Figure 1: A Semi-continuous tray dryer.

The Practical Action tray dryers aim to fill the gap in the equipment market between the many solar (and assisted solar) drier designs (described in the (Practical Action Technical brief) on solar drying) and the large industrial equipment.

The range of industrial technologies used for fooddrying includes; tunnel dryers, spray, roller freezeand tray dryers. Tray dryers are the most suitable interms of cost and output, for small and medium sized enterprises.

The term tray drying is normally refers to small industrial systems with some form of air heater and a fan to pass air over the product being dried although sun drying on trays or in solar dryers can also be called tray drying.

While small tray dryers are available from Europe and the USA, where they are used in pilot plants and Universities, their cost makes them unaffordable and uneconomic for producers in developing countries.

Practical Action (previously know as ITDG) recognised the need for small, controllable, powered tray dryers that could be constructed by engineers in developing countries mainly from locally available materials that were capable of producing high quality products. This has resulted in a range of tray dryers that can be manufactured at a lower price and there are now tray dryers, based on these designs in many countries with the greatest up-take of the technology in Latin America.

The key point to bear in mind when considering the local construction of such a dryer is to understand the basic principles involved and adapt them to local conditions such as the dimensions of local plywood sheet, common stock steel sizes, social conditions and fuel availability.

Tray dryer principles[edit | edit source]

The dryers are made of trays held in a cabinet which is connected to a source of air heated by gas, diesel or bio-mass such as rice husk. The air temperature is usually controlled by a thermostat which is normally set between 50 and 70OC. The air enters the bottom of the chamber below the trays and then rises, through the trays of food being dried, and exits from an opening in the top of the chamber. In the Practical Action systems the trays are designed to force the air to follow a longer zigzag route which increases the air/food contact time and thus improve its efficiency. This system also reduces back pressure which means that cheaper, smaller fans can be used. The airflow in a typical system is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Basic airflow pattern in a Practical Action dryer

There are three basic types of tray dryer cabinets; batch, semi-continuous and cross flow dryers. Practical Action has worked with the first two systems.

Practical Action is able to supply information to allow the construction of four dryers. In some cases full drawings and manuals are available together with a case study book and a short video.

Batch Tray Dryer[edit | edit source]

Batch cabinets are the simplest and cheapest to construct. The cabinet is a simple large wooden box fitted with internal runners to support the trays of food being processed. The trays are loaded into the chamber, the doors closed and heated air is blown through the stack of trays until the entire product is dry. As the hot air enters below the bottom tray, this tray will dry first. The last tray to dry is the one at the top of the chamber. The advantages and disadvantages of this system are:

Figure 3: A typical double chamber batch dryer
  • simple, low cost chamber
  • low labour costs – simply load and then unload
  • a tendency to over-dry the lower trays
  • low efficiency, in terms of furl consumption, in the later stages of drying when most of the trays are dry.

The Practical Action Batch Tray Dryer[edit | edit source]

This, the smallest dryer in the range, is designed to allow trials to be carried out, the production of samples to demonstrate to buyers and for basic product costings to be calculated. Due to its low capacity the tea chest dryer is not intended for commercial production but does allow product development at very low cost.

Construction: plywood walls over wood frame
Dimensions: 0.5 m3
Capacity: 6 trays
Heat source: 2kw electric fan heater wired with external thermostat so that fan runs continuously _ Capacity: approx. 1kg/day

The Semi-continuous Tray Dryer[edit | edit source]

Semi-continuous cabinets were developed by Practical Action in order to overcome some of the disadvantages of the batch system. In a semi-continuous cabinet a lifting mechanism allows all of the trays except the bottom tray to be lifted. It is thus possible to remove the lowest tray as soon as the product is dry. The mechanism then allows all the trays to be lowered (now tray 2 is at the bottom of the stack). This leaves a space at the top of the stack to load a tray of fresh material. Two types of lifting mechanism are available both of which activate four movable fingers that lift the second tray upwards. One design is operated by a handle which is pulled downwards. The other design, developed in Sri Lanka, has been found more suitable for use by women and here the lifting mechanism is a car screw jack which, on winding up, lifts the four fingers. The advantages/disadvantages of this system are:

Figure 4: The tray lifting mechanism on a semi continuous tray dryer.
  • over-drying is avoided
  • product quality is higher
  • fuel efficiency is considerably increased
  • a higher daily throughput is possible
  • the cabinet is however more expensive to construct
  • labour costs are higher due to loading and unloading trays at regular intervals
  • in order to maximise output 24 hour working is recommended

Typical semi-continuous dryers are shown in Figure 3, which shows the lifting mechanism and the gap above the lowest tray that is ready for removal.

Detail of lifting fingers

  1. External lifting mechanism
  2. Main lifting lever pivot support
  3. Vertical lifting rods
  4. Lifting fingers
  5. Trays with angle iron edge bearers
  6. Inner wall of drying cabinet
  7. Lifting finger pivot support

The Small Practical Action Semi-continuous Tray Dryer[edit | edit source]

Construction: Plywood wall over wooden frame
Dimensions: Cabinet 1.08 x 0.98 x 0.83m
Overall height: 1.9m
Capacity: 13 trays, useful area per tray 0.53m2
Heat source: Direct gas heater/blower (max output 25kw and 470m3 air/hr
Fuel consumption: 0.5lbs per hour at 50°C
Throughput: 120 kg of herbs per 24 hour cycle
Labour: 3 workers on shift
Figure 5: Detail of the Lifting fingers

The Large Practical Action Semi-continuous Tray Dryer[edit | edit source]

