Jack Mans, Plant Operations Editor

January 30, 2014

5 Min Read
Spice up production

Chesapeake Bay's crabs are legendary among lovers of seafood and are a popular item in seafood restaurants. For restaurant patrons who order steamed crabs or other seafood, particularly in Maryland and Virginia, the chances are high that the accompanying spices were made by J.O. Spice Co., Inc.

Established in 1945 to serve Baltimore's fish and seafood markets, J.O. Spice is still a family-owned and operated business, but it has expanded far beyond its original food (and geographical) focus. The company now has some 50 standard products, plus “a few hundred specialty products,” says Don Ports, president and grandson of J.O. Spice's founders (J.O. and Dorothy Strigle). Also, while seafood seasonings and batters are still the biggest sellers, the company has added seasonings for meats, poultry and vegetables in recent years. All are distributed throughout the eastern and southern states, with about 60 percent being sold through restaurants and the rest through retail stores.

To meet the increasing demand, J.O. Spice installed new packaging and mixing equipment and reorganized its production operations, effectively quadrupling the capacity. “Our business has been growing by about 25 percent a year for the past five years,” says Ports, “and we were having trouble keeping up with the demand.” Prior to the mid-2006 changeover, the company was using three paddle mixers to mix the ingredients for its seasonings. The mixed batches were emptied into 1,500-lb bulk bags. When a bag was full, it was raised aloft by a hoist, and then discharged manually into 50- or 75-lb boxes or 125-lb drums.

In the new arrangement, the bags are loaded into a bulk-bag discharger made by Flexicon Corp. (www.flexicon.com) and fed to two semi-automated packaging lines. To match the throughput of this system, J.O. Spice added a 150-cu-ft-capacity paddle mixer. This work was done by EPI Technical Sales, Inc. (www.episales.net), which basically took J.O. Spice's existing production operation and updated it. EPI designed and set up the new system, and J.O. Spice still uses two of the old paddle mixers for retail products, which are sold in 1- and 2-lb bottles.

A typical batch consists of 10 to 12 ingredients (including liquid additions), depending on the product. The ingredients—mostly spices and salt—are received in 50-lb bags or boxes that are moved by forklift onto a mezzanine and manually loaded into the mixer below, which can process batch sizes of 7,000 to 12,000 lb, depending on the density of the product. This compares with a combined total of about 2,000 lb for the three paddle mixers previously used, says Ports. The material is discharged into bulk bags and moved by forklift to the Flexicon bulkbag discharger. The bulkbag discharger can handle bags weighing up to 3,200 lb, but J.O. Spice continues to use 1,500-lb bags for ease of movement. The discharger frame has a cantilevered I-beam and a 2-ton-capacity hoist and trolley for lifting a bag into place. The chain hoist has a clevis and four Z-Clip™ strap holders that attach to loops on the bag.

Material is discharged from the bag into a 20-cu-ft hopper via an iris valve, which is opened and closed by a hand-operated wheel. The discharger is equipped with Flexicon's Flow-Flexer® bag activators that raise and lower opposing edges of the bag at timed intervals, thereby loosening compacted material and promoting the spice material flow into the discharge spout.

J.O. uses activators for “stubborn products that don't flow well,” says Ports. As the bag lightens, the stroke of the activators increases and forms the bag into a deep “V” shape. The activators help eliminate dead spots and enables virtually complete evacuation of the product.

The hopper has dual flanged outlets that mate to two vibratory feeder troughs for the packaging operation. Each trough feeds product directly into a 50- or 75 lb-case or a 125-lb drum. To accomplish this, the containers are placed on a scale and the feeder is programmed to operate at high speed until the weight is within 90 percent of the limit, after which it dribbles product slowly until the weight reaches the set point. “The redesigned production and packaging system is not only more efficient, but it is easier to operate than the method formerly used,” says Ports. The higher capacity allows the company to take on new business. “We did some contract packaging and have been able to expand that,” he says. Ports also expects to see a payback on the equipment investment in four years.

More information is available:

Flexicon Corp., 610/814-2400. www.flexicon.com.

EPI Technical Sales, Inc., 610/499-7495. www.episales.net.

About the Author(s)

Jack Mans

Plant Operations Editor

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