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Pet Food Manufacturing: What You Need To Succeed

May 6, 2020

The global pet food industry brings in around $94.6 billion each year and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, according to Grand View Research, it’s on track to reach a market size worth $113.08 billion by 2025. With immense opportunity, however, comes fierce competition. In order to come out on top, it’s important for pet food manufacturers to ensure their operations are up to the task. In this handy guide, we’ll let you know which conveying equipment is best suited to the pet food industry. We’ll also share the best way to select a conveyor for pet food manufacturing — specifically, dry pet food or kibble.

Which conveyors are best for pet food manufacturing?

Conveyors play an essential role in pet food manufacturing. They’re required for moving ingredient materials throughout the production line, as well as transferring finished product from processing to storage and packaging operations.

There are two types of conveyors ideally situated for the job:

1. Bucket elevator conveyors

Bucket elevator conveyors usually consist of a series of buckets, each attached to a belt or chain with terminal pulleys or sprockets. They are capable of moving high volumes of dry pet food in a production line. In a Z configuration elevator, materials are loaded into the buckets as they pass an inlet point, and they are then transported vertically, and then horizontally again to reach their discharge destination. Bucket elevators handle products gently and are known for their energy efficiency.

Not all bucket elevators are created equal, and there are some potential problems to keep in mind. With traditional, pivoting-type bucket elevators, the buckets can “pop” out of the metal roller chain, resulting in spillage and wasted product — not to mention increased costs for cleanup. This is often due to degradation of the chain, which can “stretch” over time and skewer the pins that hold the buckets in place.

To combat this issue, UniTrak’s TipTrak bucket conveyor was developed with a patented chain, consisting of elastomer molded around a core of multiple strands of stainless steel cable. This design benefits from the strength and positive drive of a traditional chain, but it is longer lasting and corrosion resistant. The result is drastically reduced spillage. In fact, when a multinational pet food manufacturer overhauled their entire production line from pivoting bucket elevators to TipTrak, the amount of spilled product decreased by 100%.

Another potential problem with pivoting bucket elevators is overfilling the buckets. If the buckets are over-filled, they can invert and prematurely tip over, dumping product onto the floor. TipTrak’s interlocking buckets never separate and therefore cannot “tip” upside down, eliminating spillage from occurring at the infeed.

2. Flexible screw conveyors

Flexible screw conveyors are another popular choice for pet food manufacturing, and are particularly well suited for conveying raw materials to processes for batch-production environments. Flexible screw conveyors work by rotating a metal helical screw within a fixed, sealed tube. This creates a directional force which moves material from the infeed to the discharge point, all within the tube. Consisting of a single moving part, flexible screw conveyors generally have a smaller footprint than other alternatives and are generally simpler to operate.

UniTrak’s flexible screw conveyor is particularly well suited for pet food manufacturing. UniFlex conveyors are ideal for elevating powders and granules. The design incorporates an infeed hopper, and has an inclined tube of food-grade polyethylene or stainless steel with a helical screw inside, and a discharge assembly with motor. With a small footprint, this conveyor can fit into tight areas, and bypass existing equipment or other obstacles.

How to select a conveyor for pet food manufacturing

Pet food manufacturers face a unique set of challenges. When selecting a conveyor for your pet food production line, there are a few important factors to keep in mind:

1. Cleanability / sanitary performance

Pet foods are among the most highly regulated foods in the United States, with standards set by the Food and Drug Administration, Food Safety Modernization Act and Association of American Feed Control Officials.

Select equipment that will help you meet the hygienic demands of pet food manufacturing. Beneficial features include stainless steel and accessible frame design, as well as motor and waterproof bearings to support washdown service, and Clean-In-Place system for fast cleaning and turnaround — all of which are available with TipTrak. Another TipTrak option is a special bucket assembly consisting of polypropylene buckets and nitrile joint strips imbedded with silver ions to inhibit microbial growth.

You might want to consider a conveyor which is specifically designed for optimized sanitary performance, like UniTrak’s KleanTrak. This belt conveyor features an FDA-approved sanitary cleated belt, and an open frame design for fast and easy in-place cleaning. This conveyor also features a wash-down duty motor and sealed, corrosion-resistant bearings. Portable models are available if your process requires moving equipment to a “clean” room.

Another important food safety factor to consider is cross-contamination, which can occur between ingredients and product batches. This can be prevented by thoroughly cleaning conveyors between production runs and batches.

2. Ability to prevent fugitive dust emissions

Since dry pet foods are friable – that is, easily crumbled – and prone to dusting, you may wish to select a conveyor with a fully ‘enclosed’ frame design. TipTrak’s enclosed PEC model — UniTrak’s most popular bucket elevator — uses “stock” components to contain the dust, and offers optional dust collection connections to safely remove the dust from the area.

3. Gentle handling

Many dry pet foods contain particles coated with essential nutrients, which require gentle handling to prevent product degradation. Degradation can not only compromise the nutritional value of the kibble, it may result in deposits and fines which can affect conveyor performance. Because degraded products must be separated from the product stream, it could add an additional processing step, resulting in greater operating costs.

TipTrak was designed to provide the gentlest handling of products, making it an ideal choice for pet food manufacturing.

Back to you

There’s never been a better time to work in pet food manufacturing. In order to ensure you’re able to stand out from your competitors – who are similarly responding to the global demand – you need to ensure your plant equipment is “up to snuff”. Stay focused on the necessities and look for conveyors that are well designed, built to last and capable of handling your unique production needs.

At UniTrak, we have 50 years of experience working with pet food manufacturers, and we would be thrilled to help you explore your options. Give us a call at 905-885-8168 or get in touch to discuss further.

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