Processing Machinery

Processing machinery covers a vast range of equipment for many different industrial sectors. For PPMA members, the main focus is on food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, household products and toiletries.

Processing transforms raw materials for specific uses and for consumption. Broadly speaking it involves changing the physical structure of materials and/or their chemical composition through mixing, crushing, forming, pumping, heat treatment (hot and cold) and chemical treatment.

What is involved in food processing? 

The food sector involves multiple processing activities which can be categorised as primary, secondary and tertiary processing. Within the food sector, similar considerations cover beverages and pet food.

Primary food processing makes agricultural products edible through processes as traditional as dryingthreshing, milling and butchery. Further examples of primary processing are freezing and smoking fish and meat, extracting oils, canning, and preservation by irradiation, homogenisation and pasteurisation.

Secondary food processing is mainly based on cooking – roasting, boiling, frying, steaming, baking, smoking and microwaving – with ready to use (ie after primary processing) raw ingredients. The category also includes activities such as making bread, wine, beer, and other alcoholic products as well as grinding meat for sausages and burgers. 

Tertiary food processing generally refers to the commercial production of what we know as processed and convenience foods. Examples include: 

  • virtually any food you can buy off the shelf and put into an oven, microwave or pan
  • pies, pizzas, curries and ready-made meals
  • ready to eat processed meats such as corned beef, ham, salami and meat pastes
  • dairy-based products including cheese spreads, some ice creams, yoghurts, mayonnaise and milk
  • various sauces such as ketchup and pickles
  • many soft drinks

Food processing machines

Food processing equipment is designed for either specific or multiple tasks covering many different types of food products.

Mixing machines are fundamental to food processing for combining solids, grains, granules, and powders, as well as gases and viscous and free-flowing liquids. The types of equipment include aerators, agitators, blenders, emulsifiers and homogenisers. Specific equipment is available for mixing dough, meat products, pastes and powders, and the design of the machinery is based on various features such as plough blades, Z blades and ribbons. 

Refrigeration equipment includes blast freezers, cold stores, vacuum chillers, continuous chillers and immersion chillers. Cool temperatures are essential for maximising the days of shelf life of chilled foods, and freezing keeps food in good condition for periods of many months. 

Slicers and dicers are used to process a wide variety of vegetables and fruits as well as processed meats for convenient preparation and consumption for home cooks and caterers. The equipment is also used for the same reason for raw and processed meats, as well as for commercial production of pickles, jams and pet food.

Processing vessels are generally high quality stainless tubs, tanks and containers used to house agitators, mixers and other processing equipment. Some vessels are designed to be heated for cooking, melting and mixing; others are water-cooled to maintain low temperatures for treating products which degrade with heating. 

Cookers and ovens fall into two types, either for continuous or batch operation. Different types of equipment are used for a full range of commercial cooking processes.

Depositors provide a dose of product in any form, usually by volumetric measurement, for use with processed foods such as sandwich fillings, biscuits, pie fillings, doughs, pastes, dressings, sauces, pastes, syrups and jams. 

Extruders are screw-driven machines usually designed for continuous operation. Pliable food preparations are forced through a barrel or pipe and sheared off to produce attractive shapes of processed foods including snacks, confectionery, pasta, breakfast cereals and bread. 

Bakery equipment includes a range of machines specifically designed for the sector, including bread slicers, doughnut equipment, pie and tart machines and provers. 

Further specialist equipment is available for processing chocolateconfectionerydairy productsethnic foodsfishfruitpizzas, and vegetables.     

Further machinery is used in food processing for cleaning and sterilisation, and also for process control systems which are not only critical to machine operation, but also for reporting on quality and traceability. With hygiene and equipment control also essential for many other sectors, cleaning and control systems are in use throughout.  

Pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toiletries processing machinery

Pharmaceutical processing machines help the pharmaceuticals industry to operate to the highest standards of production. Similar techniques and equipment are used for cosmetics processing and toiletries processing. The latest processing trends are based on flexibility rather than batch runs, and the machinery options for these sectors continues to develop at pace. Some of the principal machinery in use is as follows. 

Aerosol processing machines contain liquid under pressure in cans which are created by a process of assembly, filling and closing. The processing machinery can feature a manually operated single station, or automated indexing or rotary machines.  

