Chocolate making is a highly-sophisticated process, requiring specialized machinery and strict process control. Within the industry, there are producers who make finished chocolate products for the consumer marketplace, as well as producers who make intermediate chocolate products (such as chocolate chips) that become the inputs for other food product manufacturers. In both these cases, mechanical conveyors for chocolate products are an integral part of the production process.
Most chocolate production starts with cocoa beans. After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned and roasted. The beans are then ground to a mass and liquefied by heating into chocolate liquor. The liquor will then be blended with sugar and milk to add flavour, and from there it is ready to be further processed into the finished product.
Mechanical Conveyors for Chocolate Products: Applications
Manufacturers of chocolate products use mechanical conveyors primarily to move cocoa beans and other ingredients into the production process, and to move finished product onto and through the packaging line.
Upon their arrival at the factory, cocoa beans are often weighed, cleaned and moved into a storage bin or silo to await further processing. Batches of beans may then be taken from the silo and transferred to processing hoppers where they are cleaned, roasted and cooled. From there, the beans are moved on for winnowing, milling and screening to remove coarse particles, and then on for grinding into the powder that will be used to make the chocolate liquor. Mechanical conveyors can be used to move the cocoa beans through the various stages of this production process.
Once the chocolate liquor has been processed and molded into the finished product, mechanical conveyors can be used to transfer the product onto the packaging line for packout to the final customer.
Mechanical Conveyors for Chocolate Products: Challenges
Chocolate production is a high care process. Should product be damaged or degraded at any stage of the production process, the quality and consistency of the final offering will suffer. Chocolate producers should select mechanical conveyors on the capability of the equipment to support a high care production process.
Conveying final product for packout requires using gentle handling conveyors that will not damage or degrade the finished product. Moving cocoa beans into the initial stages of the production process requires considering the handling characteristics of the beans. Because cocoa beans are much more fragile than coffee beans, they are prone to breakage that could adversely influence the final flavor profile of the finished product. For this reason, gentle handling conveyors should be used to move the beans into the cleaning and roasting processing steps.
Because it is a foodstuff, conveyors used in chocolate-making facilities must be capable of sanitary performance. Mechanical conveyors used should be designed to meet applicable regulatory requirements for sanitary performance and be easily cleanable to support fast equipment turnaround.
Mechanical Conveyors for Chocolate Products: Equipment Solutions
Mechanical conveying solutions that can be employed in the manufacture of chocolate products include the following:
- Aeromechanical and tubular drag conveyors. These equipment types can convey cocoa beans and powder into the initial stages of the production process. Aeromechanical conveyors, such as the Powderflight line from UniTrak, may have an advantage in both reducing the risk of breakage of the beans during transfer and being more easily cleaned than tubular drag conveyors.
- Bucket elevators. Bucket elevators can be used to transport cocoa beans into the production process and also to move finished product onto the packaging line for packout. Gentle handling bucket elevators, such as the TipTrak™ line of conveyors from UniTrak, will move either beans or finished product with zero spillage and no product damage. TipTrak™ elevators can be supplied with FDA-approved rubber beltchains and clean-in-place (CIP) systems which are especially suited for sanitary performance.
- Belt conveyors. Cleated and non-cleated belt conveyors are often used to move beans and finished product within chocolate production facilities. UniTrak can supply cleated belt conveyors with sanitary belts made from FDA-approved materials.
- Bulk bag unloaders. Some chocolate product manufacturers receive their input ingredients in bulk bags (Flexible Bulk Intermediate Containers, or FIBC). Bulk bag unloaders, such as Bagstander units from UniTrak, allow for the safe and efficient handling of bagged ingredients.
- Hoppers and bins. These are often used to store and transfer product, such as cocoa beans or powder. UniTrak can custom fabricate hoppers and bins of almost any size or configuration for chocolate processing operations.
At UniTrak, we have helped a number of chocolate producers to surmount their mechanical conveying challenges. With over 45 years’ experience and a proven equipment lineup, we specialize in conveying solutions for high care applications such as those found in chocolate production. To find out more about the mechanical conveyors for chocolate products we offer, and how we can help improve your operations, contact our sales team directly.