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Innovations in Alternative Protein Processing Equipment

   February 7, 2023

The alternative protein processing industry uses various equipment, including dryers, centrifuges, filtration systems, mixing systems, evaporators, boilers, grinders, and screw presses to process protein ingredients. Each type of equipment has its own set of diverse functions and requirements. Manufacturers in the alternative protein processing industry require innovative products that offer automated processing, can ensure faster and safer food processing & equipment cleaning, minimize labor costs, are energy-efficient, and reduce capital requirements and equipment maintenance costs. Hence, the players operating in the alternative protein processing equipment market are focused on developing advanced offerings to meet this demand and enhance the quality of their customers’ products. For instance, in January 2023, PerMix (China) introduced the PerMix Vacuum Sigma Mixer & Extruder, engineered to blend, mix, extrude, and form. The product is well suited for the processing of plant-based protein. It offers an enhanced production capacity, minimizes manual labor, and is highly energy-efficient. Also, this combination device eliminates the need to invest in two separate systems. ANDRITZ AG (Austria) offers a fluid bed drying-cooling system VDC in which the VDC type can be used as a dryer, cooler, or a combination of both. This offering helps ensure operational safety under varying conditions and requires shorter processing times than conventional dryers. Moreover, SiccaDania A/S (Denmark) offers an SD PreVap system that combines membrane filtration and evaporation to support customer requirements and reduce capital expenditure.

Furthermore, automation and digital transformation solutions are becoming increasingly important for enterprises in the alternative protein industry to optimize their cost structures. About a decade ago, product evaluation largely depended on human sensory panel testing, which was expensive, imprecise, and time-consuming. The lack of analytical tools made it difficult to understand how the functional attributes perform at a quantified molecular level against conventional meat, eggs, and dairy. Innovation in equipment has helped improve the texture and mouthfeel of alternative protein products.

Moreover, automation technologies such as manufacturing execution systems (MES) provide the necessary visibility to meet front-end ingredient requirements by incorporating ingredient tracking & tracing and quality & recipe management. Manufacturing execution systems allow companies to streamline order flow and production execution, track the transformation of products from raw materials to finished goods, and evaluate and analyze yield, quality, and plant resource utilization. Ongoing innovation in fiber spinning technologies is expected to improve plant protein texturization in the coming years. Innovations in separation technology ensure high recovery levels of top-quality products, and innovations in decanter centrifuges and centrifugal separators increase separation efficiency, optimize protein yield, reduce energy consumption, and ensure hygienic process management.

Innovations that reduce equipment downtime by enhancing reliability and longevity can also improve facility throughput by increasing facility capacity utilization. Additional production capacity benefits could come from novel technologies that are not yet widely commercialized, such as 3D printing and shear cells. Thus, innovations in alternative protein processing equipment are expected to drive the growth of this market.

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