Compressed tablet equipment allows doses of medicine, vitamins and supplements to be created which are easy to swallow round and oval shapes. Powders are compressed into tablet form and coated usually with sugar and film to hide the taste.

Clean in Place (CIP) Machines are used to clean process machines. In the case of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics which are highly sensitive to being degraded, aseptical cleaning will be used to eliminate any possible contamination from outside the processing machine environment.

Sterilising Machines are also known as autoclaves and retorts, and can be static, rotary or pilot systems. Variations include steam-water spray from top showers for cans and glass jars and side showers for pouches and trays. All vessel, pipe work and valves and heat exchangers in sterilising machines are in stainless steel.

Capsule processing machines fill small capsules. The size of the machines vary from single station machines which are ideal for R & D laboratories, clinical trials, small batch outputs and special production runs. Semi-automatic machines are also available with an output of 50 to 300 capsules per cycle.

Chemical processing machinery

Chemical processing equipment forms chemical compounds that can be used in almost every market, including automotive, aeronautics, clothing, healthcare, technology, foods and healthcare products.

Chemical processing involves various types of mixersheatingprocessing vesselsdepositors and extrudersused in other industries, as well as pumps and stainless steel pipework

Processing Machinery FAQs

What is a processing machine?

Processing machines transform raw materials or partly processed products into usable finished products for multiple consumer and industrial sectors. Processing equipment ranges from small-scale laboratory-type apparatus to large scale lines for high output operations such as major food, pharmaceutical and chemical producers. 

What is the best processing machinery?

Processing machinery is designed to perform specific tasks for certain types of materials and products. Machinery designers and manufacturers have created a hugely extensive range of equipment to meet the needs of all industry sectors.

Some machinery is designed for a single task, others are made to work flexibly with different raw or part-processed materials. Flexibility also applies to different outputs, for example of different shapes, sizes and formulations. Flexibility is an important factor in maximising the return on investment for processing machinery.

Key issues for processing machinery are capacity, output, cleaning and maintenance. The best machines for any business will meet production requirements, ideally with the option to increase or decrease throughput according to demand. They will also be easy to clean, so that hygiene levels can be maintained, and downtime is kept to a minimum. Stainless steel meets most requirements, and efficiency is maximised by clean in place systems.  

Automation is a further consideration. Most processes can be partially or fully automated, resulting in lower staff costs, fewer safety risks and aiding the fast, accurate performance of repetitive tasks.

How much does a processing machine cost?

The scope of processing machinery covers equipment for small scale, table top activities through to enterprise-scaled industrial plants. Costs are determined by size, operational capabilities, and component parts including the level of automation and controls. In terms of automation, equipment costs need to be weighed up against the full costs of manual operation. 

More flexible machines with options on the operating mode can be more expensive than single purpose machines. Costs also can be expected to be higher for food or pharmaceutical grade machinery which needs to be built from high quality materials which allow for regulated standards.

To identify the costs of any investment in processing machinery, PPMA members who produce the type of equipment you are interested in can give you full details. Use PPMA Machinery Finder to research equipment and producers, and to find contact details.

What are the processes for preserving food?

All foods deteriorate over time, due to exposure to light, oxygen, heat, humidity, and bacteria. Packagingprotects food for a certain period of time, and includes the use of modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) to hinder oxidation by enclosing the product in inert gas.

The longevity of food is also highly dependent on food processing. Preparing raw ingredients through cooking, fermenting and pickling for cans, jars and other sealed containers can result in shelf lives of a year or significantly more. Oils, brine and alcohol are used in many containers to aid the preservation, hydration and flavour of the contents.

Drying in ovens or air-drying transforms moist products and prevents degradation of raw or cooked foods such as meat, fruit, vegetables and pasta. Many processed foods, including powdered milk, can be dehydrated to form long-lived granules which can be reconstituted by the addition of hot water. 

Freezing is a further approach to food preservation, best achieved by freezing as quickly as possible after harvesting fruit and vegetables, or landing fish or slaughtering and butchering meat.

For a complete guide to processing machinery, see our comprehensive guide Machinery Explained. For details of processing equipment and services from PPMA member companies, search for relevant information in Machinery Finder.