The Role of Precision in Potato Processing Technology

In the food sector, especially in Europe where potatoes are a staple crop and have a huge cultural and economic impact, potato processing equipment is essential. To turn raw potatoes into a variety of value-added products like chips, fries, flakes, and mashed potatoes, specialized equipment and technology are required.

To meet consumer demand while assuring consistency in taste, texture, and quality, efficient and dependable processing equipment is essential. The capacity of potato processing equipment to reduce food waste is a crucial component of its significance. Manufacturers can use the entire harvest of potatoes by processing them effectively, reducing agricultural losses and promoting sustainability. Additionally, by extending the shelf life of potato goods, these machines enable year-round access to wholesome food and greater distribution.

Machines that are constantly evolving

While Urschel develops and manufactures new machinery, the company also expands on capabilities of the many successful rugged equipment that processors have relied on, according to Luc Van Buynder, technical sales director Europe at Urschel. “Innovation of existing machinery helps give Urschel customers advantages over their competitors while reducing costs. Since the introduction of the CC Slicer in 1959, the Urschel developed slicer has evolved to meet the changing demands of the popular chipping industry. While the operating principle has remained constant, the cuts, machine construction and capabilities continue to advance.” Recent machine construction design changes include a new frame for the CC. Increased cutting capabilities include the MicroAdjustable® SL-14 (slicing) and SH-14 (shredding) Heads that chippers are continuing to incorporate into their lines. Processors are also choosing to upgrade to a 32″ (813 mm) cutting chamber CC to take full advantage of increased capacity options, Van Buynder adds.

New laser cut, single flexibility CC bold frame design delivers increased sanitation and benefits. The modular design allows processors the ability to choose different diameter enclosures to meet their specific application needs. Increased sanitation with zero internal corners, angled support sides, and surfaces sloped for drainage allow limited bacterial collection points and promote easier, faster washdowns. Unique inner belt guard shields drive belt while also providing simple access. “Customers have reacted very positively to the higher capacity SL-14 and SH-14 style CC heads. Different shapes are available including Z-cut slices, Crinkle, V, and flat slices; small 1.8 mm, 2.5 mm, and 3.2 mm V and reduced V shreds, oval shreds, julienne sticks, Flat V®, and hexagonal sticks. For all cuts, customers should visit the Urschel website.The SL-14, 14-station cutting head, over the 8 shoe cutting head offers many benefits: more precise slicing, quick change over of knives, light weight, and higher yield with less product loss.”

While Urschel machinery may be categorized into slicers and dicers, along with segment (watergun) cuts, and flake/milling, the style of cuts remains ever expansive, Urschel’s Technical Sales Director for Europe goes on to explain. “Different cuts are as wide and varied in possibilities as are the requirements of Urschel global customers. Developing new styles of cutting is where Urschel expertise excels.”

A brief run-down of popular machines and trending potato cuts include: DiversaCut® Dicer series: straight(flat), crinkle, or deep crinkle french fries, wide variety of dices, and a fancy, small bowtie-shaped dice; CCL: fine, coarse, and deep lattice slices; CC series: Flat, V, Z-Cut, crinkle, and other slices; hexagonal shapes; full complement of shred sizes; Comitrol® Processor Model 1700: produce potato powder from dried flakes; Comitrol Processor Models 1700, 2100, or 3640F: granulate/shred potatoes to create hashbrowns; Comitrol Processor Models 2100 or 3640F: reduction of frozen sweet potato dices into a paste; and E TranSlicer® Cutter: produce patata brava created by feeding segment cuts sliced with a julienne wheel.

“Recent Urschel product launches include the new CC slicer with the flex laser frame design and the MicroAdjustable slicing and shredding heads. In addition, the dicer line has been expanded with the recent releases of the Sprint® 2 Dicer and the DiversaCut® 2110A Dicer both incorporating a discharge conveyor option to facilitate dispensing into eurobins. Also of note, the Comitrol® Processor 3640F, equipped with a 40 HP (29.8 kW) motor and a 10 HP (7.5 kW) VFD screw feeder motor, for a wide array of potato products including hashbrowns,” Luc Van Buynder concludes.

