New belting design resolves product-orientation issues, especially of baked goods that are susceptible to moving on the belt surface.
Belting it out

Various sizes and types of belting allow bakers to adjust to space constraints.

“If there is not a lot of space, but it happens to be a very tall facility, we can allow for different belting solutions that go around smaller cage diameters in a spiral freezer,” said Jonathan Lasecki, chief engineer, Ashworth. “If you have height restrictions, we can design our belts to travel around a much larger diameter cage and add adequate amount of belting to provide the capacity needed in a freezer and still live within the constraints of the facility.”

Another option involves installing only the amount of blast freezer belt initially required and, as capacity rises, adding more belt length later.

“We’re building our blast freezers so that they are modular so they are expandable and built for future expansion,” Mr. White said.

Often, product variety determines the type of belting used in freezers. Ashworth’s PosiDrive Spiral system engages the inside belt edge maintaining product orientation.

“It addresses product-orientation issues when you have products like bread loaves or trayed products that are more susceptible to moving on the belt surface or shifting from airflow within a spiral freezer,” said Kenneth King, commercial support manager, Ashworth. “It keeps them in place so that when they travel toward packaging lines, they don’t negatively impact downstream packaging operations.”

Intralox developed the DirectDrive system a few years ago to eliminate overdrive and the friction variable on the drum surface for smooth conveying. The positive engagement combined with the company’s patented load reduction design ensures freezers achieve their maximum potential, noted Achraf Elhassouni, global products manager, spiral platform, Intralox.

Recently, the company adapted that technology to roll out the DirectDrive Stacker.

“We were wondering how we could make stacker freezers operate far more efficiently and much more reliably,” Mr. Elhassouni said.

The lightweight modular plastic belt combines the hygienic and space-saving benefits of self-stackers with the advantages of the DirectDrive System. Specifically, stacker freezers are generally employed in bakeries with limited footprint or vertical space because the belts are “stacked” or located directly atop one another. A positively engaged drum drives the belt much like a giant sprocket, Mr. Elhassouni said.

Stacker freezers are designed for short or thin products, such as pizza crust, pastries or croissants. Because the systems are so compact, they can be used to increase — in some cases double — the capacity of other freezer designs.

“When you eliminate the structure supported system, you eliminate a lot of dead space between the tiers, so you can put more revolutions in the same space; that gives you much more dwell time,” Mr. Elhassouni said. “You can fit more product in a smaller space.”

With stacker freezers, food safety becomes paramount because the belt is the product zone.

“There is no structure or other components whatsoever,” he added. “The product sits on the belt, and right above it is also a belt.”

Ashworth offers the OmniFlex family of belts with an open-rectangular mesh design that provides support and greater airflow for pies and other tin-panned desserts. Their Omni-Grid line features variable-mesh options to convey smaller products like buns and rolls.

“If you plan to change products in a year or two, and the belt will last 5 to 10 years, you have to ensure the belt selected will serve your needs in the future,” Mr. Lasecki said. “You don’t want to have to replace a belt after a few years because the open area is too small or you don’t have the product support you need.”

For most bakers, it all boils down to whether they’re willing to invest today to prepare for opportunities down the line. In many cases, the choice becomes pay now or potentially spend a lot more later to expand freezing capacity.

“No matter how much you want to plan for the future, in the end, it comes down to economics,” Mr. White said.