• May 28, 2024

Looking sharp

 Looking sharp

HTMS revamps a venerable tobacco cutter to meet modern-day requirements.

By Stefanie Rossel

Usually, money is the main reason behind the decision to breathe new life into older tobacco equipment. Tobacco companies that have their machinery revamped do so because they will get an up-to-date version of their reliable workhorses without having to invest in significantly more expensive new equipment. In turn, they accept that they may not have the latest technologies associated with new machinery at their disposal—technologies that might be more efficient than even an “as new” rebuild.

But what if equipment developed way back in the past is simply more robust and flexible than anything currently available? In that case, rebuilding may be a sensible choice. On behalf of a leading manufacturer of large machine-made cigars, Hampshire Tobacco Machinery Services (HTMS) of the United Kingdom recently transformed a Molins MK1 cutting machine, comprising five units originally built as a tobacco stems cutter, into a cutter that is now also capable of cutting a range of tobacco leaf—uncased, semi-cased or fully cased—in compliance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. The development extended to cover anything from heavily cased cigar blends to the currently much-favored shisha tobaccos.

Testifying to the quality of Molins’ original cutters, HTMS used a variety of MK1 donor machines built as early as 1934 and introduced new features. “The old MK1 cutter can cut heavily cased tobacco much better than modern-day horizontal rotary axis cutters,” says Ron Woodthorpe, managing director of HTMS. “Besides, it also has a more robust structure and a compact design. We have used all the advantages of the MK1 and MK4 to build a cutting machine to meet today’s demands for FDA-compliant cigar production.”

HTMS replaced the original epicycle gearbox, which worked with a five-blade rotating vertical cutting head, with a compound gearbox and introduced a new feature: a pneumatically controlled weight box conversion. Using a dependable, adjustable design by supplying pneumatic pressure to create a force to the top band via the mechanics of the existing link arms onto the tobacco, it forms a solid “cheese” for the final cutting of threshed tobacco products at 22 percent moisture. Outside of the cigar range, the MK1 modifications are most suitable to cover the RYO and MYO sectors, with the added attraction of cutting for shisha tobacco.

By using a selected change gear, the range of cutting widths has been significantly extended. The rebuilt cutter is able to provide extra-coarse cuts, ranging from 5 cuts per inch (cpi) for specialized products to 180 cpi. Flexibility of the cutter has been further enhanced. The redesigned gearbox allows a simple change. It can even be extended to 220 cpi by adding the change part of the MK4 eight-blade knife head. New configurations are available to extent capacity for all products, including lamina conditioned leaf blend, up to 2 tons per hour.

Using only four blades of the knife head to provide 5 cpi, the revised MK1 can theoretically apply 4 cpi, producing a particularly coarse cut as a possible substitute for threshed leaf blends.

“The range of tobacco cuts on this machine is structured to give options for a ‘cut blend’ for leaf, rather than threshed leaf for cigars,” says Woodthorpe. “This covers the cutting of 5 cpi to 24 cpi to substitute for threshed leaf particle. This is understood to meet the requirement of the FDA and the user to create a platform of accuracy and performance for the composition of a cut blend.

“The application can vary relating to width of cut and volume, this coming into a blended format to meet the design of the favored blend, under the known value of substances that are predetermined within the proposed leaf blend, which means that you can identify the tar, nicotine and sugar in the tobacco before it is cut, to give the analysis of the volumetric format before it is actually blended.

“This as an essential prerequisite in times of comprehensive legislation of tobacco products.”

By being able to cut known conditions of leaf for cigars, manufacturing will allows the processing of reclaiming of about 10 percent of tobacco use as addback on line production.

The cutter has been comprehensively automated. The constant throughput of tobacco is controlled electronically by an incoming feed system and a sensor-based, tobacco-level detection system. Feed rate and conditions for compression of the cheese are also constantly checked.

The sticky stuff

The original MK1 was designed principally for dry-stone knife sharpening. At the time, there was little need for cutting heavily cased tobaccos, which is a far more demanding task. Casing requires that the tobacco be soaked in or sprayed with a “sauce” that may contain sugar, molasses, licorice, rum or whiskey, along with various flavorings, natural or otherwise. Heavily cased tobaccos can contain up to 40 percent nontobacco ingredients and become very sticky, which makes the cutting process more complex and also adds to contamination of the cutting equipment. This is especially true for the increasingly popular water pipe tobacco.

To meet the production requirements of this product, HTMS equipped the MK1 cutter with a wet-stone application capable of cutting a variety of flavored tobaccos that carry molasses or sticky fruit flavors, as well as the traditional shisha tobaccos. To keep the machine clean between blend changes or after the processing of heavily cased tobaccos, the company has built in a “wash down” hose facility.

Woodthorpe says that his company’s modification covers almost 99 percent of MK1 cutting machines produced by Molins. Built to the latest European safety standards, the new MK1 cutter, complete with infeed conveyor, comes with a one-year warranty—a remarkable achievement for a technology developed more than 80 years ago.  “With our modified cutter, we are able to offer high flexibility in a low-cost machine,” says Woodthorpe.