Pasta is a finicky food. Most people think of it in its fully cooked state—soft, succulent and durable enough to harmlessly toss against a wall to gauge its eat-readiness. However, the pasta manufacturing process reveals its true identity: a rigid, break-happy material demanding ultimate precision and care. When Claude Smith became plant manager of Pasta Montana in 2010, he immediately noticed areas that needed improvement. Bulk containers weighing between 500-1000 pounds were being manually filled and adjusted to reach specified targets. “It was a very time-consuming and inefficient process,” Claude explains. “We set the empty container on a floor scale, weighed it, and then scooped product in and out until we got the right weight. People were using their best guess to predict the overshoot or undershoot on the scale.”
Furthermore, operators were confined to an area near the weight display. “Someone always had to keep an eye on the readout,” Claude continues. “We spent a lot of time adjusting the weight and had to use two people on the job because of the inefficiencies.” Pasta Montana manufactures pasta 24 hours per day / 7 days per week, and at least one of those days was devoted to this bulk filling process. Making dry pasta is a continuous process. The raw material, semolina, is mixed and extruded through a set of dies to determine shape based on customer needs. After its shape is formed, the pasta mix enters a dryer for approximately four hours. It then runs through a cooler to avoid condensation. Once out of the cooler, the pasta travels through a few elevators and on to the next line, where a tote, bag or box is filled and packaged. This process runs on a loop, around the clock. “We needed the tote filling process to be continuous,” Claude explains. “If there’s a shutdown, it affects everything. Pasta dryers require a lot of humidity to dry the pasta. It seems counter-intuitive, but the humidity comes from the product. So if you’re not continuously putting fresh product in the dryer and taking dry product out, the process stops. It’s difficult to maintain good quality product because you’re eating away your humidity and not replenishing it in the form of product that’s been freshly extruded. If a line stops, we have product ready to exit the dryer and product ready to enter the dryer and each is now suspect in quality. In the past, this happened when we had issues filling totes, the operator fell behind, or a button wasn’t pressed at the right time.” After a thorough review of the process, a Rice Lake 920i FlexWeigh System 101 was selected to control the bulk packaging process.
The 920i FlexWeigh 101 system features a simple, rock-solid program that’s as easy as 1-2-3:
1. Empty container is placed on the scale
2. Container is automatically filled to a preset weight
3. Filled container is replaced with an empty container
With 920i FlexWeigh 101s in place, line stoppages no longer occur. The proverbial bottleneck which once existed in packaging has now spun its way back to processing. Increased packaging capacity has created a ravenous demand for more product. “I knew of Rice Lake by reputation,” Claude remembers, “but never had the chance to work with the products until this project. In the food industry, everything is very cut and dry. Either something works or it doesn’t; there aren’t very many shades of gray. The highest compliment I can give Rice Lake is that their stuff just works. I’m very happy with the results. One person can now run that packaging line without worrying about keeping an eye on the scale’s digital readout or scooping product in and out. They are free to allow the system to fill, build a few totes ahead of schedule, and come back when it’s done.” This was just the beginning. Click here to read the entire article.