New sanitary auger fillers improve filling accuracy

Whole food supplement packager Standard Process Inc. reduces powdered product overfills, meets sanitary guidelines.

TWO FILLERS. Bottles on the conveyor line pass underneath the two Spee-Dee fillers. After the bottles are filled they are sealed and prepped for shipping.
TWO FILLERS. Bottles on the conveyor line pass underneath the two Spee-Dee fillers. After the bottles are filled they are sealed and prepped for shipping.

Standard Process Inc. takes sanitation very seriously. As a leading manufacturer of more than 300 whole food supplements, the Palmyra, WI-based company goes to great lengths to ensure its production facilities and equipment meet or exceed prescribed sanitary guidelines. So when the company looked to purchase a new sanitary filler system as part of an overall upgrade to one of its primary bulk packaging lines, it chose Spee-Dee.

“We’ve used Spee-Dee fillers for a number of years and we’re very satisfied with their equipment and performance,” says Fred Miller, Industrial Engineer, Standard Process. “One of the things we do an excellent job at is the cleaning and testing of our equipment and facilities. We follow good manufacturing practices for the dietary supplement industry. The Spee-Dee equipment was engineered to meet our high sanitary standards, and that’s one of the reasons we selected them because they met our needs.”

Standard Process and its more than 300 employees are devoted to improving the quality of life by providing the safest, most effective, highest quality dietary supplements through health care professionals. Founded in 1929, Standard Process produces and packages a variety of whole food supplements for men, women, children, and animals. 

The goal of the upgrade was to increase productivity of the bulk packaging line, while also better maximizing the capabilities of a case loader that feeds the line. The case loader outpaced the single filling unit, which prevented the line from reaching its full potential. The upgrade would help balance out capabilities of the entire line, while in the process increasing output.

The bulk packaging line involves packaging dietary powder into containers of varying size, depending on the production run. The process starts by removing powder out of 55-gal stainless-steel totes and delivering it directly into one of two Spee-Dee sanitary servo auger filler hoppers via a pneumatic vacuum system.

An employee places containers on a conveyor system, which are then orientated into a single-file line and readied for filling. On this specific production run, containers receive powder equally from each filler. After powder is dispensed from the second filler it moves to the capping machine where it is sealed and ready for shipment.

The reason why each filler only fills containers halfway is for added accuracy. With the previous filler, Standard Process was continually overfilling the containers to compensate for variations in the fill to ensure the customer received the amount of powder stated on the product label. With the new dual filling from the Spee-Dee fillers, the vials are being filled accurately to the specified amount, which reduces overfill by more than 4%, Miller said. On a normal production run for this application, the company fills 31 500-cc containers/min.

When the batch is finished, the entire room is cleaned and sanitized and the equipment is disassembled for cleaning. Being able to quickly disassemble the hopper and filler for cleaning is another reason why Standard Process selected Spee-Dee.

Spee-Dee’s sanitary auger fillers are designed to prevent product corruption from outside sources. This is accomplished by locating all the mechanical connections and potential catch points on the outside of the product contact area, which prevents foreign particulates from collecting and falling into the packaging process. 

Additionally, sanitary auger fillers have angled surfaces, a sloping shroud, and a dome-shaped hopper cover to keep materials from outside sources away from the machine. The hopper cover is secured using stainless-steel rods, which are welded to the cover and also located out of the product area. Finally, the agitator is connected with a sanitary clamp for quick removal and cleaning, and the tooling funnel at the base of the unit also uses a sanitary clamp instead of thumbscrews. The agitator blade and auger drive shaft can be efficiently removed for inspection and cleaning.

Depending on the application, employees take between three to eight hours to fully clean and sanitize the bulk packaging line, which runs several times a week.

Another reason why the company selected Spee-Dee was for its testing process. Spee-Dee operates a test cell that can fully simulate and replicate a customer’s production run. Miller says Standard Process sent four powders with different consistencies and densities to have them tested to ensure they would meet production goals. The testing conducted at Spee-Dee’s Sturtevant, WI headquarters also revealed recommendations on how to best handle their powders and offered advice on cleaning.

The two fillers were designed, engineered, and manufactured in about 18 weeks, and delivered in late 2012.

“The equipment has been very reliable, and from a sanitary aspect they’re right where we need them to be. I don’t think we’ve suffered any downtime related to the fillers,” Miller says. “Working with Spee-Dee has been a positive experience; they bring a lot to the table and I’d certainly recommend them again.”