Peppers, chillies and olives with a filling are classic Mediterranean starters. The tasty dishes should be fresh, full of flavour and also a treat for the eyes. The antipasti specialities can now be found in food shops in an increasing number and variety. Until now, filling the little delicacies has purely been a manual job – a time-consuming and cost-intensive one. Automation technology now makes the process easier and faster.
Even though many work steps in industrial food production are already automated, filling antipasti is still a manual job. Practised employees do manage to fill up to 1,000 items an hour, but it is an exhausting procedure which requires a high degree of hygienic care due to the manual processes involved. Each individual fruit has to be picked up by hand and then filled with cream cheese. During the process, the food manufacturers have to work quickly and above all in a hygienically sound manner whatever happens.
Automatic filling and cleaning
The mechanical engineering company, Karb Maschinenbau GmbH, has, with help from Festo, therefore developed a machine that automatically fills peppers, tomatoes and chillies. The employees only need to place the fruit or vegetables onto filling nozzles. The machine does the rest using automation components supplied by Festo. In this way, up to 14,500 antipasti an hour can be produced. As, besides the speed factor, hygiene also plays a critical role for the food industry, the machine features an automatic cleaning programme. Instead of cream cheese, water with an added cleaning agent flushes the pipes.
20 peppers at one swoop
A key element of the machine are electric cylinders, which fill a kind of syringe with cream cheese and force this into the respective fruit during the filling process. In this way, 20 pieces of fruit or vegetable are filled in a row. As the cavities in peppers, chillies and the like are always different sizes, thanks to its sophisticated sensor technology the machine detects the filling level of each piece of fruit and waits before setting them all down together on a conveyor belt until the last one is full to the brim with cream cheese.
The production speed has been increased by more than 3.5 times with this technology. In the meantime, the mechanical engineering experts from Karb are already working with Festo on the next development stage, which is also expected to automate the feed and packaging process.