remote access is also available to give truly real time support.

Ongoing development

Continuous development of the equipment range and service offerings is the focus for Weber and Interfood going forward. One example is that Weber has constructed a bespoke blade manufacturing facility that has enabled significant advances in cutting technology. The heart of a slicer is the blade and this is key to optimising machine performance. By offering blade contracts where usage and performance is monitored, it is possible to make major cost savings both in terms of maintenance costs and efficiency (yield and speed).  The right blade needs to be used for the right products to maximise performance.

Sharpening technology is also a focus and with the latest systems able to recognise individual blades by using RFID technology and monitor them through their production life. This ensures that they are sharpened to the correct angles by automatic selection of sharpening programmes without the need for a highly skilled operator. These systems can also sharpen multiple angles on the same blade optimising the slicing characteristics, are completely flexible and allow one machine to maintain the full range of Weber blades in both Orbital and Involute formats.

The latest developments in Weber slicer technology will be on show at IFFA from 7-12 May in Frankfurt where representatives from Interfood’s Slicing Division will be available to discuss visitor’s specific slicing requirements.