Oil-free compressed air enabled the company to prepare and package its food with the highest levels of food safety and quality.

E2M Kitchen, a Charlotte-based fresh and ready-to-eat meal provider, has significantly evolved its food preparation and packaging process. E2M Kitchen focuses on producing gluten-free, dairy-free, and preservative-free meals. The production process starts with raw ingredients cooked in a commercial kitchen. Healthy living is a key element in the company's DNA, so every tool used in its production process has been scrutinized to ensure food safety.

As E2M Kitchen sought to expand its production to meet growing demand in the ready-to-eat meal segment, the company needed an automated system driven by compressed air — often dubbed “the fourth utility” in production plants. The air compressor powers many of its machines, including:

  • Conveyor belts
  • The robotic arm of the GPI® Denester, which places the food trays on the conveyor
  • Multi-Fill® pneumatic food depositor that portions food onto trays
  • A TX-720® vacuum sealer that packages trayed food
  • Metal detector with piston-driven air to remove trays from production if metal is detected
  • A high-speed printer that labels the final product

Choosing the right air compressor was critical for the company as compressed air plays a pivotal role in its production processes. It needed to be efficient, capable of substantial operational uptime, and, above all, ensure the safety of the food products.

E2M Kitchen worked with Pattons, a southeastern ELGi distributor, to install an ELGi AB37-125 as the heart of its food production system. The air compressor can provide 216 cfm of compressed air at 100 psi, a power output that aligns with the requirements for maintaining consistent air quality throughout E2M Kitchen’s comprehensive food preparation and packaging processes. ELGi’s unique rotor design reduces pressure loss and increases stage efficiency, allowing the compressor to maintain peak operational efficiency. E2M Kitchen can produce approximately 10,000 meals daily during periods of maximum production.

“The ELGi oil-free air compressor has become the cornerstone of our manufacturing line, enabling a seamless transition from manual, hands-on food preparation to an automated system,” said Levi Barbee, President at E2M Kitchen. “It has accelerated our production volumes, enabling us to cater to growing demand without compromising our strict standards of food quality and safety.”

The food production industry has seen a key shift in air compressor choices. Historically, “oil-flooded” air compressors were the go-to. But they come with a built-in problem: oil contamination. Bruce Marsh, Systems Specialist at Pattons, pointed out that lubricating oil in the compressor might end up in the compressed air, pushing tiny oil particles into the food, packaging, and production facilities. This oil contamination compromises product quality and introduces potential health threats to consumers.

In response to this, E2M Kitchen quickly embraced oil-free air compressors. The main benefit of oil-free air compressors is evident right from their name: no oil. This means no risk of lubricants or oils tainting the food or the production site. But the advantages extend beyond just avoiding contamination.

E2M Kitchen’s choice of an oil-free compressor, notably the ELGi AB series, not only aligns with this industry trend but also showcases the specific benefits the company has tapped into. The oil-free design rules out any chance of contamination from lubricants or oils. It also demands less maintenance compared to oil-flooded compressors, and that reduces the chances of oil spills and leaks — incidents that are pricey to address and could halt production.

The focus on minimizing oil spill and leak risks is the starting point of E2M Kitchen’s dedication to an environmentally friendly approach. Their oil-free compressor ensures pure air in the employee workspaces. With less required maintenance, there’s a reduced need for oil changes and filter swaps. This conservation of time and resources aligns perfectly with the company's sustainability goals. Most crucially, with no oil or moisture in the compressed air, there’s no worry about those substances affecting the food trays or packaging, giving E2M Kitchen the freedom to consider greener packaging alternatives.

At E2M Kitchen, our commitment to the well-being of our customers is paramount,” Barbee said. “Our customers’ health and satisfaction are at the heart of what we do, and we spare no effort in ensuring that our products live up to their high standards.”

E2M Kitchen and Pattons have forged a strong partnership built on Pattons’ unwavering support. From assisting E2M in selecting the right compressor to overseeing its installation in the production facility, Pattons has demonstrated time and again its reliability as a trusted ally.

“There was a time when a connection from the compressor broke, and we were unable to seal food trays,” Barbee said. “Under such high-pressure circumstances, we called Pattons immediately. Despite the issue falling outside their usual purview, they didn’t hesitate to send a technician. This is a testament to our solid alliance, and we’re excited for more shared successes in the future.”

E2M Kitchen strongly focuses on the Charlotte area with a robust customer base. E2M Kitchen’s rewarding partnership with Pattons and ELGi has bolstered its confidence for future business expansion toward the West Coast. The reliability and performance of the ELGi compressor have been instrumental to its production line, and E2M Kitchen anticipates continuing the partnership with ELGi should there be a need for compressed air in its future ventures.