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Making sugar cubes all over the world

Luuk van der Sterren is Field Service Engineer and Installation & Commissioning Engineer at GEA, one of the largest suppliers of technology for the food processing industry. He has been working at GEA and TMC for 14 months now. “My home base is the GEA factory in Weert, The Netherlands. We make three types of machines there: vertical packaging machines, and machines to make and package lollypops and sugar cubes. I work on sugar cube machines. My work means travelling a lot to sugar factories all over the world. I recently went to Russia twice and on Monday I am going to Algeria for the third time. Canada is on the calendar. It’s great to see all these different countries and experience all these different cultures.”

Explaining the machine

“The machine itself consists of a mixer where sugar is combined with approximately 1% water. The mixture is put in rotating moulds and then compressed to a certain height and weight. After that, they are pushed out onto a conveyer belt. The belt runs through a microwave section that evaporates the water out of the cubes, and then they cool down on the belt. At the last stage of the machine, the cubes are picked up by vacuum heads, which are able to hold a whole field of cubes, and put into a box of the same size as the head. Depending on the product, the mould and the vacuum head are different. Each country has different preferences for their cubes. In France, for example, they also like cylinder-shaped sugar and even sugar in the shapes of spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. People are wiling to pay more for a nice shape.”

Service, installation and MacGyvering

“When you are installing a machine at a new location, you never know what you’ll find. You enter this empty hall and it’s your responsibility to turn it into a complete production space. After the assembly we always test and fine-tune the machine and check the performance. Personally I like the service assignments more. They are more challenging because you need to find the solution to a problem. We are able to do a lot from a distance, because the whole line is connected to the Internet, and we can check the PLC software from our factory in Weert. We also train our customers to do a lot of the repairs themselves, but sometimes it is inevitable that we need to go and take a look ourselves. Then you need to make sure that the line is back in production as soon as possible. Every minute without production is costing our customer money. Sometimes when you are at a site and you don’t have the necessary parts to hand, you need to ‘MacGyver’ your way through. When you are able to help a client to continue his or her production with a very unorthodox solution – that’s very rewarding.”

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