Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are microwaves?
A: Microwaves are radio waves, nearby in frequency to cell phones. They are completely different than nuclear (ionizing) radiation. They can apply energy to matter but cannot alter atoms. There is somewhat of a myth or misnomer out there when people say "I'm going to nuke my potato", when discussing microwaves. Microwaves and nuclear radiation or ionizing radiation are very different. Microwaves can also be easily transported and focused. Bulk high power can be economically generated and they deeply penetrate most non-metallic materials creating volumetric heating of your product.
Q: What are some of the benefits of microwave systems?
A: There are many advantages to microwave systems. Typically, microwaves have higher throughput than any other heating method; typically 10x faster. Precise power control results in high uniformity and consistency. Microwaves generally produce superior quality product. Microwaves are 75%+ efficient in energy utilization. Microwaves are modular and expandable, making it easy to upgrade with your needs. Microwaves have very high reliability, and little down time. Microwaves are also inherently environmentally clean with little to no emissions; thus, permitting is usually not required due to lack of combustion.
Q: What are some industries that use industrial microwaves? Is this a new technology?
A: Thousands of industrial microwave systems are in use every day around the world. Some major food applications include; Cooking prepared foods, tempering frozen meat and dairy products, drying foods for shelf stability, pasteurization and sterilization, processing of raw foodstuffs: fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices. Industrial microwaves are not a new technology, it just hasn't been investigated as a means of heating for many applications.
Q: What is the expected lifespan of a microwave system? Are there any parts that go bad or wear out on your microwaves? How often do they need serviced?
A: These microwaves are very reliable, robust systems and with proper use and maintenance can be expected to last for 30+ years. There are a few parts that do need to be serviced and replaced. The main two are the belt and the magnetron tube. A magnetron tube is good for about 8000-10000 hours of use and then it will usually start to deteriorate. This is approximately 1 year running 24/7. These magnetron tubes are covered by a limited warranty and can be rebuilt at a lower cost than new. Additionally, depending on the product and process in question, the belt may need to be periodically replaced. Solid state generators have a higher initial cost but have a lower cost of ownership. They use multiple transistors instead of a magnetron tube and have a life expectency of >500,000 hours.
Q: What is required to operate a microwave system?
A: Our microwaves require electricity, cooling water, a small amount of compressed air to keep sensors clear and some form of exhaust setup for drying applications. For electric, our systems require 480 VAC 3 phase at 250 amps per 75 KW generator or 300 amps per 100 KW generator. This will vary from country to country and every system is designed to handle standard line voltages for 3 phase electricity in their destination country. For cooling water our systems use ~80K BTU/hour per generator, or 8 tons of cooling. In most situations, this cooling will not need to be running at full power; however in certain situations like hot, humid environments, the transmitter will require more cooling. The exhaust system greatly depends on whether you are cooking, tempering or drying your product. Drying systems generally require 1000–5000 CFM per oven (varies product to product); ordinary galvanized duct is acceptable to use for exhaust. Cooking and tempering systems may need little or no exhaust in place.
Q: Generally speaking, what is the lead time to build my microwave system?
A: Our microwaves are custom, made-to-order so we will begin making your system as soon as the order is placed. The general lead time from date of order to delivery is 90-120 days. Our microwaves are manufactured under the highest of quality specifications by skilled craftsman in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. These microwaves ovens are made from 304 stainless steel and are 100% wash-down capable. As much of the manufacturing as possible is done in house, with high quality components and materials.
Q: Do you offer any type of training course?
A: We do offer several levels of training and support. Our reference materials and complementary guidance will help plan your installation and get up and running with your microwave. We also offer online support and repair servicing options should they be needed after installation. The microwave will also come with a full operator manual which can be used for reference in a great amount of detail.
Upon commissioning we will give your operators a walk through of how to operate the machine safely and reliably. A very informative 2 day operator training course is available either at our manufacturing facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa or arranged at your site should circumstances dictate (e.g. large class size). The class is aimed at teaching operators and maintenance personnel how to use the machine, general care and maintenance, and some diagnostics, as well as safety and basic microwave theory.
Q: Are there any safety issues or dangers with operating a microwave?
A: Like working with any high-powered, industrial machine there are risks. However, these microwaves are designed and engineered with the highest level of safety in mind. If the machines are operated and maintained they are absolutely, 100% safe. We strive to educate our customers on how to safely operate the machinery. Although no negative health effects have ever been identified due to long-term exposure to low levels of microwave energy it is still good practice to routinely check your system for microwave leakage. We recommend buying a microwave survey meter to routinely check your system for any amount of leakage. Regardless, the US Government has established strict standards for leakage from consumer and industrial microwave systems. Our Microwave system has been engineered to significantly exceed these standards. It is also worth noting that the levels deemed unsafe are for long term exposure and are magnitudes lower than the power you would need to burn exposed skin.
Q: How will I know the settings to run the microwave at to reach my target throughput?
A: There are many different ways you can figure this out, one way would be to do trial-and-error until the optimal settings that produce the target product the fastest are determined empirically; however, this can be costly in terms of time, money and wasted product. We recommend doing small scale testing and then brief medium scale or pilot testing in order to learn how your product behaves when microwaved. We then use this data in our proprietary software to extrapolate the equipment, power and settings needed to produce your target quality and amount of product.
Q: How is an industrial microwave different then what I have at home?
A: A commercial microwave like you see in most home kitchens is actually very similar in overall concept but nothing like an industrial microwave in size, power or efficiency. One of the main differences is that an industrial microwave can control its power output; almost all commercial and residential units have a set power they will put out and sometimes use pulses to get an average lower power over time. Our smallest 915 MHz microwaves are 75 times more powerful than a 1000 Watt 2.45 GHz residential microwave. A residential microwave is also a batch system where your food sits on a rotating table, while our industrial microwaves can come in various configurations such as continuous flow, indexing batch systems, mixing vessels, etc.
The difference in frequency allows us to make much larger openings in our applicators without leaking microwave energy. This is of great benefit when designing dryers and cookers where a conveyor for continuous operation is necessary as well as provide better air handling.
Q: What type of area is needed to setup a microwave system at my facility? How large is the footprint?
A: Systems size will correlate directly to your throughput needs. All of our systems are built to order and can accommodate most spaces. We offer a full suite of 3-D modeling, so we can take your building layout and show you different possibilities for laying out your system(s).