In the food manufacturing industry, it can be hard to find the right means of carrying products through food processing equipment. Whatever solution used has to meet strict FDA regulations and requirements for cleanliness while also being conducive to the specific food preparation processes needed to turn raw materials into a final product that is ready for distribution and safe for consumption.
Mistakes in the welding of a food processing basket or flaws in the finish can cause issues that impact the safety and quality of the food being processed. Extreme temperatures and exposure to caustic chemicals are common in food manufacturing processes—and, they are two factors that can significantly impact the useful life of food processing equipment.
Recently, a major manufacturer of preserved meat snacks and meals approached Marlin Steel for a set of custom wire baskets to be used with their food processing equipment.
Designing Better Baskets for Food Processing
Before Marlin’s engineering team could start designing the basket for the client, they first needed to collect some information about the kind of food processing equipment the basket would be used with.
As it turned out, the client had several different production lines active, each with different requirements for the physical size and shape of the basket because of the specific machinery on each line and the food products they handled. Because of this, a series of food processing baskets needed to be made since no one basket would have been universally compatible with all of the client’s processes.
One of the primary production processes the client used was a meat curing process, which used preservatives and oven-like temperatures to dry out meat and extend its shelf life prior to canning. For this process, the smallest piece of meat being processed would be a 2” x 2” cube, so the open space between the wires was set to be half of that amount to keep meat from falling out of the basket.
Salt figured heavily into the curing process, so the basket needed to be resistant to pitting and corrosion from salt exposure. Additionally, the surface of the basket needed to be easy to clean in between uses to prevent the transfer of foodborne bacteria from one batch of food to the next.
To make the basket resistant to salt exposure and easy to clean, it was designed to use electropolished grade 304 stainless steel for the wires. Electropolishing would keep meat byproducts from sticking to the surface of the basket by creating a microscopically-smooth surface while also improving the metal’s protective oxide layer to prevent corrosion. Because the baskets would be frequently washed after the removal of the cured meat, there would be little risk of chemical attack from salt.
The second basket would be used in a slightly more rigorous food manufacturing process—one where there was a significant risk of product falling out of an open-topped basket. To counter this, a lid was added to the design, which would prevent food products from leaving the basket mid process. This helped not only prevent product waste, but it also helped to maintain overall facility cleanliness so they could easily adhere to U.S. FDA guidelines.
Like the other basket, it would be made of grade 304 stainless steel with an electropolished surface to help ensure easy sanitation between production batches. The lid was secured using a large latch pin and pin loops to ensure that it could not come loose during handling or agitation in the client’s food processing equipment.
Once the designs were finished, they were tested using finite element analysis (FEA) software to ensure that there were no issues with the design that could cause the baskets to fail. Only after the designs were able to pass this evaluation would the manufacturing team start building the baskets—a task that didn’t take long considering how fast virtual physics simulation tests can be completed compared to traditional physical prototype testing.
Building Top-Quality Custom Food Processing Baskets Quickly
After finalizing the design of the baskets in the series, Marlin’s manufacturing team started programming a series of automated manufacturing machines to create all of the stainless steel components needed to make the basket.
CNC-controlled robots would extrude wire from a spool of stainless steel, bend it into precise shapes, and cut each wire to a specific length. The benefit of this was that each and every last piece of steel wire used for each basket would be just the right size and shape to ensure consistent parts tolerances.
Once the wires were cut and ready, the manufacturing team would insert them into routed wood blocks to hold them in place for the next step of the process—welding. Here, an MFDC welding machine would flash weld all of the critical connection points between the wires.
Because this machine wouldn’t get tired or distracted like a manual laborer might, it was able to consistently perform every weld without missing a spot on every basket. This further enhanced the consistency of each basket’s shape and size.
The assembled baskets were then put through an electropolishing process to remove any flaws and create the nonstick surface the client needed to meet their food processing and sanitation requirements.
Need a custom food processing basket? Check out our food processing baskets guide at the link below, or contact us for a custom basket quote.