Sometimes it takes a sprinkle here, a dash there or making sure there are seasonings everywhere to create the consummate snacking experience. When that happens, those cheesy curls are simply finger-licking good. But when the production line runs off kilter with spraying or tumbling, nothing becomes more disappointing than flaming hot that’s simply not or better-for-you chips with forget-about-it taste.

In addition to letting down consumers and losing repeat sales, ongoing over- and under-seasoning issues result in unnecessary operational costs.

“With increasing pressure on manufacturers’ bottom lines and the need to enhance efficiencies throughout production, reducing waste and raw material costs have become an even greater focus in recent years,” noted Shayne De la Force, chief marketing officer, TNA Solutions. “Applying an incorrect level of seasoning can have a large impact on both input costs in terms of raw materials, and in wastage costs from rejected products that are either over- or under-seasoned.”

Simply put, some products are more difficult to season than others.

“Very porous crackers and snacks such as most extruded products require much more oil application to get proper seasoning adhesion because they absorb the oil more quickly and thoroughly,” said Lucas Bell, general manager, Spray Dynamics, a division of Heat and Control. “Very non-porous crackers and snacks like pretzel twists require minimal oil applied to get proper seasoning adhesion because they do not absorb much. The oil mostly remains on the surface.”

Spraying System

Another issue involves keeping crackers and baked snacks in order as they leave the oven for further seasoning and packaging.

“Alignment is critical for application accuracy and for slug pack rows,” said Norm Searle, sales and marketing, GOE-Amherst Stainless Fabrication. “Those with small shapes can be blown around due to the force of the spray. Breaking a cracker or snack product from a sheet creates debris that can easily plug certain types of spraying devices.”

Sometimes the challenge comes from coatings and slurries that contain cheese, spices and other inclusions that require agitation to keep them in suspension, according to Josh DeVoll, director of market solutions, Spraying Systems Co. Likewise, sunflower, soy or even palm oil with a higher melt point may need heating to maintain the proper viscosity and precise application.

“Slurries with particulates are challenging for nozzles because you’re putting something through a small orifice and trying to create a pattern out of that,” he said. “The orifice has to be sized to handle the largest particulate to make sure you don’t have any clogging.”

Even-steven seasoning

Fortunately, a host of technologies provides the trick to overcoming these challenges. In many cases, Mr. Bell recommended snack manufacturers supply the process specification and details to custom design the seasoning system before testing it to ensure that commissioning of the operation goes as smoothly as possible.

Overall, the process begins with a coordinated feeding of snacks into sprayers and tumblers. Heat and Control initially relies on its WeighBack gravimetric or volumetric infeed device to ensure uniform seasoning of products.

“This arrangement sends a signal from the infeed device to the coating system, ensuring we always know what the base rate of product is coming into the system so the PLC can adjust the liquid and dry application to ‘follow’ the base rate accordingly,” Mr. Bell explained. “This ensures product always remains in specification even if there is a variation of infeed rates to the coating system.”

Heat and Control uses its horizontal motion conveyor, the FastBack, or a belt conveyor to transfer products.

“We also pay special attention to transitions between product handing conveyors as well as in and out of the coating system to ensure that we are deterring breakage on product, especially delicate ones,” Mr. Bell said.

Moreover, he added, the flights — triangle-shaped lifting devices inside the coating drums — are designed according to product shape to deter breakage while still maximizing exposure to the liquid and dry seasonings for optimal product coverage.

In addition to letting down consumers and losing repeat sales, ongoing over- and under-seasoning issues result in unnecessary operational costs.

If baked products are especially fragile, Mr. De la Force suggested alternative drum designs to limit the product drop heights during the tumbling action.

“The TNA Roflo HM distribution conveyor can aid reduction in breakage, as it quickly, yet gently, transports the product throughout the production line,” he noted. “The sweeping motion and gateless design of the pans minimizes product breakage with careful handling of coated and fragile products.”

For uniform salt and sugar coverage of cookies, crackers and snacks, Reading Bakery Systems (RBS) offers Omega I and Omega II units that top in a volumetric fashion.

“The units have precision-machined components to ensure an even feed across the width of the machine, down to the end product,” said Tremaine Hartranft, director of technical sales, RBS.

To control waste, he added, the salt or sugar is dispensed across the total width of product and the excess that goes in between each of the pieces before it passes through the wire mesh and is ultimately reclaimed through an automated recovery system.

Zero waste start-up is a standard feature on the FastBack Revolution On Machine Seasoning (OMS) system.

“Its algorithm handles the time delays at start-up and primes the tumble drum with a set amount of seasoning so all product out of the drum, even at the beginning, is within the customer’s seasoning specification,” said Blake Svejkovsky, general manager, product handling systems, Heat and Control.

To feed the OMS system, the FastBack Revolution Proportional Gates rotate open to the appropriate degree to feed the weigher. All other product can bypass the weigher and continue downstream.

Heat and Control also relies on its Performance Auto Feed Adjust (PAFA) to integrate distribution line performance with real-time weigher demand, Mr. Svejkovsky noted.

With pinpoint accuracy

When it comes to oils and slurries, the system must provide an accurate, uniform, gentle spray across the entire band.

“Also important is containing the mist, especially on lines where the high-speed inrush of product draws air into the inlet and forces air containing mist out at the outlet,” Mr. Searle said.

He noted any liquid that ends up on the belt instead of the product must be contained to minimize its transfer to other components, which could cause an unsanitary, unsafe workplace around the sprayer.

“In some instances, the spray is selectively turned on and off based on the presence of the product,” Mr. Searle added. “This is typically not the case with high-speed lines since the product is moving at high speeds where spraying systems are designed to collect the overspray and reclaimit.”

Spraying Systems employs hydraulic technology that relies on pressure and the geometry of the nozzle to create a pattern that provides precision coverage of liquid ingredients, according to Mr. DeVoll.

Snack producers can use a flat spray — which looks like a thick straight line on a sheet of paper — for sheets of crackers or a round, geometric spray for larger snacks and baked goods.


“Here, you target just a specific piece with no excess spraying on the belt or underneath on a catch tray,” he said.

The company’s pulse with modulation (PWM) nozzles and other electronically controlled, PulsaJet (PWM) flow controls can apply 15,000 cycles per minute. Such PWM systems turn on and off in milliseconds to target snacks while minimizing waste by 20% or more, Mr. DeVoll noted.

Integrated controls also provide uniform seasoning of crackers and snacks. Heat and Control’s Totally Automated Seasoning Control (TASC) system performs real-time adjustments to seasoning flow rates based on mass-flow data from its Ishida weigher’s dispersion cone.

“With TASC, seasoning coverage is collected in real-time and is used automatically to make adjustments while product is currently in flight instead of hours or shifts later,” Mr. Svejkovsky said.

As technology and data management advance, cracker and snack producers are ensuring consumer satisfaction by adding new tools to their bag of tricks for accurately applying seasonings on their most popular products.