Premium Gorgonzola packaged with reliable vacuum technology
The production of Gorgonzola, the traditional blue cheese from northern Italy, is the core competence of the IGOR srl company. The Leonardi family owners have been producing Gorgonzola for three generations at their state-of-the-art company near the city of Novara in the Piedmont region. In the process, the newest production plants do not seem at all at odds with traditional production. The different Gorgonzola products are packaged using a CO2 protective atmosphere. IGOR also uses modern technology to evacuate the trays before treatment with the gas and operates a centralized vacuum system from Busch to supply all tray sealer packaging machines with vacuum.
The Leonardi family has been producing Gorgonzola since 1935. It was in Mezzomerico, Italy, a small village near Novara, where Natale Leonardi produced his handcrafted cheese typical of the region and drove it with a horse-drawn carriage to Lake Maggiore, where he sold it to different hotel restaurants. The tradition of today’s largest Gorgonzola manufacturer has been in the hands of the Leonardi family for three generations and goes back to “Grandpa Natale”. The production and ingredients of the soft cheese have not changed over time. However, thanks to its innovative ability to develop technologies, IGOR is able to produce two million blocks of Gorgonzola every year and thus achieve a global market share of 45 percent. Numerous quality awards for the various Gorgonzola products prove that, even with industrial manufacturing, product quality is the highest priority at IGOR (fig. 1).
In addition to a clear commitment to quality, IGOR also stands for regional identity. This is reflected in different social activities in the Novara region and in the company’s sponsorship of local sport teams. IGOR’s flagship team is the Italian women’s first division volleyball team from Novara.
All IGOR products carry the PDO seal. This European certificate stands for “Protected Designation of Origin” and guarantees that a product is manufactured according to a traditional recipe within a certain geographic area in accordance with strict manufacturing regulations.
In 1996, a new 15,000 square metre production plant was acquired in Cameri, near Novara. After several expansions and modernizations, this has grown to 35,000 square metres and will be expanded again to a total of 50,000 square metres in 2017. On the one hand, this will satisfy the requirements of the constantly growing production volumes and large variety of products. On the other hand, the company also wants to fully guarantee all quality and hygiene requirements in the future with further investments.
IGOR Gorgonzola specialities reach end customers worldwide through supermarket chains, discount stores and grocery retail. A smaller portion of the produced goods goes to processing plants and the gastronomy industry. Some of the packaged portions are also packaged with labels for different chains and discount stores. 52 percent of the Gorgonzola products are exported, 48 percent are sold in Italy.
IGOR manufactures products 18 hours each day. After that, the production plant is cleaned. The portions of Gorgonzola are packaged at a total of 25 packaging lines using a protective atmosphere with CO2 (fig. 2). The packaging lines operate an average of 12 hours per day, depending on the season. The majority of the packaging lines are fully automated. That means that the 12 kg Gorgonzola blocks are automatically sliced, portioned and laid in trays. The trays are fed into the packaging chamber, which closes. Then the chamber is evacuated to a vacuum level of four to five millibars. Afterwards, CO2 is added, the trays are sealed with the top foil, the vacuum chamber opens and the newly completed portioned packages are transported on a belt directly to an adjoining room where the outer packaging process and order picking are performed.
The vacuum required for packaging at all packaging lines is generated by a centralized vacuum supply from Busch (fig. 3). Even as early as 1996, when the company acquired the production building, attention was paid to placing the vacuum pumps outside the packaging room in a separate room. They wanted to use this set-up to prevent waste heat from the vacuum pumps from entering the production areas, which are cooled to six degrees Celsius. That way they could avoid increasing power to the air conditioning system. This also enabled reduction of noise emissions in the workplace. During a further plant expansion in 2004, the team at IGOR put a lot of thought into the topic of “centralized vacuum supply” because sustainable approach to materials and energy is a guiding principle in IGOR’s philosophy.
Together with Busch Vacuum Pumps and Systems, a centralized vacuum system that was able to integrate the existing individual vacuum pumps was designed and realized. A ring main with a total length of 100 metres connects the centralized vacuum system to the individual tray sealers in the packaging lines. This consists of a total of seven R 5 rotary vane vacuum pumps from Busch.
Due to further use of the previously used vacuum pumps, different sizes with different pumping speeds are installed. R 5 rotary vane vacuum pumps that were already acquired in 1996 are also installed in this centralized vacuum system. The system control is designed in a way that allows the vacuum pumps in the ring main to guarantee a vacuum level between four and five millibars. This vacuum level is maintained independent of demand. If not all of the packaging machines are running at full capacity, or at the shortest cycle times and largest packaging units, then only those vacuum pumps which are really required for the process are running.
The vacuum ring main simultaneously serves as a vacuum buffer where the required vacuum level is constantly maintained. This helps to make the packaging cycles as short as possible because the required vacuum is present immediately after the vacuum chamber closes and the air is quickly removed.
This control enables significant energy savings that help IGOR implement the company philosophy, which is to work with resources sustainably in real ways.
Since start-up of the centralized vacuum system, it has been working extremely reliably, without problems or breakdowns. The R 5 rotary vane vacuum pumps from Busch proved to be extremely robust in continuous operation. Even the old R 5 rotary vane vacuum pumps that are now over 20 years old still produce the same high vacuum level and pumping speed as they did when they were first installed.
Maintenance work is performed by IGOR in-house technicians. In doing so, they rely on the original spare parts from Busch. Also, as a basic principle, only vacuum oils from Busch are used. These are exactly formulated for the R 5 rotary vane vacuum pumps and guarantee a high vacuum level. With these vacuum oils, it is also possible to convey a certain amount of water vapour through the vacuum pump without producing condensation that can decrease vacuum performance.
Another advantage of central vacuum supply can be seen during maintenance work: to perform maintenance, service technicians do not have to enter the production rooms. Instead, all work can be performed in a separate engineering room where the vacuum supply is installed.