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Twin Vibratory Feeders Help Automate Sunflower Seed Production

February 3, 2009
Sunflower seeds are packaged in quantities ranging from 0.8 to 14 oz.

Giant Snacks (Wahpeton, ND), prides itself in selecting superior hybrids from contract growers in North Dakota to produce the best sunflower seeds in the United States.

From its original recipe of roasted and salted sunflower seeds, Giant Snacks has expanded the line to offer a variety of flavors including BBQ, dill pickle, salt and pepper, ranch, and, in early 2009, spicy garlic.

Sunflower seeds are sold to consumers in packages ranging from 0.8 to 14 oz. In order to process and package over 2.5 million lb of sunflower seeds each year and meet its growing demand, the company operates two 8-hour shifts, five days a week. The snack foods are marketed through distributors, and then sold to convenience stores. Recently, the company expanded into Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Texas. Products are also available online and are shipped throughout the United States and Canada,
as well as internationally.

“Sunflower seeds are a health-promoting snack with significant amounts of vitamin E,” said Al Engstrom, plant manager at Giant Snacks. “Quality assurance is important throughout the production process to make sure that shells are not broken or dirty, are firm, and do not have a limp texture.

All packages are nitrogen flushed to assure shelf freshness.”

Just as quality is important in selecting and packaging the seeds, totally automating its two integrated packaging lines was a priority for Giant Snacks in order to increase productivity.

To close the production loop, the company added twin vibratory feeders from Gough Econ to automatically feed product into existing Gough Econ S-series Swinglink bucket elevators. Engstrom noted that automating the operation has helped the company meet productivity and quality goals.

Twin vibratory feeders at Giant Snacks are part of an integrated packaging line to feed existing Gough Econ bucket elevators.

Super sacks containing roasted sunflower seeds are hung over the twin vibratory feeders. Openings on the bottom of the sacks feed the seed into the 6-ft-long × 1-ft-wide vibratory feeders that normally operate at a rate of 3000 lb/hr.

Four coil springs on the frame assembly of the feeders minimize vibration transfer and assure gentle handling of the material with minimum breakage. Since product weight is typically in suspension, self-propulsion energy is used in the operation for added efficiency. Dual motors on the system operate using minimum amps.

The feeders discharge the seeds into the previously installed Swinglink bucket elevators. The Swinglink system consists of 180 9-in.-wide polypropylene buckets impregnated with a glass fiber resin to prevent staining and enable ease of product flavor change.

The buckets remain in a horizontal position throughout the circuit except at the discharge point to the form, fill, and seal packaging. Keeping the buckets in a horizontal position ensures product integrity and keeps the buckets overlapped to prevent product spillage. Like the feeders, the line normally runs at speeds of 3000 lb/hr.

“This design ensures free falling of product from the buckets without product spillage,” noted Engstrom. “The smooth bucket surface eliminates product trap areas and provides an excellent means of transfer into a single plain.”

The Swinglink system has a heavy-duty carbon-steel chain designed for long life, durability, and reliability. The chain has a 1.5 pitch, and the track on which the chain rides is made of folded stainless steel. The finish is made of air-dry, Steel-It polyurethane.

Super sacks containing roasted sunflower seeds are hung over twin vibratory feeders.

For easy cleaning at the plant, access panels were included to allow cleaning of each bucket with soap and water. Downtime for cleaning is about four hours.

“The Gough Econ units are a major part of our automation process and have been operating flawlessly,” noted Engstrom. “Support from Gough Econ has been excellent.”

Engstrom said the feeders have added reliability and flexibility into the production line and assure gentle handling of the product. He also said that the feeders operate economically and efficiently using minimum power.

Gough Econ feeder vibratory feeders or screens are typically used when applications are beyond the scope of an electromagnetic drive and in particular when units require lengths in excess of 5 feet and widths greater than 18 inches.

Due to its patented chain and bucket design, the Swinglink can move material vertically and horizontally and is designed to handle material without damaging or spilling. Cover options can be provided to meet specific application needs and to ensure safety.

Headquartered in Charlotte, NC, Gough Econ specializes in the design and manufacture of standard and engineered material-handling systems that move and protect product. The company also provides product testing, full engineering control systems, and installation management. For more information, call 800-264-6844 or visit www.goughecon.com.