Designing and manufacturing a butter system
Tim Gun: So the butter that gets blended in the machine starts from a block-- it’s a block of butter that’s held at a temperature. One of the difficulties was how do we get that butter into the tank to begin mixing? You can’t throw an eighty pound block of butter in a stainless steel tank with the mixing equipment that we have and expect it to start breaking shafts, bend things. You’d have to build it so robustly it would not be affordable.
Ed Stogner: Butter’s a very difficult fluid to mix: it has a high viscosity and a lot of thickness, but then as you start mixing it shears very quickly, and then it wants to bind back together.
Tim: So one of the things we did is we designed a butter press that takes a block of butter, breaks it up into about eight pieces. Those pieces then go into the tank, and they’re much easier to blend, to move around the tank.
Ed: The problem we were having is on the first version of our test we had three mixers, and we assumed that with those three mixers we could mix it in the way we wanted to. As it turns out-- as learning goes-- we learned that we were not successful on pass number one. And so we redesigned it.
Ed: [second test] So we added water to the mix just to test how the flow would look inside the tank. We weren’t sure what that was going to look like, and we didn’t want to add all of butter because it was a limited amount that we had available for our testing purposes. So we noticed we had mixing problems, so we put the engineering team to the redesign task. What we did was we all got in a room, put our best ideas up on a board, and (as these things go) we decided based on our engineering expertise what would be most successful.
Tim: We had all our team, we sat down together, we came up with what we thought would work, and ultimately it did. We’ve created something fairly unique.
Ed: So in order to eliminate the mass-swirling and the mass-flow, we decided to break up the flow with some baffles. And so we put baffles strategically throughout where that swirling was happening so we could feed and break that flow up, so that way we’d get top-to-bottom motion as well as in-and-out motion to get a good, homogenous mix.
Tim: It wasn’t offering a good mix of the different components that they were throwing in the butter, so we added honey, parmesan, garlic salt-- just lots of different base ingredients. And in order to not have those just swirl around the tank, we had to add a lot of baffling-- side-wall baffling, interior baffling, baffling in just different spots to just constantly move the butter into different areas of the tank.
Ed: The takeaway is that our fabrication shop really does a great job of turning things around quickly and reacting to redesigns as well as customer demands. They did a really great job at meeting those needs. I also learned that my team does a really great job when put to task on a redesign. We assumed our first iteration was going to be successful: we were obviously not right, and so what I learned is that we’ve got a really good team here that can work very quickly and come up with very creative solutions.
Tim: Our customers tell us that they’ve been on the phone for hours, scouring the internet and making phone calls, and they can’t get anybody to just stop and listen to them and just understand what they’re dealing with-- to work with their problem. And that’s something that’s one of the big pushes for our sales team is just to sit and listen, to work through applications, to understand exactly what the customer needs and help them succeed.