The ongoing battle to reduce waste
Today some 85% of the world's French Fries are processed by TOMRA equipment, helping businesses save millions of dollars in waste. The path that led to this success was built over 50 years of research, development, and innovation.
When caustic peeling machines were introduced to the potato industry in the 1950s, they brought the speed of automation at the expense of food waste: as well as dissolving the skin, these machines removed about 20% of the good flesh. This was improved in the 1960s when TOMRA introduced steam peeling, reducing potato loss to 13%. But still, there was room for improvement - which is why TOMRA has been committed ever since to researching and developing further innovations. In fact, since TOMRA invented steam peeling, there have been five notable innovations, three of which are still in service.
The first big innovation, in 1975, was the introduction of high-pressure batch steam peeling, to meet the needs of a growing industry in North America which required higher throughput capacity to keep up with rising demand. By 1980, TOMRA was supplying and installing more than 80% of all the steam peelers in North America, a market share maintained today.
The next big step forward was taken in 1990 with the launch of the Rapid Flash range of peelers. Because requirements for greater steam pressure had added stress to existing supply systems, TOMRA designed a range of wet steam accumulators to ensure consistent steam supply at maximum pressure. These innovations reduced peel loss by a further 2%.
In 2000, TOMRA unveiled the Orbit peeler, the biggest innovation in steam peeling machines since the original. This machine emerged from extensive testing of steam pressure, exhaust systems, and how different vessel shapes could achieve minimal peel loss on different potato varieties. This is important, because to peel efficiently and process efficiently, it is necessary to actively manage every variation in raw materials that comes out of the fields. And the result of all this research reduced peel loss by another 2%.
By now, the industry was becoming more conscious of energy costs, the world was more aware of the threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the next innovation, the TOMRA Eco Steam Peeler launched in 2012, introduced more sophisticated automation software to optimize steam usage and achieve similar throughput capacities with smaller vessels. This reduced peel loss to less than 6.5% - just half the level of the first steam peelers.
The most recent innovation, TOMRA's Peeling Control Module, also reduces steam use and energy consumption even further - as we'll see in a moment.