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When purchasing food-processing or packaging machinery, it is common to find that machines come with standardized tooling that is suitable for a wide range of applications. From the manufacturer’s view-point this makes perfect sense as the machines can be used by customers to process a range of products, enhancing the machines versatility.

What a lot of customers don’t realize is that while versatile, these standardized blades are usually not the best choice. Just as a chef uses specific knives for specific jobs and wouldn’t dream of using a paring knife to slice bread, or a cleaver to dice tomatoes, so too should industrial knives be carefully chosen according to what they will be cutting. When blades are selected with each specific application in mind, customers can expect to see a significant improvement in the performance of the machinery as well as the durability of the blades and cut-finish of the product.

Earlier this month SA Food Review spoke to Mikko Brunner, the managing director of Renlaw, to get his take on the importance of selecting the right cutting-tool for food-processing machinery. Renlaw is Africa’s leading supplier of industrial cutting tools and is fast becoming a global player in this growing field.

“I cannot overemphasize how important blade customization is,” stresses Brunner. “It makes such a big difference to the machine’s performance and is unfortunately usually entirely overlooked. We conducted trials last year with one of our customers to see just how much of an impact different blades can have on a machine’s output and the results were staggering.”

Brunner explains that for years the customer had been purchasing bowl-chopper blades identical to the ones that had come standard with their industrial food-processing machine, but after chatting with one of the engineers at Renlaw had decided to try a slightly different blade – one with a sharper cutting-edge made from a superior grade of steel more suited to tougher cuts of meat. “Not only did the machine’s daily output increase by almost twenty percent, but the blade’s sharp-life improved by around twelve percent as well. To many businesses, such improvements can make a significant financial difference, with less time lost due to stoppages and blade changes.”

According to Brunner, choosing a specific blade shape is just one of the ways in which customers can enhance the performance of their machines. He also recommends checking with your blade supplier as to what kind of toolsteel is used. Some of the more low-cost imports from countries such as China are made from inferior steels and will not last as long or cut as well as tools made from proprietary toolsteels. Additions of certain alloying elements in toolsteels can have a major effect on their performance in specific conditions. For example, nickel (Ni) is an essential component in steels that are used in sub-zero temperatures, as it increases the steel’s resistance to cracking at low temperatures, whilst the addition of manganese (Mn) and molybdenum (Mo) help to increase the hardness and strength of tools used at high temperatures.

Having cutting tools coated with a PVD coating is another option for customers to consider. PVD-coating results in a very strong bond between the coating and substrate, giving the tooling the physical, structural and tribological properties of the coating film. PVD coating prolongs the life of blades by increasing the surface hardness and reducing the coefficient of friction, which in turn means that less heat is generated during the machining process, slowing the breakdown rate of the cutting edge.

“It is such an advantage to be a South African company, and to be able to meet with clients, do site-visits and actually see the conditions in different factories,” says Brunner. “Working along-side customers to figure out solutions and being able to customize blades to the point where we make a real difference in other business’s efficiency with customers actually seeing the difference in the numbers at the end of the month is an amazing feeling. It’s something that keeps customers happy with our service and loyal to our brand.”

Selecting the correct steel for the job can make a huge difference in blade performance.

Features such as angles, surface finishes, edge-type and geometries can increase the machine throughput and improve product consistency.