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Smaller diameter vessels use smaller baskets and allow for human-assisted loading and unloading.

Smaller diameter vessels use smaller baskets and allow for human-assisted loading and unloading.

The trend in food processing is the move away from small diameter vessels to jumbo technology for retorting. The reason – Efficiency and Safety. If you’ve observed the process, it is a time consuming, labor intensive, and back-breaking task to push baskets in and out of a retort vessel. It is truly putting a square peg into a round hole.

Jumbo retorts are large diameter vessels with large capacity baskets

Jumbo retorts are large diameter vessels with large capacity baskets

To gain more capacity and efficiency of operation, plants are going for retort lines with larger diameters, and fewer retorts. With the gain in efficiency with large batches, comes the problem of developing an alternative method to having a human operator perform this task. Jumbo baskets are simply too bulky and too heavy for even the strongest person to move around.

The need to handle this enormous basket-weight gain combined with the inherent plant safety benefits by automatically moving baskets in and out of the retorts has spawned a whole new range of products for automated retort loading. There are five basic designs for automatically loading / unloading a retort. Each of the four solutions that have been developed have features and advantages that can be tailored to meet your plant’s needs. And, like selecting the type of retort, each has its trade-offs.

The five types are:

  • The Retort with an Internal Conveyor
  • The Shuttle
  • The Retort Basket Indexer
  • The Air-Drone
  • The Automated Guide Vehicle

This article describes each of the options for your evaluation, along with comments about the tradeoffs of each system.

Retort with Internal Conveyor

Internal conveyors assist with automated basket loading and unloading.

Internal conveyors assist with automated basket loading and unloading.

Most retorts can be ordered with resident, internal conveyors for automated basket loading and unloading. The conveyors are made of 304 stainless steel and are designed to integrate with an external feed conveyor.

Some retort configurations can be ordered in a front-load / rear-unload double door configuration, or in a single-door, front-load-unload configuration. The internal conveyor indexes baskets in the retort for easy loading and unloading. The primary advantage of this approach is that the loading and unloading system is self-contained, and takes up little additional space. The primary disadvantage is that the chain is “retorted” along with the product every process. This action subjects the mechanism to the harsh low-to-high-to-low temperature variance every retort cycle, which may cause accelerated failure and maintenance problems.

The Shuttle

The shuttle consolidates and delivers a batch-at-a-time collection of product baskets to the retorts

The shuttle consolidates and delivers a batch-at-a-time collection of product baskets to the retorts

Shuttle is an automated basket delivery system that consolidates and delivers a batch-at-a-time collection of product baskets to the retorts. The shuttle is integrated with the conveyor systems that exit the loader when filled, and with the conveyors that feed the unloader after retorting. Baskets that are loaded are staged on the shuttle until a retort load of baskets has been accumulated. The shuttle is typically built with a Load-Side Lane, and an Unload-Side Lane to simultaneously handle unprocessed and processed product. Shuttles are designed for extreme duty, and can handle product basket loads of up to 4,000 lbs. For more information please refer to the Allpax Shuttle.

The Retort Basket Indexer

The RIBBI removes the retort operator from the position of pushing and pulling heavy baskets to load and unload the retort

The RIBBI removes the retort operator from the position of pushing and pulling heavy baskets to load and unload the retort

The RIBBI┬« is the trade name for a device developed by Allpax. The name is a derivation of Retort Basket Indexer – because that is its function. The machine has been designed for two applications:

  • It was designed for processors who wish to take automation a step at a time, without having to invest in a fully automated retort room – typically using a forklift truck in combination with the RIBBI.
  • It was designed for automated applications that have little room in front of the retort for machinery to load and unload the retort.

This machine links retort baskets at the mouth of the retort to form a basket train, then indexes the basket train into the retort. The RIBBI is available in two models: the stationary model for guillotine doors, and the moveable model (shown in the photo) for swing-open doors. The RIBBI can handle basket loads in excess of 4,000 lbs.

The RIBBI is a low-cost alternative to full automation, which is its primary strong point. It requires that the baskets be designed with obverse angle-iron latches to link the baskets together to form a train.

For more information on the RIBBI, refer to the Allpax RIBBI.

The Air-Drone

The Air Drone drives underneath the jumbo retort basket, then inflates to lift the basket off of the conveyor, and drives the basket to its target location.

The Air Drone drives underneath the jumbo retort basket, then inflates to lift the basket off of the conveyor, and drives the basket to its target location.

The Allpax Air-Drone® drives underneath the jumbo retort basket, then inflates to lift the basket off of the conveyor, and drives the basket to its target location.

The Air-Drone was designed by Allpax to provide for retorts with no moving internal wheels, conveyors, gears or components. This fully automated design drives into the retort to deposit and remove baskets. The Air-Drone is a low-profile machine that rides underneath the baskets to load baskets into the retort or move retorted product from the retort. After positioning itself beneath the baskets, the Air Drone inflates and lifts the retort basket load. Once lifted, the Air-Drone drives the baskets to the target destination (inside of the retort, or on a processed product conveyor), stops, then deflates to lower the baskets. Allpax Air-Drones are designed for extreme duty, and can handle product basket loads of up to 4,000 lbs. The primary benefits of this machine is that it allows for no moving parts in the retort, and is typically configured for a one-drone-to-one-retort application, providing for 100% independent operation of each retort. It is typically requires the largest investment of the various loading systems. For more information on the Air-Drone, refer to the Allpax Air-Drone.

The Automated Guide Vehicle

The automated guided vehicle (AGV) is a machine that operates without track to traverse the plant floor. The AGV is a car with a short conveyor section mounted on top that docks with the loader to pickup baskets for retorting, then delivers the basket to the retort by docking with the retort and transferring the basket. The primary application of the AGV is for plants with little space for automation and lower line speeds. The AGV configuration typically requires that retorts have internal chains.

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2 Responses to “Understanding Different Methods of Automated Retort Loading & Unloading”

  1. Hallo, we were very fortunate to have registered multiple patents accross the world on our products Self Heating Meals and Self Heating Noodles. I have bought several millions of meals from suppliers in China since 2008 and we now need to manufacture ourselfs to supply the vast demand of our product. The 2 main components is the precooked rice and the meat, vegetable and sauce retort bags. We are looking at a equipment to produce a million meals per day, this might sound impossible but we have large deals in place to supply refugees and this is our current requirements. May I please request a proposal from your company to supply all the equipment from you on a FOB basis to the closes port and then installation and training at our premises in Europe. I would also need to know what size of building will be needed for such volumes. Kind regards Marius

    • cbarbier says:

      Thank you for your interest, Marius. I would need the container type(s),size(s) and process times (come-up, cook and cooling) for each in order to determine the retort capacity and material handling requirements your project would require.

      Regards,

      Chris Barbier, Machine Sales
      Allpax Products
      chrisb@allpax.com

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