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Two Test Centers Under One Roof Provide a Solid Foundation for Food Product Manufacturers and Developers

Coperion & Coperion K-Tron Test Center in Sewell, NJ

It has been just over six years since Coperion extensively reconstructed their facility in Sewell, NJ, USA to accommodate a brand-new compounding and extrusion test center in addition to the already existing Coperion K-Tron feeding test center. The realignment was to help improve efficiencies and provide stronger support for feeding and extrusion customers in the Americas.

Six years and many tests later, let’s see what Coperion’s process technology group and the Coperion K-Tron feeding technology business teams have to say about the test centers being under one roof. What advantages do they see that may have not been apparent at the time of the merger? Are there any new developments in the labs? To find out the answers to these questions, we reached out to Cameron Kheradi, Director of Process Technology at Coperion Corporation, and Lewis Cesarano, Feeding Test Lab Manager.

Question: What do you see as the advantage for our customers that we can now carry out tests for feeding and extrusion under one roof?

Cameron Kheradi: The biggest advantage of Coperion and Coperion K-Tron is that we can realize an entire extrusion plant as one single source provider. It is precisely this advantage that we can offer our customers during tests as well. Even before a customer makes an investment, they can see for themselves the interaction of our technologies within our test centers. The feeders and twin screw extruders work hand in hand - as do our experts with their extensive know-how. This is especially important when developing new products such as plant-based proteins including TVP (Texturized Vegetable Proteins) and HMMA (High Moisture Meat Analogues).

Lewis Cesarano: Both process steps - feeding and extrusion - are crucial to producing a high-quality product. Many food ingredients are non-free flowing and often difficult to feed. We can now provide first-class proof in our test centers that our technologies can address these challenges and that both feeding and extrusion work strongly together to precisely meet customer requirements.

Question: The extrusion test lab is equipped with various ingredient feeders and configurations for optimal feeding to the extruder. What other benefits do you see in having the feeding experts on-site?

Cameron Kheradi: The stability of a co-rotating, closely intermeshing twin screw extruder is in many ways reliant on a stable and precise raw material feeding system. Without adequate feeding, the extrusion process has the potential to become erratic, producing a poor-quality product. As mentioned, in our extrusion test lab we have a variety of highly capable and flexible Coperion K-Tron feeders for feeding cohesive powders, additives, inclusions, and fragile ingredients. We also have a variety of liquid pumps, equipped with Coperion K-Tron KCM controllers for optimal process control. It is one thing to have the equipment, it is quite another to have the feeder experts and operational know-how under the same roof. Lewis and his team are an invaluable resource to us throughout the process development life cycle. While they provide configuration and feeder selection, recommendations for lab-scale trials, or advising on scale-up considerations, the extruder team can focus their attention on optimizing the extruder configuration and its process parameters.

Question: How has having the extrusion experts on-site been a benefit for tests being done in the feeding lab?

Lewis Cesarano: Having extrusion experts on-site means there is always someone available to talk with customers about their extrusion applications and the ways Coperion can help them. Food extrusion involves a knowledge not only of the mechanical extrusion process but also the important food chemistry reactions which occur within the extruder. By optimizing the feeding and material handling of the ingredients prior to the extruder, and also the overall food extrusion steps, together we can consider the optimal requirements for the entire development process. We can also take customers on a quick tour through the extrusion lab and show them our additional capabilities. When customers are in for extrusion testing, we extend the same courtesy, whether it be a tour through the feeder lab, discussing feeder testing, or troubleshooting a feeder during the extrusion trial.

Question: Do we have customers taking advantage of having both test centers under one roof? If so, what is the feedback from those customers?

Cameron Kheradi: Many of our customers will leverage both the extruder lab and feeder lab during their process development activities. This can be done actively, by scheduling a stand-alone feeder evaluation as a follow-up or in anticipation of an extrusion trial. Alternatively, an evaluation of bulk materials and feeder selection can also be done in parallel with extrusion testing due to the on-site subject matter experts. Outside of a formal feeder trial, it is not uncommon for Lewis to be present for extrusion tests to observe characteristics and flow behaviors of hard-to-handle materials and make recommendations based on those observations. We value our customer’s time and willingness to conduct trials; it is our goal to make the time spent in the lab as productive and informative as possible. Rather than waiting until after the extruder trial to make feeder recommendations or waiting on the phone with 3rd party vendors for support, we can address issues expediently and effectively by simply taking a two-minute walk down the hall and knocking on Lewis’s door.

Question: Even though every material test has its own set of characteristics have you seen anything recently that stands out in interest?

Lewis Cesarano: It is always interesting going from testing 2,000 kg/h on a K-ML-T80 gravimetric twin screw feeder one week, and then testing less than 100 g/h on a 12 mm twin screw microfeeder the next week. The wide variety of food material characteristics certainly keeps these tests interesting as well!

Cameron Kheradi: All extrusion processes have a strong reliance on feeder capability. However, there are some current processes where feed stability and optimization are particularly crucial. This is especially true with plant protein applications. To date, a variety of plant proteins have been tested including soy and pea proteins, mung beans, funghi, etc. Most of these materials are difficult to feed, and inconsistent feed and feeder refill can also cause inconsistencies in final extrusion product output. In the case of both TVP and HMMA, it is important to optimize both the feeding as well as extrusion technologies in order to achieve the best product in both texture and moisture content. Having experts available for all these process technologies ensures an optimal end product! Extruders and feeders do not work in isolation, they rely on each other to create a quality product as efficiently as possible. The same can be said about the extrusion and feeding test centers. Together, through continuous cooperation, we are maximizing the value we provide our customers and the markets they serve.

Cameron and Lewis, thank you for the interview!

Coperion K-Tron Feeding Test Center in Sewell, NJ, USA

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