Smart conveyors streamline pound cake filling line at famed bakery
A Chicagoland institution for the past 32 years, Talerico-Martin Wholesale Bakery (Talerico-Martin) is a high-production wholesale operation, producing fresh-baked Danish, muffins, cookies and donuts that are distributed daily to over 600 restaurants, convenience stores and other wholesale customers throughout the Chicago area, Southern Wisconsin and Northwestern Indiana. The bakery also supplies its products frozen to institutions, such as school systems, throughout the United States.
Running continuous production seven days per week, 24 hours per day, the bakery manufactures an average of 1.5 million baked goods, weighing approximately 400,000 pounds, every week. Much of this is a wide selection of cakes, with names like Lemon Fluff, Black Forest, Banana Split Delight, Pina Colada, Triple Chocolate Fudge, and its popular Atomic cake. But the bakery is best known for its pound cakes, which represent more than 50 percent of the bakery’s total product output. Every day Talerico-Martin makes 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of pound cakes – 210,000 to 280,000 pounds weekly. The bakery’s pound cake manufacturing line runs an eight-hour shift daily, every day of the week, and during peak season in the Fall runs 16 hours per day to keep up with the seasonal demand.
In late 2014, Talerico-Martin expanded its production facility – from 30,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet, largely to accommodate increased demand for its institutional frozen product line, including its pound cakes.
“It was a major expansion for us,” says Chris Goebel, general manager at Talerico-Martin. “About five years ago, we moved into the frozen baked goods market for institutional sales, and it has just continued to grow, particularly with school systems throughout the United States. By late 2014, we really needed to increase our capacity for production.”
“We added 18 new rack ovens, in addition to the six that we already had, bringing us to a total of 24 ovens,” Goebel continues. “We expanded our packaging capability by installing several new wrapping systems. We built out our ambient-temperature storage area for raw materials with more space and racking. And, we had a new freezer built that would accommodate the volume of eight long-haul truck loads.”
New Pound Cake Filling Line
As part of the expansion, the bakery also installed a new automated, pound cake filling line to replace its highly manual process.
For more than two decades before the automation, empty loaf pans, each holding four pound cake molds, were placed on a non-automated conveyor. The pans were physically pushed down to a work station where the molds were manually sprayed to prevent sticking. Then again pushed down the conveyor to a deposition work station were the pound cake batter was manually deposited into the molds. The pans with the four molds were then physically pushed to a racking station, where they were taken off of the conveyor and placed onto a portable rack for subsequent movement into an oven for baking.
Baking took 90 minutes. Afterwards, the cakes were allowed to cool, knocked out of the pans, individually wrapped, and cartonized for shipping.
“We needed to automate our filling process,” explained Goebel. “This completely manual filling line required three workers. It took two workers to spray the pans, to keep up with the one person that deposited the cake batter and transferred the molds to the racking for baking. Because the spraying was manual, sometimes the pans were not adequately sprayed and the cakes would stick in the pans after baking.”
To automate the filling line, the bakery selected an automated spray system manufactured by Mallet & Company, as well as batter deposition equipment manufactured by Reiser. It then brought in Shuttleworth (shuttleworth.com) a manufacturer of specialty conveyor systems, and a division of Pro Mach, to design a custom conveyor system that would automate the movement of the loaf pans through the entire filling process.
“We told Shuttleworth what we thought we wanted,” says Goebel. “We knew we wanted the cake pans to be conveyed, and we knew we wanted the conveyor to do certain functions. But it was not a piece of equipment that existed, and had to be custom designed and manufactured. Shuttleworth had to put together our vision and create a very specific type of conveying machine. And in the process, they had to work with Mallet and Reiser to get everything to perfectly integrate and work together.”
Smart Conveyor Technology
Shutleworth engineers designed a unique conveyor system solution for Talerico-Martin which automated the movement of the pans through each step of the filling process, while providing for precise pan-location indexing at both the spraying machine and filling machine.
The conveyor is 3-1/2 feet wide by 12 feet in length. The pans are automatically guided through the line in a single row – the width of the conveyor being adequate to accommodate the movement of the pans from the beginning of the line to the end.
The automated conveyor was designed in the pattern of a U-shape, so that one operator can load the cake pans into the front end of the conveyor infeed. The pans are automatically routed through the system, with spraying performed by the Mallet sprayer, then filled with the Reiser depositor. Then the conveyor turns 180-degrees and directs the filled cake pans back to the operator. The operator then removes the pans for placement in the racking, which is destined for the oven.
“Sensors built into the conveyor precisely index the pans into the spraying and filling machines,” says Todd Eckert, project manager for Shuttleworth. “The sensors tell the pans precisely where to stop, so spraying and filling is performed exactly.”
The specialized conveyors utilize a technology called Slip-Torque®, which eliminates accumulation jam-ups with the pans. It provides low-line pressure, facilitating the precise placement of the pans. Should the line need to slow or stop, the conveyor can continue to take pans from the upstream line for a specified period of time instead of stopping the line. A low-pressure accumulation buffer absorbs irregularities in the production flow, and provides a smooth, even flow through the line.
“Slip-Torque utilizes individually-powered rotating roller shafts and loose-fit rollers, which become the conveyor surface, powered by a continuous chain,” Eckert adds. “The size and weight of the canisters determines the driving force. When a pan stops on the surface of the conveyor, the segmented rollers beneath the pan also stop.”
Conveyors with Slip-Torque have the ability to modulate the speed of different sections of the conveyor, via a central control PLC and HMI. As the cake pans are moving down the line, the rollers at the back end of the conveyor can be moving faster than the ones at the front end of the conveyor. The cake pans can be moving at variable speeds on different sections of the conveyors as dictated by throughput requirements.
“We can move 24 pound cakes per minute through our new filling line,” Goebel says. “Manually, we were able to do about the same amount, but we needed three workers to obtain that throughput. This automated system lets us do it with just one worker. And the quality of the spraying and filling is of consistent quality. The automation has made our filling process very efficient.”