Construction: plywood walls over angle iron frame
Dimensions: cabinet 1.4 x 1.2 x 0.9m
Overall height: 2.2m
Capacity: 15 standard trays, each 0.8m2
Heat source: kerosene/diesel indirect heater-blower. Max heat output 60kw. Air output 2800m3
Fuel consumption: 0.8 gals/hr at 50°C
Throughput: 360 kg/ 24 hrs for herbs
Labour: 3 workers over 24 hrs

How to Use the Dry IT Semi-continuous Tray Dryer Manual
How to Make the Dry IT Semi-continuous Tray Dryer Manual
Semi Continuous Tray Dryer Engineering Drawings
Semi Continuous Tray Dryer Video

The Anagi dryer[edit | edit source]

This semi-continuous dryer developed by Practical Action South Asia (previously known as ITSri Lanka) uses biomass (rice husk) as a source of heat and does not require electricity. Tray lifting is by a mechanical car jack under the cabinet. Contamination of the product is avoided by use of a heat exchanger. As the dryer depends on natural convection of air (rather than fans) its capacity is lower than the powered dryers. Its capital and running costs are however very low.

Construction: Timber walls over angle iron frame
Dimensions: 4ft x 2ft 8" x 7ft
Throughput: 70-80 kg cashew nuts/day
No of trays: 6
Fuel: saw dust or rice husk
Fuel consumption: 30 kg/day

See the Anagi Tray Dryer Technical Brief for further details.

Cross flow chambers[edit | edit source]

Although Practical Action has not developed this system it is considered worth mentioning inthis short brief. In this chamber the air is blown, through a series of louvers, directly across the trays and then re-circulated over the heater. In the early stages of drying, when a lot of water is being removed, a high proportion of the air is vented to an exit and replaced by fresh air. As drying proceeds the proportion of vented air is reduced. At the end of the drying cycle no air is vented. This system then overcomes the problems associated with batch and semi-continuous cabinets in that:

  • labour costs are low as it works like a batch dryer
  • all the trays dry at the same rate
  • fuel efficiency is maximised.

Cross flow systems are technically more complex and require automatic humidity sensors to control the percentage of air vented during the drying cycle.

Technical details[edit | edit source]

Economic considerations[edit | edit source]

When processing food its value is increased but the value added per kg processed must be cover all the costs involved such as labour, fuel, rent and depreciation costs. In general very little value can be added to low value foods such as cereals and root crops. For this reason it is only economic to dry such commodities in very large plants. Considerable value can however be added to certain fruits, herbs, nuts, spices and vegetables such as mushroom or asparagus. These are the foods most commonly processed by small and medium drying enterprises.

Drying data[edit | edit source]

Most of the experiences to date have been with drying herbs and fruits. Typical drying times for herbs in semi-continuous dryer at 55°C are 4 hours prior to the removal of the first tray, after which a tray of dry herbs can be removed every 15 minutes. Each tray removed is replaced with a tray containing 5kg of fresh herbs. In the case of sliced fruits however it requires 8 to 10 hours to dry the first tray. Thereafter, trays can be removed and loaded every 30-45 minutes. Drying data and production costs for a wider range of products are currently being investigated and Practical Action can access additional information through its network of development organizations.

Organizations and enterprises seriously interested in developing dried food products may be interested to know that a test dryer has been designed that can be locally constructed. This allows drying rate curves for a given food to be quickly and cheaply prepared. Such information is invaluable to those involved in equipment design and new product development. The unit consists of one foot box heated (in the same way as the tea-chest dryer) by a domestic hair dryer. The tray of food being investigated is suspended from an electronic balance reading to 0.1g. The weight of product is then simply plotted against time as it dries. Drawings are available from Practical Action.

References and further reading[edit | edit source]

Drying of Foods Practical Action Technical Brief
Small Scale Drying Technologies Practical Action Technical Brief
Anagi Tray Dryer, Practical Action Technical Brief
Solar Drying Practical Action Technical Brief
How to Use the Dry IT Semi-continuous Tray Dryer Manual
How to Make the Dry IT Semi-continuous Tray Dryer Manual
Semi Continuous Tray Dryer Engineering Drawings
Semi Continuous Tray Dryer Video
Drying Food for Profit: A Guide for Small Businesses Barrie Axtell, ITDG Publishing, 2002
Producing Solar Dried Fruit and Vegetables for Micro- and Small-scale Rural Enterprise Development Natural Resources Institute, 1996

Useful contacts[edit | edit source]

Our country offices will be able to put you in touch with tray drier users in their regions, addresses are given below:

Practical Action South Asia
5 Lionel Edirisinghe Mawatha
Colombo 5
Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 11 2829412
Fax: +94 11 2856188

Practical Action Latin America
Soluciones Prácticas
Casilla postal 18-0620
Lima 18
Tel: +511 446 7324
Fax: +511 447 6621

INNOTECH Ingenieursgesellschaft mbH
Weilemer Weg 27
D-71155 Altdorf
Tel.: ++ 49 (0)7031 / 74 47 41
Fax: ++ 49 (0)7031 / 74 47 42

FA info icon.svg Angle down icon.svg Page data
Part of Practical Action Technical Briefs
Keywords food processing
Authors Steven Medina
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
Organizations Practical Action
Ported from (original)
Language English (en)
Translations Chinese, Persian
Related 2 subpages, 6 pages link here
Impact 15,915 page views
Created March 21, 2009 by Steven Medina
Modified May 23, 2024 by Kathy Nativi
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