Processing progress

A world-leading developer of food and beverage processing technology, JBT Corporation aims to build enduring solutions for the food safety, shelf life, yield, quality, and throughput problems that customers routinely face

Though only an independent company since 2008, JBT has roots dating back to the late 1880’s when John Bean invented a continuous spray pump to battle scale in his almond orchards. Bean’s invention led to the founding of the Bean Spray Pump Company, which eventually merged with Anderson-Barngrover in the 1920’s to become the Food Machinery Corporation (FMC), one of the largest food manufacturing firms in the world at the time.

When JBT (John Bean Technologies) was founded and introduced on the New York Stock Exchange in 2008, branches of the previous business – FMC FoodTech and FMC AeroTech – were rebranded under the JBT banner. Now a global technology solutions provider to the food processing and air transportation industries, JBT designs, manufactures, tests, and services some of the sectors’ most technically sophisticated systems and products.

“For the first half of JBT’s life as an independent company, the FoodTech segment could be categorized as being heavily focused on in-container filling, closing and sterilisation, fruit and juice packing and processing, and protein freezing and cooking technologies,” the Liquid Foods’ Global Marketing Director Carlos Saavedra explains. “However, over the past five or more years, JBT has undergone a transformation as the company has gone on an acquisition spree that has brought us new capabilities in the fresh-cut salad and vegetable, high value powder filling (i.e. infant formula), dairy and juice sterilisation and filling, tray sealing, high pressure processing and secondary processing segments – and that’s just the Liquid Foods side of our business.”

Reputation for innovation
As of 2020, JBT employs approximately 6500 people across the company and operates sales, service, manufacturing, and sourcing operations in more than 25 countries around the globe. The majority of the firm’s production facilities are located in North America and Western Europe, where their typical capabilities include fabrication and welding, machining, laser cutting, and assembly. JBT’s focus on quality manufacturing means that some products the company produced in the 1950s are still in use today.

“Some pieces of equipment we’ve made really have been around for 50 years or more, and some technologies, like the rotary pressure steriliser, have been a part of our catalogue for over 100 years,” Carlos declares. “It speaks to the robustness of our manufacturing technique, the supply chain, the materials we use, and our commitment to improving a customer’s total cost of ownership. A lot of the bells and whistles have been updated with processes like automation, but the end result, the heavy-duty frame of the machine, is still structurally sound.

“Some companies build things with a planned obsolescence. The capital cost is relatively low, but the ongoing maintenance costs are high, and the replacement cycle is much more frequent. We’ve taken a different approach where our capital costs are on the high end, but the ongoing maintenance costs are lower, and the replacement cycle is much longer. Overall, the total cost over the lifetime of the process, say over a 20- or 30-year cycle, will be much lower with our equipment.”

Research and Development is one department that remains key to JBT’s operation. Unsatisfied with the status quo, the company has established a reputation for innovation, with many of its creations going on to become industry standards in multiple food and beverage segments.

“R&D, or New Product Development (NPD) as we call it at JBT, is the lifeblood that sustains us,” Carlos says. “More so than the products themselves, what separates us from our competitors are the capabilities found in the multiple research and technology centres (RTCs) we operate in every major region. These facilities allow us to engage with our customers in a very personal way by helping them develop formulations, packaging formats, and processes. Our specialists in these centres have conducted tens of thousands of application tests on a wide variety of food products. We really get inspired when our customers bring one of their food processing challenges our RTCs.”

New system release
Despite JBT’s core customer base including a host of global blue-chip brands, the company also markets to long-tail food processors at the regional level. With customer engagement and input an essential part of the firm’s NPD process, everything JBT produces is geared towards ensuring that customers are successful with their production and new product launches. Although the company prefers to serve wide segments of its customer base, it is not uncommon for the business to undertake bespoke NPD projects from time-to-time.

One of the company’s latest major releases, developed with the help of customer feedback, is JBT’s new Gentle Can Handling (GCH) system. A breakthrough for continuous rotary sterilisers, GCH reduces damage to cans as they run through the sterilisation process, providing greater protection for lightweight food containers. The system has the potential to enable customers to achieve higher operational speeds and more throughput or run lighter weight cans, which could provide significant savings on costs.

