Here's a fun fact about Pretzels, Inc.: As one of the largest private label pretzel makers in North America, the company makes more varieties than you can shake a pretzel stick at: twists, minis, rods, balls, rings, and ultra-thins. But the Bluffton, Indiana based company also makes lots of extruded and baked corn-cheese snacks, like puffs, balls, curls, and crunchy curls. "Currently, we produce a dozen products in seven different flavors, and we're anxious to expand our offerings in the future," notes company Vice President and General Manager, David Faust.
All that variety has steadily boosted consumer-demand for Pretzels, Inc. products. However, as the product line grew, so did the challenge of consistent seasoning application. "We season a variety of products, from extruded to pretzels," says Faust. "The densities of each product vary greatly, which makes the coating application a more complicated aspect of our business," he explains. Frequent product changeovers and cleaning have also taken a toll on profits. "We had one coating applicator for everything," laments Faust. "If we had a base product but wanted to put three different seasonings on it, we'd require a cleanup in between each."
The FastBack Revolution distribution and On-Machine Seasoning system accepts product from two sources and distributes proportional quantities to six seasoning, weighing, and packaging stations.
Faust was determined to improve efficiency and pave the way for new growth. He contacted Heat and Control, which had supplied a FastBack distribution conveyor system on rush order over the Christmas holiday after the packaging room at Pretzels, Inc. was destroyed by fire. The company evaluated other systems on the market and purchased a new FastBack Revolution product distribution and On-Machine Seasoning application system, in part based on the reliability and efficiency of its existing FastBack conveyors.
Working together, Pretzels, Inc. and Heat and Control considered 15 different layouts, finally deciding on a system to apply seasoning in the packaging room (instead of in the processing area) that would expand production flexibility and efficiency. "Heat and Control did lots of work on the front end and back end," says Faust. "They worked very closely with our onsite engineers to conceptualize and design the layout and equipment. We did most of the installation ourselves, but Heat and Control once again got heavily involved when it came time for commissioning the equipment. Much help and long hours was given by them to make sure everything was running well, and operators were trained adequately."
The new FastBack Revolution distribution and On-Machine Seasoning system accepts product from two sources and distributes proportional quantities to six seasoning, weighing, and packaging stations. Each bag maker controls its own Revolution gate so it receives a consistent flow of product. The unique gate rotates to divert the exact amount of product requested by the bag maker. Product flow is precise for both small bag sizes and large packages. When not diverting product, the gate rotates to a fully closed position, preventing any possibility of cross contamination between lines.
"Consistent proportional feed product delivery eliminates stop-start operation and improves the efficiency of weighers and bag makers by allowing them to run for long uninterrupted periods," explains Blake Svejkovsky, Product Handling Systems Manager at Heat and Control. That produces big improvements in coating consistency, and even bigger efficiency improvements in packaging for Pretzels, Inc.
"Accuracy and consistency have improved by nearly 30%," notes Faust. Improvements apply to all Pretzels, Inc. flavorings, including cheeses, jalapeño, honey mustard, buffalo, spicy, salt and pepper. The On-Machine Seasoning system matches seasoning output to product flow to produce extremely accurate application rates without excess seasoning usage. Integrated product conveyors and tumble drums save space and produce consistent coverage. "This technology opens so many doors for us," says Faust. "The On-Machine system provides so much more flexibility in terms of running multiple flavors at once. In fact, he adds, "product scheduling flexibility has roughly increased by 50% because of the dynamic functionality of our packaging room now. In the future, we're excited about opportunities to offer our customers more packaging variety, such as multi-pack configurations, because we now have the flexibility to do so."
"Accuracy and consistency have improved by nearly 30%... product scheduling flexibility has roughly increased by 50% because of the dynamic functionality of our packaging room now." — David Faust, Vice President and General Manager of Pretzels, Inc.
Elimination of product cross contamination is another benefit of the Revolution gate system. "Different products can safely run side-by-side in the conveyor system and the Revolution gate prevents any possibility of cross contamination," says Heat and Control's Svejkovsky. "This is helpful to companies like Pretzels, Inc. which run many different products. The gate's gentle rotary motion, accurate electronic positioning, and lack of pinch points all contribute to maintaining peak product quality," he adds.
Another dramatic improvement over the old system is the reduction in cleaning and changeover time. "We're seeing a 50% reduction in cleaning time," notes Faust. The gentle slow-forward fast-back horizontal motion of the FastBack conveyors prevents the loss and build-up of seasonings in the conveyor pan and greatly reduces product breakage compared to vibratory conveyors. Seasoning drums and feeders can be removed without using tools for cleaning away from the production area.
All of these features contribute to maintaining Pretzels, Inc.'s standard of excellence. "We have a great reputation in the market for high quality snack foods and the company was built on making the best product possible.