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Food processor recovers product losses with PNNL invention

Lamb-Weston plants worldwide are using a new technology that instantly detects blade breakage in knife grids used to cut potatoes into French fries. A broken blade is detected and replaced in less than a second, resulting in a more consistent product and less waste.

With the French fry reigning as one of the world’s most popular foods, food processors are mass-producing them with the latest in processing technology. Cutting mechanisms, while excellent for reducing operating costs and improving end-product consistency, also represent an enormous opportunity for waste when a single blade is damaged. In one hour, a broken blade can reduce 80,000 pounds of prime potatoes into truckloads of defective strips the manufacturer often must pay to have removed for animal feed. The remaining potato sludge adds to the plant’s waste processing burden.

International potato processing leader Lamb Weston turned to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for a method to detect and repair a broken knife within a second of the break without halting production…and their profitability.

Teaming up with plant engineers from Lamb Weston, PNNL scientists applied existing research to solve the problem. The resulting technology was the Multi-blade Knife Failure Detector (KFD). The KFD is an acoustic-based system that instantly detects parts failure and automatically triggers redirection of product flow. Now operating in eight Lamb-Weston plants worldwide, the KFD takes less than one second to identify a blade break, trigger an alarm, and signal blade replacement. On one line at one plant, the new system has reduced annual cutting losses by more than six million pounds.

The severe environments of food processing and industrial manufacturing plants often restrict the use of advanced detection technologies. Food processing plants are wet and noisy with numerous sources of equipment vibration and electrical interferences. PNNL’s application of science into the KFD technology overcame these obstacles by bringing real-time equipment and process monitoring to industry—without crippling amounts of capital investment since much of the fundamental research had already been done.

In addition to making a solid contribution to Lamb Weston’s bottom line, the KFD earned an R&D 100 Award as one of the most significant technology advances for the year 2000, as well as a Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for excellence in technology transfer.

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