Slicing Off Costs While Ensuring Quality

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Slicers are used for a variety of meat products, such as fresh meat, sausages, ham, and bacon. In order to achieve desired performance, it is essential to choose a slicer with the right features. Ng Hua, managing director, Zinnia Packaging (S) Private Limited, discusses the trends, available options, and how to optimise slicing for your business.

The first consideration for any food processor should be their product. Products differ in terms of temperature and texture. A softer product such as boiled ham or cheese would have to be handled differently from a slab of chilled bacon.

In traditional slicers, the sliced meat is collected from the conveyor while the blade continues its revolutions. This means a longer time is required to slice the products, and there may be challenges maintaining product temperature.

Today, there are slicers available that have been engineered to maximise slicing speeds via continuous cutting. Sliced meat is automatically transported from the initial product so slicing is uninterrupted. When output is similar with fewer revolutions, slicing will be more consistent and gentler on the product. Faster slicing also means that temperature of the sliced product will remain as close to the initial temperature as possible, thereby retaining the product integrity.

Another consideration is product presentation. Market trends have changed, and a higher spending power means that Asian consumers are more discerning than ever. To stand out from competition, basic slicing is no longer adequate. Price, quality, and presentation are equally important in consumer decision-making.

Traditional challenges in slicing are product sliding and buckling at the edges. For sliced ham, slices would have to be spaced unevenly or suffer from folding at the edges. A slicing and stacking system such as that by slicer manufacturer Treif Maschinenbau GmbH slices and stacks products in a single step. The products are sliced and immediately arranged in neat, precise stacks.

For food processors, output capacity is also important. Does the business require a slicer with simple functions, or a complete processing line? There are many options available such as a tray feeder, which can be combined with any packaging machine on the market. In this case, it is important to choose a slicer which can be programmed to synchronise with the packaging machine.

Having fewer human operators in contact with the product means that the product is kept more hygienic and personnel costs are kept low. Furthermore, flexibility is an important factor and add-ons for lower capacity production must be easily replaceable with add-ons for higher capacity production to accommodate growing businesses.

Emerging Trends In Slicing

Due to rising manpower costs, there is now a need for automation. Companies are increasingly seeking to reduce their reliance on human operators by automating their processing lines. As mentioned, slicers can be fitted with addons such as checkweighers and tray feeders. This reduces the need for manual weighing and arranging of sliced products. There is improved hygiene and reduced manpower costs.

As consumers grow more discerning, businesses must keep up with their demands for higher quality. A globalised economy also means that there are more choices for consumers to choose from. Regular slicing of meat is no longer sufficient and businesses must compete not just in terms of price, but also in terms of quality.

To stand out, products on display must look uniform. Precision is very important as products have to come perfectly packaged.

We have also seen a rising emphasis on ‘going green’ in recent years. This has translated to the food industry, as businesses are now seeking to maximise production while being eco-friendly. Energy-efficient slicing or ‘Eco Slicing’ options are now available. These slicers reduce slicing time and keep slicing temperatures low as the machine runs for a shorter time. With products being sliced more quickly and accurately, there is less wastage, and lower energy consumption.

Unique Options For Your Slicer

There are several add-ons available for slicers. For businesses looking to slice softer products such as cooked ham and sausages, a vacuum gripper for example ensures that soft products are fixed securely without worry of product deformation. Vacuum is applied to two chambers to ensure double safety for your products.

Another important add-on to consider would be the blade used for slicing. Special engraving on blades for instance can produce small air pockets which make it easy to slice softer, stickier products such as boiled ham and cheese.

These air pockets reduce the surface area of the blade that is in contact with the sliced products, so slices come away immediately after slicing. This is especially important when it comes to the stacking and shingling of soft products as an accumulation of products on the blade would interrupt production and affect product presentation.

Such a blade can be used for a wide variety of products, thereby reducing the hassle of having to change blades.

Tray feeders today often come in several lengths, with the smallest suitable for even the most compact of processing facilities. Like others on the market, Treif’s smart tray feeder can be combined with any packaging machine on the market, and software allows both machines to be perfectly synchronised with each other.

The key to automation is pairing good hardware with good software. The company’s aim is to minimise downtime and keep our processing lines working at maximum capacity.

Optimising Your Slicing Operations

To achieve optimum slicing results, it must be ensured that the product is at an ideal temperature for slicing. Temperatures vary depending on product properties i.e. hard or soft, frozen or chilled. For example, a frozen product may be sliced at an optimal temperature of -2 deg C while a chilled product would be sliced at a temperature of 4 deg C.

It is important to keep temperatures as constant as possible to ensure uniform slicing results. Food processors can also invest in microwave thawing machines to bring frozen meat up to a temperature optimum for slicing.

Machines must also be well-maintained. They must be cleaned properly by operators and there must be a competent technical team able to identify potential issues before they develop into larger problems. Machines and blades which are well-maintained will last a longer time and encounter fewer breakdowns, thereby ensuring that production is working at maximum capacity.

The last option to consider would be the size of the product. Products fed into the cutting chamber should be as uniform as possible to ensure optimal slicing results. Although slicers are able to measure the slices by thickness and weight, the initial product should have a uniform shape in order to get achieve consistent slices. This pre-forming is usually done with the help of other machines such as a meat press.