Optical Sorter for Whole Potatoes

Key Technology, a member of the Duravant family of operating companies, introduced their enhanced Herbert OCULUS optical sorter for whole potatoes at Fruit Logistica. Ideal for fresh market potatoes or whole potatoes prior to processing, this enhanced system improves performance to better find and remove potatoes with defects. Its superior sorting capabilities help ensure product quality while reducing labor requirements and achieving consistent line capacity despite fluctuations in incoming raw product quality.

“The value of Herbert OCULUS for the potato industry has never been greater. With extreme weather impacting the quality and quantity of harvested crops worldwide and labor availability at an all-time low, automating inspection with OCULUS helps customers achieve grade specifications while maximizing yield and profitability,” said Antoine van Bree, president, Key Technology – EMEA and Asia. “Driven by continuous improvement, we upgraded OCULUS to offer our customers a more innovative, effective and reliable solution for the changing market.”

The enhanced Herbert OCULUS features new cameras that offer twice the resolution of the previous generation cameras to identify smaller, harder-to-detect defects. A more advanced 64-bit operating system replaces the previous 32-bit system to achieve a more sophisticated analysis of each tuber. New longer-lasting air cylinders with better seals run at a lower pressure to minimize energy usage, reduce maintenance, and lessen operating noise while maintaining high performance. Lighter reject fingers move faster to improve reject accuracy.

Herbert OCULUS conveys the potatoes over a series of rollers to present a complete 360-degree view of each tuber to the digital infrared color cameras. Compared to traditional cascade sorters, this unique method of sorting offers gentler handling and provides 20 percent more surface inspection to maximize defect removal. Available in multiple sizes for a range of capacities up to 40 metric tons of product per hour (88,000 lbs / hr), Herbert OCULUS recognizes size, shape, color, and texture. Its advanced detection capabilities enable the sorter to remove a wide range of color defects, diseases and surface abnormalities including skin discoloration, green and dark colors, bruising, mechanical damage, blackleg, and silver scurf.

A New Era of Food Safety and Quality

“The pursuit of producing safe, high-quality food products lies at the heart of every reputable food manufacturer. However, lurking in the shadows are numerous risks that threaten to compromise these goals. Foreign body contaminants and inconsistencies within products pose challenges that demand swift and effective solutions,” according to Mike Pipe, head of global sales & product management, Mettler-Toledo.

“Enter X-ray inspection, an innovative technology that unlocks a hidden realm within food production. Harnessing the power of advanced imaging, X-ray inspection empowers manufacturers to identify potential hazards beneath the surface of their products. With a keen eye for detail, this cutting-edge technology, uses advanced imaging processing to detect and expose foreign objects, ranging from metal fragments to stones, glass shards and even dense plastic, rubber or calcified bone. X-ray inspection helps manufacturers to provide the safest and highest-quality food products to consumers.”

Mike Pipe explains that complying with rigorous food standards and regulations isn’t just a box to check; it’s an unwavering commitment to consumer well-being and brand integrity. The consequences of failing to comply can range from legal battles to a damaged brand reputation. “In order to help support manufacturers in their compliance processes, X-ray inspection systems go beyond the detection of contaminants. To improve product quality and enhance brand protection, the technology simultaneously completes a large range of quality checks such as precisely identifying product inconsistencies. Whether it’s a missing component such as a chocolate in a tray or a malformed product, X-ray inspection technology helps verify product quality. By integrating X-ray inspection into quality control systems, manufacturers can be confident in their ability to detect and rectify issues at the earliest stages of production. Through this proactive approach, manufacturers minimise the risk of non-compliant products making it through the production process and into the hands of their consumers. With X-ray inspection capabilities, manufacturers can demonstrate an unwavering dedication to food safety and regulatory compliance.”

Smart X-ray inspection systems are now designed to also boost manufacturing productivity, he adds. Intelligent inspection software helps achieve this through automatic set-ups which detect the most hard-to-find contaminants and reject only the contaminated product. This reduces production waste and protects productivity.

“Modular mechanical design features of advanced X-ray systems now allow full frontal access to common operations. This is complemented by easy-to-remove and reassemble vital components such as conveyor belts and lead-free, low friction curtains. Product handling, cleaning and service routines are now more efficient and require less time. Embracing X-ray inspection technology provides manufacturers with unparalleled advantages that elevate production processes to new heights. One benefit is process optimisation. X-ray inspection systems can be connected to data management software which provides real-time data and analytics that uncover hidden patterns and trends within production lines. By recording their production data digitally, manufacturers gain the power to optimise their processes, reduce waste, enhance efficiency and maximise their uptime with minimal software investment costs.”

