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Unitherm Micro and Mini Spiral Oven
Time: 2016-04-18
For start-up enterprises, the goal is to hit the ground running and succeed beyond all expectations.
The path getting there is often not smooth, nor one with typically fast results. But for one food processor
that completely shifted its core business, a single piece of economical yet highly efficient
and flexible cooking equipment led to exponential growth.
Wanniassa Wheeler Food, an Australian food processor that four years ago planned to make
dramatic changes to its business strategy: shift from being a low-volume supplier for a local franchise
food chain to becoming a high-volume food processor providing a variety of culinary and convenience
foods to global wholesalers, retailers and other food processors.
This would be a tall order for most companies, but Wanniassa Wheeler had a vision that reconfiguring
its 5500 m2 facility with the proper equipment would enable the creation of a diversified line of cooked
protein products while still enabling the company to supply its 47-store chain of
Ali Baba QSR (quick service restaurant) outlets. The Ali Baba line includes Lebanese cuisine such as
chicken kebabs, kafta fingers, salads and other items aimed at the casual dining segment.
The chief idea for the new strategy was to cook protein products including chicken, lamb, beef and
turkey in the high volumes needed to satisfy supermarkets, and even big box outlets such as Costco,
while also offering quality ranging from restaurant to gourmet level.
The experience in cooking various meat products was limited to combination and walk-in ovens.
Wanniassa Wheeler wanted to minimize product contamination and restrict human handling of
products to only placing them on a belt at the front end of the oven. After cooking, the product
would automatically be transported to a chilling system and either shipped or stored. 
Some types of conveyor oven are sure to be the solution.
The spiral oven, which offers a minimal footprint, increased yield and product consistency, has been
adopted as the continuous cooking system of choice among many ready-to-eat frozen and chilled
food processors. It allows them the versatility to roast, steam, bake, broil or even pasteurize ready
meals in a single piece of equipment. Examples of the products range from baked quiches, meatballs
and chicken wings to oven-roasted vegetables and steamed chicken breast.
Spiral ovens are available in a variety of sizes, but Wanniassa Wheeler was inclined to look for
smaller sizes that were still capable of producing higher volumes and were easy to operate while
cooking a variety of products. After reviewing a range of models, the company was convinced that
the correct solution for his new operation was the Micro Spiral Oven developed by Unitherm
Food Systems. This supplier developed the Mini Spiral Oven prior to the release of the Micro version,
which is 1.5 x 2 x 2 m and has over 18 linear meters of belt. Unitherm also manufactures other spiral
oven models that are up to 6.4 x 7.9 x 6 m.
In addition to protein products, Wanniassa Wheeler is roasting vegetables in its Micro Spiral Oven,
including items such as eggplant, capsicum, potato and items that are put into Ali Baba dips. 
Even though Wanniassa Wheeler’s Micro Spiral Oven was capable of cooking up to 280 kg/h,
depending on the product, the company’s growth rate was so rapid that after just two and
a half years, Wanniassa Wheeler was looking to add capacity.
With overall dimensions of 2.4 x 3.6 x 3.9 m, Unitherm Mini Spiral Oven would not only increase
Wanniassa Wheeler’s cooking capacity to approximately 680 kg/h, but it would also address
the growing demand for alternate uses, including the ability to provide customers with an
in-house test cooking facility.
Wanniassa Wheeler made a dramatic shift from a low-volume supplier for a local franchise
food chain to becoming a high-volume food processor providing a large variety of products.
Another important benefit of the spiral oven is food safety provided by ‘in-cook’ pasteurization.
If you compare the spiral oven from Unitherm with a combi oven (combination convention oven
and steamer) that has the same functions, they normally remain at 99–100°C. With the Micro
and Mini Spiral ovens, the steam goes up to 130°C. A steam separation system allows this high
steam to contact products at the beginning of the process, and then they go through
a slow process, perhaps another two or three minutes, depending on the product.
The installation of the Micro Spiral Oven got Wanniassa Wheeler up to speed quickly and
resulted in its successful entry into the retail segment. Shortly afterwards, the company
began to receive enquiries for authentic flame-grilled products. Because the Micro Spiral
Oven from Unitherm was able to connect directly to the flame grill, the production line could
easily be expanded. This combination of Micro Spiral Oven and flame grill was responsible for
opening up new sales channels for Wanniassa Wheeler. For example, some of supermarkets
started to work with the company to develop a line of flame-grilled chicken tenders, breasts
and wings. Also, Wanniassa Wheeler was able to enter the burger patty market for
the first time. One of its new products is a high-end line of wagyu beef burger patties,
which commands a high price like Angus beef products, as well as regular beef burger patties.
The two spiral ovens were in large part responsible for the company’s rapid growth. Not only
did this equipment enable Wanniassa Wheeler to exceed its goals quickly, but it also facilitated
the addition of the flame grill in an in-line configuration, which allowed the company to expand
into additional products and markets. Further, these additional capital investments were able
to be implemented without going through the effort of researching and testing equipment
from another vendor, thereby getting to market faster and more efficiently.
Source: www.foodprocessing.com.au