“Rotary pressure sterilisers have been a staple technology in the food canning and sterilisation business for almost 100 years, however, JBT is constantly innovating to help solve customer problems and deliver additional value,” Carlos remarks. “As food processing companies have worked to reduce cost and increase efficiency, they have requested higher speeds from JBT and lighter weight cans from their suppliers. The early days of 25 cans per minute have now evolved into speeds of more than 1000 cans per minute for the modern rotary pressure steriliser (RPS). Higher speeds, lighter weight cans, and new can geometries have, at times, resulted in unacceptable damage to cans involved in processing. Our GCH technology creates a tangential path for containers to transfer from shell-to-shell in the RPS. The system maintains control as the ejector lifts the container out of the reel and over the leading edge of the valve bridge. This motion reduces sharp impacts experienced by lighter weight containers in high speed lines. This technology can be applied to new RPS equipment, as well as retrofitted to existing RPS machines.”

Committed to sustainability
Given the breadth of JBT’s portfolio, sales of some of the company’s products can be cyclical or commodity driven, but the firm continues to enjoy steady activity in its juice processing business, as well as an increase in visibility for its high pressure processing systems as consumers look for minimally processed, clean label end products.

“Even the Covid-19 situation has already impacted our business as consumers prepare more meals at home and have returned to buying canned and ready meals as well as fresh fruits and vegetables,” Carlos reports. “As far as our corporate customers are concerned, we understand all too well the hardships they are facing in terms of allowing outside parties to access their facilities for sales and service-related visits. That’s why we’re engaging more with our customers virtually through tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and our new PRoSIGHT™ augmented remote assistance platform, which customers can access using their own personal smart devices.”

Technologies such as PRoSIGHT have not only benefited customers during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also serve as further evidence of JBT’s commitment to its sustainability goals. Alongside PRoSIGHT, which helps to reduce CO2 emissions and the company’s carbon footprint by minimising unnecessary travel, JBT has a number of initiatives in place to help the firm build upon its strong record for sustainable, environmentally friendly practices.

“For us, sustainability takes multiple forms,” Carlos claims. “Over the years, we’ve been replacing and updating a lot of infrastructure at our facilities and earlier this year, our Sint Niklaas site in Belgium completed one our most ambitious projects to date, installing 1048 solar panels capable of producing over 25 per cent of the 260,000 square foot facility’s energy usage.”

As conscious consumers become increasingly keen to see a reduction in the use of plastics in production, environmentally friendly technology that minimises plastic usage, such as JBT’s Proseal tray sealing range, has become more attractive to a wide variety of food and non-food customers. By sealing goods with a film over a preformed tray, Proseal technology also helps to reduce food waste by extending a product’s shelf life. It is a topic that Carlos and his team are passionate about.

“We are always trying to reduce the energy consumption of our machines and recycle water in our cleaning systems, but sustainability does not end there,” he asserts. “For a long time, our operation has aimed to take advantage of all the inputs so that there is very little spoilage or wastage for consumers.

“For example, there is no waste in our citrus processing technology. Anything that comes from an orange or grapefruit that isn’t juice gets converted into another useful product like cattle feed or pulp. Water is recycled to be used somewhere else in the process and oils and aromas can be used in baked goods or other culinary products.”

Sophisticated solutions
Carlos suggests that JBT is experiencing positive feedback from its customers regarding the company’s dedication to sustainable practices, and conscious consumerism is also sparking growth in a number of products lines. Perhaps the largest surge in interest has been in high pressure processing (HPP) technology, a system that uses ultra-high pressure purified water to keep packaged food pathogen free, allowing it to stay fresh longer.

“More and more people are valuing products that have a perception of less industrialisation or less processing,” Carlos argues. “HPP is cold pasteurisation in pure water. It deactivates microbes in foods or juices without having to use heat, which helps also in flavour retention. Most importantly, from a consumer standpoint, it seems like a more natural process because no preservatives or additives are needed. We’re definitely seeing a significant increase in the number and volume of products using HPP, which, of course, will benefit us.”

Later this year, JBT will be working on its 2025 strategic plan, introducing a variety of new products, and developing enhanced methodologies to help connect virtually with its customers. Building on the firm’s long history and established position as a global market leader, in the years ahead, JBT aims to continue its relentless pursuit of developing new and innovative breakthrough technologies for the food processing industry.

“Although the most visible thing we produce is equipment or machinery, JBT really is in the solutions business,” Carlos proclaims. “Our products and systems give food processors the tools they need to help reduce food waste, extend shelf-life, and produce healthy and tasty foods and beverages. At JBT we see ourselves as a vital cog in helping to make better use of the world’s precious resources by providing solutions that sustainably enhance our customers’ success.”