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Getting a handle on materials handling in sports nutrition

Published on 02 July 2017

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When you started out making protein bars or powders in your garage, you probably didn’t think too much about bulk materials handling processes. You opened the bags or boxes of ingredients, mixed them together and packaged them to order without really considering the bigger picture. While this is fine at small scales, you’ll need to take a different approach if you want your sports nutrition product business to grow. Read on to find out more…

Materials handing matters

In the small-scale production of sports nutrition products, there is often little thought given to the design of the production facility when getting started in sports nutrition manufacturing. It’s usually a case of buying the equipment you need and was cheap, then fitting it all into the only space you have available! In terms of your ‘production line’, this might simply involve opening bags and boxes of ingredients by hand, tipping them into a mixer, then hand-filling the finished product into packets or bottles at the end.

However, if you want to scale up your operation by manufacturing larger batches, and/or producing a wider range of products to appeal to different consumers, you’ll soon find that this ‘needs-must’ approach to manual handling is inefficient and wasteful – and anything that creates waste is bad for business and profitability.

Continuous vs. manual processing

If your overall target is to scale up to produce large volumes of sports nutrition products, then a continuous and largely automated production line set-up may be suitable.

Unlike a manual process, in continuous processing, the equipment used for one step of a production line is directly coupled to the next. Say you were making a protein shake blend, for example – rather than tipping, blending and packaging the recipe in separate steps by hand, this is done in an automated fashion, with blended ingredients being dispensed directly into and from the mixer, and onwards into the packaging line via augers and conveyor belts. This approach virtually eliminates the need for materials handling at all and is ideal for facilities that handle large volumes of a few varieties of product.

Drawbacks of continuous processing

An important limitation of continuous processing, however, is that it is prone to bottlenecks. Inevitably, some parts of the production line are slower than others, so this means that the entire line can only operate at the rate of the slowest step. If processes were uncoupled from one another, each step could operate at its optimum speed, thus saving time and increasing overall production capacity.

Continuous processing can also be relatively inflexible. To manufacture chocolate, vanilla and strawberry-flavoured protein powders, for example, each variety would need its own dedicated production line. This takes up space in your building, and is costly – especially if one flavour proved unpopular and you decided to discontinue it! Alternatively, many production hours are lost cleaning the line before the next flavour can be produced, always with the risk of cross-contamination. 

IBCs offer the best of both worlds

A production facility based on Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) provides the best of both worlds for sports nutrition manufacturing. With IBCs, powders and mixtures are not transferred manually from one step to the next, nor are they continuously delivered along the production line. Instead, larger quantities of material are moved between processes in the IBC which can then be automatically discharged into the next piece of equipment.IBCs.jpg

Compared to manual handling, this important difference means that waste is reduced at each stage, while at the same time, compared to continuous processing, all manufacturing steps can operate independently or in parallel at their optimum rates. The potential efficiency, speed, capacity and overall profitability of the whole facility is considerably increased.

Matcon IBCs are precision-engineered to offer the ‘leanest’, most flexible manufacturing solutions for growing powder handling industries so why not get in touch with our expert engineers to see how we can help you from the point of getting started in sports nutrition manufacturing to scaling up your sports nutrition business.

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Posted by Kathryn Perry
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Topics: Sports Nutrition