Engineering Meat Processing Blades

In today’s highly competitive market, meat processing plants tend to have the same aims – cutting costs and increasing profits are obviously important, but so is reducing waste, improving efficiency and boosting quality. It can be tricky to try to achieve all of these objectives simultaneously, and many companies find themselves struggling to figure out which of these aspects to prioritise.

But every now and then one comes across something that can help producers to accomplish numerous goals at the same time and can help to reduce costs whilst also improving product quality. A great example of this is a well-designed industrial machine blade.

To find out a little more about how machine knives are evolving to meet processors’ needs, Meat Review caught up with Mikko Brunner, MD of Renlaw – a Cape-Town based machine knife manufacturer and Africa’s leading supplier of industrial cutting tools.

Over the last three decades, Renlaw’s industrial blade business has grown to support many industries, but their main focus is on food processing and packaging. The majority of Renlaw’s customers are in the protein market, but they also provide solutions for ready-meals, fruits and vegetables, snacks and confections.

What is the total cost of ownership?

‘It is human nature to be drawn to consumables that are well-priced. But that can be very short-sighted,’ Mikko says. ‘It really does pay to think long-term, especially in industries such as food-processing where you’re hoping to get a long sharp-life out of tools.’

He goes on to explain that once blades stop performing well, the operational costs can add up very quickly. ‘When the cut isn’t clean anymore, your scrap rate increases. You also end up needing to do more frequent blade cleaning because of increased product build-up. Add up the labour costs and the cost of production loss during stoppages due to blade cleaning and blade changes, as well as the cost of new, replacement blades and you’ll find that choosing cheap blades over quality blades can really affect a company’s bottom line.’

That’s why Renlaw manufactures only export-quality blades that make consistent, high-quality cuts and have a long ‘sharp-life’, or lifespan. Their blades may cost a little more than cheap imports from the East, but the total cost of ownership is considerably lower.

Mikko provides a simple way to make purchasing decisions based on total cost of ownership rather than upfront price.

First, count the number of cuts you’re getting from a cheaper blade before it needs to be replaced and then compare it to how many cuts you get from a Renlaw blade. ‘You could be getting 1 000 cuts with the other supplier’s blade and 2 500 cuts with ours,’ Mikko says.  ‘That’s not just going to give you more than double the number of cuts, it’s also going to eliminate the need for a blade change-over, and the associated loss of output while your production line stands still. That’s a real saving in both production time and blade cost.’

Also keep the cost of product loss in mind when working out the total value of a top-quality blade. Mikko explains: ‘In poultry plants, if a machine blade makes a ragged cut, producers might not be able to use that piece as-is, and it might need to go towards making lower-profit products such as chicken nuggets. A blade that consistently makes clean, reliable cuts ensures that producers end up with less scrap, more high-value end-products and ultimately, more profit.’

Achieving better cuts with customization

It is common for machine manufacturers and agents to provide clients with generic, multi-purpose knives that can cut many different materials. While this practise certainly makes life easier for agents, manufacturers should know that continuing to use generic blades is not necessarily the best or the most financially sensible idea for their business. ‘A blade that is specifically engineered with a certain product or application in mind will always outperform a “standardized” blade,’ explains Mikko, ‘and a better-cutting blade will last longer and can drastically improve a machine’s performance.’

‘When customers approach us looking for design modifications for blades, the possibilities are almost endless. It’s an advantage to be locally based as we are able to work closely with clients and get to know the specific conditions in factories,’ Mikko explains. The geometries of cutting tools’ “teeth” affect the cutting performance of the blades as well as the cut-quality of the product. Renlaw offers a range of different tooth shapes, according to the customers’ needs. They also look at the tooth pitches, which affect the cut-quality of the product, and can make recommendations on which specific toolsteels will work best and whether blades should be PVD-coated to further improve their performance.

This type of innovation illustrates why Renlaw is more than a blade manufacturer. They’re a solutions provider. ‘Whether it’s the tooth design, specialty steel or PVD-coating, we pride ourselves on improving blades to give our customers a leg up. We’ve been in this business for a long time now and our experience in blade modification really sets us apart from our competitors. We get consistently positive feedback, with customers noticing just how much longer our modified blades last when compared to the original, generic designs. It’s a great compliment to us and keeps our clients loyal to our brand,’ Mikko concludes.

Looking to the future of the protein industry

The South African meat producing industry is becoming increasingly automated. Mikko agrees that this is a move in the right direction, since automation increases output while decreasing product handling. ‘But,’ he continues, ‘blade manufacturers have a responsibility to take their blades to a higher level of consistency and repeatability. In an automated setting, cuts have to be exactly the same, every single time.’

As the industry moves in new directions, Mikko explains that Renlaw will be able to meet their customers’ changing needs by doubling down on the core principles that have been key to their success:

  • Renlaw only sells high quality products which are either locally made or imported from vetted suppliers who are the best in their field.
  • Renlaw can customise cutting tools to optimise their performance.

  • Renlaw also offers, on agreement, strategic stockholding for customers to ensure that they are well supported should their own stock be depleted.
  • Renlaw uses only the best German toolsteels which are selected, machined, vacuum hardened and precision CNC ground to suit their required applications, ensuring consistent high quality and performance.

  • As over 90% of Renlaw’s blades are manufactured inhouse, they are able to cut out the ‘middleman’ and offer products at highly competitive prices

To find out more about how the right blades can help you save money while boosting productivity and profits, visit


Meat processing blades