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PORK for the FORK
East Coast Meat-Processor reaps many rewards in packaging room operations with central vacuum packaging system.

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East Coast meat-processor reaps many rewards in packaging room operations with central vacuum packaging system.  Hogging the many rewards that come with being one of Atlantic Canada's most successful meat-packing enterprises comes naturally to the folks at the Larsen Packers pork-processing facility in Berwick, Nova Scotia.

After all, the 60-year-old operation, housed at a sprawling, 200,000-square-foot production facility, has long enjoyed a well-earned marketplace profile and reputation that has allowed it to sell a wide range of packaged pork products into the lucrative eastern Canada and New England markets -mostly through major retailers such as Sobeys, Atlantic Grocers, and Co-op Atlantic -which in turn has allowed Larsen Packers to make continuous capital upgrades to the plant's equipment and machinery to ensure that not only does it remain a competitive business, but that it is also as squeaky-clean an operation as you'll ever come across in the meat-processing industry.

For Larsen maintenance engineering manager Tim Palmer, maintaining a clean, hygienic working environment and spotless packaging lines at the Berwick plant just got a whole lot easier with the recent installation of a new central vacuum packaging system from Busch Vacuum Technics Inc.

"We recently upgraded our pumps and installed a centralized vacuum pump system that has helped us save a lot of money on our energy bills, opened up a lot more floorspace and, most importantly, created a better vacuum for our packaging," says Palmer.

"With a centralized location, in a room separate from where the meat is, our pork products are not exposed to any machine pollutants," Palmer explains.  Larsen Packers produces various packaged pork products, including wieners, bologna, cooked ham, bacon and some fresh side meats, including hams and pork-chops.

"We are a fully-integrated plant, meaning we have a slaughtering/cutting facility, as well as smoke-houses, and we also do the full processing," explains Palmer.  "But I don't want to hog all of the glory for that production," Palmer told Canadian Packaging.   "We had great help from the fine folks at Busch Vacuum."

The recently-retired former Larsen Packers president Karl Larsen says that it is the specialized, niche-oriented plants that offer the the greatest potential for growth in today's cutthroat meat-processing industry, which is why Larsen has always made it a point to invest in the latest technologies 'even after it was bought out by Canada's biggest meat products giant, Maple Leaf Foods of Toronto, back in the spring of 2000.

"Our association with Maple Leaf has broadened our connection to a very large technical support base, and has also improved our ability to obtain capital," expounds Palmer. Although it is owned by Maple Leaf, Larsen is independantly run, and directly competes with it in the market for pork products.

The newly-installed central vacuum system was purchased by Larsen Packers from the Boisbriand, Que. -based Canadian subsidiary of German industrial pumps manufacturer Busch GmbH, which employs over 1,700 staff at four productions sites and 38 subsidiaries worldwide. Founded in 1985, Busch's Canadian business employs 40 people at the 30,000-square-foot Boisbriand facility.

"Busch has four manufacturing plants: one in Germany, two in Switzerland, and one in Virginia Beach, in the U.S. state of Virginia, which is where our pumps are made," explains Robert Laforest, the Canadian national sales manager of Busch. "We manufacture a large range of vacuum pumps with various operating principles: oil-lubricated rotary-vane vacuum pumps; rotary-claw vacuum pumps; rotary-lobe booster; dry-screw vacuum pumps; and side channel clowers."

Back in 1963, company founder Karl Busch designed the first R 5 vacuum pump -an oil-circulated rotary-vane pump -which quickly went on to become standard equipment in vacuum packaging line installation all over the world, with over 40 million units built since then in a wide range of sizes. In fact, the company estimates to have manufactured about 85 per cent of all the vacuum pumps currently used in the packaging industry today.

The R 5 pump is also the main feature of the Berwick plant's new centralized vacuum pump system, along with several smaller Panda rotary-lobe pumps, which generate the power and create the vacuum for the machines that actually do the packaging of the pork products produced there.  The system is connected to five Cryovac model Old River machines, a Curwood model 618 bacon packager, and a Tiropac 2000 thermoforming machine.

"Usually, you have one smaller lubricated rotary-vane pump per machine, but Larsen now has a pump room with larger Busch rotary-vane pumps and one Busch Panda oil-free Roots-type booster per packaging machine," states René Nadeau, operations manager with Busch Vacuum Technics Inc. "The nice thing is that the vacuum centralization is usable by all brands of packaging machines."

The new Busch equipment replaced all of the Berwick plant's existing, old-generation vacuum pumps -previously located in the plant's packaging room -with six new large, 25-HP pumps placed in the plant's mechanical room in the mezzanine area,adjacent to the packaging room.

"Basically, this keeps the machine smells away from the meat," explained Palmer. "Also, since the new system is centralized pretty much in one room, it helps fulfill a Larsen goal of creating a more consistent vacuum with less energy."   Palmers says that the measurements taken of the plant's vacuum efficiency before and after the Busch installation show that the new system has consistently been able to maintain a better vacuum for the packaging operations.

He also says that the system has delivered on all the other anticipated operational improvements, citing considerable energy savings, big reduction in mechanical systems downtime, a much cleaner packaging room, better work environment for packaging line operators, and reduced maintenance requirements.

"The new system covers a lot of equipment, but basically, the big thing is we get a much better vacuum with a lot less horsepower," states Palmer.  "And, because we run the system five-days-a-week, 16-hours-a-day, we save quite a bit of energy," he says, adding that the plant also runs an additional eight-hour shift on Saturdays during the peak summer months.

Laforest concurs that the Busch centralized pumps are doing the job: "We have removed over 25,000
BTUs (British thermal units) from the packaging room -that alone should provide an energy savings of approximately $45,000 a year.  "Also, this vacuum system is designed to simplify the vacuum pump preventative maintenance and repairs, meaning more savings," Laforest adds. According to Palmer, Laforest's math is right on the money.

"There is also a big reduction of downtime," he adds. "Busch told us that the system offers a complete back-up that is ready to go should a problem occur." This is a big improvement from the old system, Palmer recalls, which required the whole line's production to be halted if even just one pump went down.

"In the new system, where all of the pumps are part of the same system, if one pump is down for
servicing, it doesn't mean we can't keep running ... and we normally do," says Palmer, while also crediting the new system for virtually eliminating fears of cross-contamination, since there is no risk of oil spillage from the machines, and helping the plant comply with all the stringent industry hygienic standards and regulations.

Instead, says Palmer, the plant staff can devote more time and effort to the actual packaging presentation of its products, which he says is a key competitive strength for Larsen Packers. "As we move forward, the growth in our area of the business is key to our sales and to the overall success of our company," he states.

All in all, Larsen has nothing but high praise for the company's new partnership with Busch.  "Beyond the energy savings and the hygiene factors, we just really like the way the new system works," Palmer sums up. "It has a strong vacuum that basically makes sure that the products get wrapped in a better seal -like pigs in a blanket."

- Text by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor.
   Canadian Packaging, April, 2005

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