CASE STUDY: Flexicon’s bulk handling system

Flexicon Australia has a number of installations for bulk handling and transfer of powdered milk products in Australia and New Zealand, as does Flexicon worldwide. 

One example is Franklin Farms East in the U.S., which has improved blending and transfer of dry milk and non-dairy food ingredients by installing a bulk bag discharger, bag dump station and flexible screw conveyors.

Franklin Farms East is a producer of dry milk and non-dairy food products used in the production of commercial baked goods, ice creams and confectionary products. 

The company installed a Flexicon bulk bag discharging system and bag dump station to improve cleanliness and increase the output of its increasingly diversified product line, while simultaneously elevating product quality. 

A family owned and operated business since 1983, Franklin Farms East was founded as a distributor of dry milk products, which it purchased in bulk from dairy cooperatives and other wholesalers. Franklin Farms then hired contract manufacturers to blend and repackage the final mixes, which it sold to customers ranging from "mom and pop" operations to high volume commercial bakeries, ice cream producers and confectionary firms.

In 1997, as the business continued to grow, the company decided to build its own processing and repackaging facility in Maryland. With its own in-house blending capabilities, the company could expand its product line beyond dairy products like buttermilk and whey to include formulations based on corn and wheat flour, such as non-dairy coffee creamers and lactose-free products. 

Since then, sales have grown from 20,000kg per month to over 454,000kg per month today as the company has expanded into new markets such as ice cream mixes, gelato and yoghurt.

New plant focuses on sanitation

When the new plant first opened, bags of powdered ingredients from suppliers were cut open and emptied manually into a hopper that feeds the ribbon blender. This resulted in dust in the air, wasting product and creating a potentially hazardous environment.  

"This was common practice in the industry at the time," says Jonathan Riggs, Franklin Farms East vice president of Production. "During the early 2000's, however, the USDA and the FDA began strictly enforcing sanitary and safety regulations, including third party inspections. 

"Contact with and possible contamination of food products was strictly prohibited, and a clean work environment was absolutely required. Our customers also began asking for verification of sanitary conditions in our production facilities."

To comply with government requirements and customer demands and to eliminate waste, Franklin Farms East installed a bulk bag discharging system from Flexicon. The system consists of a forklift-loaded model BFF-C-X split-frame Bulk-Out bulk bag discharger, with a 226L capacity sanitary stainless steel hopper, and a manual bag dump station, bag compactor and hopper for adding smaller amounts of ingredients to the blender. Both the bulk bag discharger and bag dump station feed their ingredients to the blender through flexible screw conveyors. "The ingredient discharge, blending and repackaging process is now totally enclosed and dust-free," Riggs says.

Bulk bags unloaded directly

"We receive our major raw materials in 900kg bulk bags," Riggs says. But headroom in the dry blending room is currently limited by the low ceiling. To overcome this limitation, a forklift holds the bulk bag directly over the lower half of the split frame discharger, while the bag discharges through a manual Spout-Lock clamp ring positioned atop a pneumatically-actuated Tele-Tube telescoping tube. The tube raises the clamp ring for dust tight connection to the bag spout, and then lowers, applying downward tension to keep the spout taut for total evacuation. At the same time, Flow-Flexer bag activators raise and lower the bottom edges of the bag, directing material into the outlet spout and raising the bag into a steep "V" shape to promote total discharge into the floor hopper.

Minor ingredients, in 23kg bags, transfer to the batch blender through the manual bag dump station, hopper and flexible screw conveyor – again, all enclosed for dust-free operation.

Bag dump station

A high-velocity vacuum fan activates as the operator opens the hinged lid of the bag dump station. As individual bags are emptied through the hopper screen, airborne dust in the vicinity of the hopper opening is drawn into the dust collector and deposited on the outer surfaces of two cartridge filters. Periodic blasts of compressed plant air blown onto the filters dislodge the dust particles, which fall into the hopper. The process is continuous with compressed air blasts alternating between the two filters.

The operator passes the spent bag through a chute in the sidewall of the hopper hood into the bag compactor. As a pneumatic air cylinder compresses the empty bag into a removable bin, dust generated by compaction is drawn into the dual filters. 

Batches blended in 10 minutes

One blended batch, weighing 1134kg, usually consumes one bulk bag and as many as 25, 23kg bags of individual ingredients. Each batch requires about 10 minutes for thorough mixing, and the blender can produce 30 to 40 batches per day. The blended batch proceeds through a screener, a metal detector, and then to the bagging machine, which fills 11.4kg to 23kg bags, at a rate of one bag per minute, and labels them with the name of the blend. The bags are finally loaded onto shipping pallets.

"We are currently running the blender at maximum capacity, but plan to expand the room to increase production with a larger blender and raising the ceiling," Riggs says. "We will use the entire split-frame discharger by loading the bulk bag in its lifting frame onto the lower half of the discharger. The lower half will be equipped with load cells to control the amount of material transferred through the flexible screw conveyor to the blender by measuring weight loss."


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