Technology is Moving Faster than Ever

The frozen potato industry is witnessing significant transformations, driven by advancements in technology that are reshaping various facets of production, processing, and distribution. All these factors have resulted in a paradigm shift, offering unprecedented opportunities and challenges. As technology continues to redefine the frozen potato sector, understanding these advancements is crucial for stakeholders seeking to navigate and capitalize on the rapidly evolving market dynamics.

How does a company like Urschel, one of the largest global manufacturers of equipment for this market, integrate developing technologies such as AI into its product development? Well, it does so in several ways. “Technology is implemented in the production methods to determine the best practices to manufacture Urschel food cutting machinery. Urschel will purchase or build such technology in-house to ensure quality standards are strictly maintained,” according to Alan Major, chief sales officer at Urschel.

“As a 100% employee-owned company with engineers, foundries, pattern makers, and development under one roof, the Urschel team constantly embraces challenges to discover better ways of manufacturing. To foster technology, Urschel U.S.A. recently completed an addition of 115,000 s.f. (10,700 m2) dedicated to advancing manufacturing. The facility now stands at over 525,000 s.f. (49,000 m2) with a large percentage of 80% of the space designated exclusively to manufacturing.”

Inventive technology is part of the company’s DNA beginning with founder William Urschel, who along with inventing many food cutting machines, is also attributed as a pioneer in 3-D printing. Urschel, like many companies, employs 3-D printing, Major explains. The company was also an early adopter of laser cutting and 5-axis machining. Other technologies incorporated in Urschel machinery production incorporate robotics and cell manufacturing. Every process of every Urschel part is fine-tuned. As technology evolves and a need arises, Urschel implements changes to maintain the utmost quality in workmanship. Growing manufacturing and changing with the times, Urschel created the Innovation & Development Center (I&D) in 2022, an offsite development facility to enable the principle of rapid iteration. The facility enables Urschel to explore new ideas and designs at a much faster pace to lead to innovative cutting solutions and machinery.

“Implementing innovative technology is also crucial in food production to deliver benefits and fulfill the demands of the food processing industry. As food processors expand into processing-controlled environments, the potential for built-in smart technology in Urschel cutting machines has increased. The investigation of PLC’s (programmable logic controller) and HMI’s (human machine interface) on Urschel machinery began a few years ago. Urschel engineers determined a strategy to enable this technology on Urschel cutting machinery to benefit customer lines.”

As such, he continues, Urschel engineers explored and finalized a platform that was most suitable to accommodate the needs of food production environments. The development started shortly after. Offering a smart machine with improved controls offers Urschel customers many benefits. This strategic initiative allows Urschel to excel with ever-growing technology, due to many types of sensors (safety, temperature, detection, etc.) being more efficient when utilized within a PLC system.

This flexibility is also paired with many other machine benefits: the ability to quickly identify safety statuses to reduce downtime; VFD or Soft start faults displayed to reduce troubleshooting time; alarms to alert users if a guard has been removed or if an E-Stop has been pressed while the machine is running; amperage of the motors are displayed on screen to help determine proper feeding; continuous trending of the machine’s amperages; customizable maintenance timers; datalogging machine information; different language options; ability to use VNC viewer and watch or control the HMI screen remotely from a control center; and the ability to remotely start or stop the machine and pull all data from the PLC to a customer’s control center.

Ongoing investments into expansion and infrastructure

Regarding growth in the frozen potato segment of the food processing industry, customers around the world rely on Urschel for cutting solutions, says Alan Major. Not only has Urschel expanded the global headquarters in the U.S., but Urschel International has also constructed a new office in the Netherlands and moved into a larger facility in Denmark.

“Urschel’s significant ongoing investment in the global infrastructure of the company gives clients peace of mind knowing their local office is there for complete support in terms of maintenance and training for the long life of their cutting equipment. Urschel speaks the language of food processing and the local language, so important details in customer expectations are met. Urschel is currently working with several customers around the world exploring new cut shapes. There is a blurring of lines between crisps/chips, frites, and fries continues as a trend. Exclusivity agreements involve pioneering an array of hybrid potato consumer products,” he points out.

“Customers are concerned about labor shortages, thin cutting precision, oil absorption rates, developing stand-out products that appeal to today’s consumer, and how to increase capacity and yield. Urschel cutting machinery is designed to run continuously for uninterrupted production. Knives, components, and machinery are designed under one roof. This means Urschel quality parts are designed to fit and function to optimally work with each other.” Urschel supplies millions of knives globally to leading food processors and develop new knives to meet customer needs whenever necessary. Urschel also houses an expansive inventory of commonly supplied components and parts to ship on-demand as necessary. The company thrives on embracing innovation in lean, cell manufacturing combined with maintaining a costly, multi-million-dollar inventory of parts to deliver support and service to Urschel customers, Major adds.

To read the entire article, please access your complimentary e-copy of Frozen Food Europe January-February, 2024 here.