Furthermore, Mettler-Toledo’s Head of Global Sales & Product Management says, X-ray inspection technology when combined with vision inspection systems paves the way for comprehensive traceability systems. “Through the automated inspection of label content including barcodes, manufacturers can effortlessly trace inspection results back to specific batches or lots. This level of traceability proves vital in facilitating targeted product recalls and conducting thorough investigations when needed. With a clear path to follow, manufacturers can identify the root causes of issues, implement robust corrective actions and continuously elevate their food safety protocols.”

Versatile Machines for Processing

The high-volume processing of potatoes into French fries is typically done with a hydrocutter system, using water to feed potatoes at high velocity through a set of blades in a chipgun head. Medium and low volume processing, as well as specialty cuts such as crinkle fries and dices, are best cut in mechanical drum dicers. FAM Stumabo’s hydrocutting heads and precision blades are a perfect solution for high-volume French fries processing. They produce a very clean cut with optimized length and high efficiency. The hydrocutting heads are extremely flexible, allowing a wide variety of cut sizes and shapes such as square cuts, rectangular cuts, wedges to slices in both flat and crinkle cut.

This is topped up by even more specialty cuts such as the crinkle steak, beefeater, deep crinkle wedges, etc. The Stumabo hydrocutting heads and blades can be integrated into all known hydrocutting installations. “FAM and Stumabo have one goal in mind: to help potato processors cut potatoes to perfection. Our combined knowledge of both mechanical and hydrocutting allows us to offer our customers the exact innovations and revolutions they have been looking for. We are a well-established, global player with a strong reputation for quality, creativity, and customer support. We consider the specific needs of our customers by offering different product-driven models of machinery without compromising quality and safety. We work with you to tailor solutions to your specific needs,” according to company representatives.

FAM Tridis 240P is a good example of how innovation allows the standards to be raised. This versatile dicer/French fry cutter, running at the highest capacities, is a reliable production machine built to deliver top-quality products. The drum of 240 mm in depth, available for flat and crinkle allows to cut large diameter and long potatoes to maximum length. The curved infeed chute allows potatoes to align parallel to the slicing knife to maximize length of French fries. The Set & Forget features allow cutting tools to be replaced and adjusted effortlessly. There is no need for specially trained operators.

FAM Tridis 180P incorporates the benefits of the Tridis 240P but is tailored for medium/high volumes. The 180 mm wide drum, available for flat, crinkle and deep crinkle applications, is essential if long potatoes are to be cut full length. It also benefits from the Set & Forget features.

FAM Dorphy is an entry-level dicer and French fry cutter, combining the cut quality of the high-capacity machines with ultimate flexibility keeping labour cost down while maximizing productivity. Quick feeding and increased production speed reduces preparation time from hours to minutes. The machine operates with very low maintenance costs, no lubrication required. This machine is available in 3 executions: in-line model, stand-alone model (lower infeed for batch feeding), and Eurobin model.

Machines for High-quality Slicing, Shredding, and Grating of Potatoes

FAM Centris 400P is a versatile centrifugal slicer/shredder with a patented DualStage impeller wheel maximizing quality and capacity. The machine is powered by the innovative SureSet 16P cutting head, which will always stay adjusted. The high cut accuracy results in a higher yield and less scrap. The incorporated “Stone Defender” offers the best protection against the impact of foreign material, lowering the total cost of ownership. The FAM Centris grating heads increase your options with a variety of cut sizes and styles that offer extra cutting possibilities. You therefore reduce the number of machines you need in your production line. The grating heads will produce all types of size-reduction solutions, starting from whole fresh or cooked potatoes, or from pre-cut product (fries, dices, etc.).

“FAM Volantis is our latest V-belt slicer designed for the precision transverse slicing of a wide variety of elongated and oblong products such as potatoes. The machine produces a high-quality cut on flat and crinkle slices, at medium to high volumes. The special infeed chute will bring the potato up to speed before entering the V-channel, preventing the potato from tumbling. The wide infeed channel will perfectly align the potatoes towards the slicing wheel,” representatives add. “Programmed speed settings of the slicing wheel and the V belts allows the maximum cut quality at the highest capacity.”