New Efficiencies and Savings in Vacuum Packaging with Centralized System

Drøbak, Norway Fatland AS is one of the oldest and largest slaughterhouse operators and meat processors in Norway. In the Fatland Meat AS slaughterhouse and processing plant in Ølen, approximately 300,000 pigs each year are processed into fresh and ground meat, bacon and ground meat products for the Norwegian market. The state-of-the-art company uses a centralized vacuum system from Busch to guarantee economical and reliable vacuum supply when vacuum packaging its products. In contrast to decentralized vacuum pump installation, up to 50% fewer vacuum pumps are required.

In addition to the pigs slaughtered at the site, Fatland Meat AS also processes pigs from both of its own slaughterhouses in Oslo and Jæren, bringing the total pigs processed in Ølen each year to 300,000. The main products are portioned fresh and ground meat, bacon and ground meat products that are delivered to retailers and supermarket chains in the country. All products are vacuum-packed. In some instances, a protective atmosphere of 60 percent CO2 and 40 percent N2 is added to the packaging. Some products are delivered in skin packaging.

Currently, packaging is performed in two-shift operation at a total of 17 packaging lines. One of these packaging lines is equipped with a tray sealer. All other lines work with thermoforming packaging machines. Immediately after the goods are packaged, boxing and order picking are performed. This and the subsequent logistics also happen fully-automatically and the goods are transported by conveyor belts into the warehouse that was newly built in 2016. There, they are temporarily stored at a temperature of 0°C until they are transported to the customer.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Fatland AS began operating the first thermoforming packaging machine. Two rotary vane vacuum pumps were installed in it. One was for evacuating the packaging chamber and the other provided the vacuum for thermoforming the trays from the base foils. With the production volume continually increasing and forcing constant expansion of operations, in 2005 Technical Operations Manager Inge Fatland considered centralizing the vacuum supply. Because Fatland AS had a cooperative relationship with Busch Vakuumteknikk in Drøbak, the Busch Group's Norwegian sales company, he asked for a consultation with the vacuum specialists there. The main reason Inge Fatland was interested in centralization was the waste heat from the installed vacuum pumps. Because they were built into or directly next to the packaging machines, the heat directly entered the cooled production and packaging rooms' areas. This required more energy for the air conditioning system and keeping the rooms cool. In addition, Inge Fatland wanted to reduce noise emissions in the workplace.

As a result, Busch designed a centralized vacuum system that was installed in the basement of the production building. Installation of the control system and all tubing was performed by Busch. With the centralized vacuum system that was commissioned in 2005, they achieved the goal of removing waste heat and noise emissions from the production and packaging rooms. The economic efficiency of the vacuum supply could also be greatly increased. In 2011, the centralized vacuum system was expanded due to a further production volume increase and the associated installation of additional packaging lines. Now the system is set up for a total of 30 packaging lines. 

Partial view of the centralized vacuum system with four Panda vacuum boosters for evacuating to rough and medium vacuum levels

The significant increase in economic efficiency depends on many factors. The demand-based control system ensures that only those vacuum pumps that are currently required are running. In contrast to decentralized vacuum pump installation, up to 50% fewer vacuum pumps are required. With a daily operating time of 16 to 20 hours, this alone enables huge energy savings. When developing the centralized vacuum system, already existing vacuum pumps could be integrated, which reduced investment costs. The centralized vacuum system consists of 10 R 5 rotary vane vacuum pumps and four Panda vacuum boosters (fig. 1). This combination enables the use of additional energy savings potential.

Diagram of a Busch centralized vacuum system with three vacuum lines for rough, medium and forming vacuum.

The individual packaging chambers are pumped out in two stages, a rough and a medium vacuum level (fig. 2), to be able to run maximum cycle frequencies on the packaging lines. To do so, the critical pressure gradient is utilized and thus achieves the fastest possible evacuation. The rough vacuum pump station ensures rough evacuation with seven R 5 rotary vane vacuum pumps and the medium vacuum pump station uses four Panda vacuum boosters for evacuation to the desired ultimate pressure. The reversing valves with the corresponding control units are attached to the packaging machines. They control the transition from a low to a fine vacuum.

A thermoforming vacuum pump station with three R 5 rotary vane vacuum pumps provides vacuum for the packaging machine's forming station. Here, the base film of the packaging is heated, sucked into the mould and shaped accordingly into packaging recesses (trays). 

On the one hand, this separation into various vacuum stations is necessary as the moulding and sealing functions run at different vacuums and, on the other, as a substantially lower pumping speed is required for the two-stage evacuation of the sealing chamber. The pipework serves as a vacuum buffer. This buffer ensures that the packaging pressure is kept at a constant level, even when all the packaging machines are running with the same number of cycles.

The central vacuum system is fully automatic: it activates individual vacuum modules if a greater vacuum is required; if a smaller vacuum is required, it switches off individual vacuum modules. If a vacuum pump fails in the low, fine or thermoforming pump stations, then the reserve pump is automatically activated. This ensures maximum operational safety for the vacuum supply to the packaging machines.

A centralized vacuum system has a modular design, meaning that individual modules can be disengaged for maintenance. When this happens, a reserve unit automatically activates. This means that maintenance work can be carried out during operation without affecting the production output of the packaging machines. In the central system, the individual rotary vane vacuum pumps are subjected to substantially lower loads relative to the individual units, thus extending the maintenance intervals. The central system's installation location outside the production area also benefits maintenance, as maintenance work does not result in interruptions to operational processes or hygiene breaches. Maintenance at Fatland Meat is performed twice each year by a Busch service technician. 

Fatland Meat AS is already busy with expansion measures again and will move the centralized vacuum system into a newly constructed technical floor as a next step. The system still has sufficient power reserves to connect 13 further packaging lines. Thanks to the modular design of the centralized vacuum system, it is quite possible to connect additional vacuum modules if Fatland continues to grow at a similar rate in the future; the vacuum supply can easily grow along with the business.

About Fatland
In 1892, Rasmus Fatland already founded a slaughterhouse in Vikedal, Norway. Today, Fatland is a family company in its fourth generation with various slaughterhouses and meat processing plants in Norway. With a total of 580 employees, Fatland AS achieves sales of NOK 380 million and slaughters over 15 percent of all animals slaughtered in Norway. Each day, 20 percent of all Norwegians consume meat products from Fatland.

In 1974, a slaughterhouse for cattle, pigs and sheep was built in Ølen, which was one of the largest private slaughterhouses in Norway back then. Today, the Fatland Meat AS plant in Ølen has 350 employees and slaughters approximately 60,000 pigs, 10,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep each year.

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