In 1978, Bill Huggins and Bill Mann founded Pretzels Inc. Based in Bluffton, Indiana — with a second facility in Plymouth, Indiana — the company manufactures and distributes traditional, peanut butter-filled, flavored, seasonal and gluten-free pretzels, as well as extruded snack products, to a diverse customer base that includes leading grocers as well as private and national brands.

The pretzels come in a variety shapes and sizes, including spinzels, waffles, minis, sticks, braids, pretzel balls, micro-minis (those that airlines offer passengers) sticklets, spuggets, niblets and seasonal shapes.

Pretzels Inc. knew it was time to move from a manual to an automated production process. The peanut-butter filled nuggets, packed in rigid containers, or “barrels,” was taking off — with national and international customers ordering increased quantities.

From Manual to Machine

“We used to do everything by hand — the product was filled on a scale, weighed manually and packed the same way,” explains Paul Schaum, chief operating officer at Pretzels Inc. Now they are being automatically filled and weight-checked within the same line. “It has made the packers’ lives much easier.”

Pretzels Inc. changed to an automatic filler/weigher due to limited space for the new line. The company wanted cup fillers for a smaller footprint and eventually chose the Parallel checkweigher because the allotted space did not accommodate an inline checkweigher.

“I’ve used Spee-Dee volumetric fillers at other companies and had great success with them, so when it came time here, I chose Spee-Dee,” says Schaum.

The company has been using the Spee-Dee volumetric filler for around 18 months. The integrated machine has simplified the filling of the barrels dramatically. “That business is taking off; we have a lot of customers that like it,” says Schaum. In addition to faster filling and weighing speeds, the manufacturer has also seen cost savings.

Spee-Dee’s high-tech automated volumetric cup filling system (AVS) is a smart filler that knows the volume of the package and adjusts accordingly. The CHS model volumetric cup filler sits on an 8-foot conveyor. On the conveyor downstream from the filler is a parallel checkweigher. The star wheel takes the container off the conveyor and places it on a checkweigher. After the barrel is weighed, the star puts the container back on the conveyor. 

The setup is very compact — fill and checkweigh in just 8 feet. Even when addressing allergen or product contamination issues, changeover times decrease from hours to minutes.

Down the line from the checkweigher, the lids are placed on by hand and tightened by a Kaps-all torquer and then sealed by an Enercon induction cap sealing system. This section of the line is scheduled for a full automation change in the near future. 

Allergen-Free Production

The company’s manufacturing space at its Plymouth location currently sits on 45,000 sq. ft., with a major 128,000 sq. ft. expansion in the works. Production is set to begin in April 2020. “We’re building this plant to be allergen independent,” explains Schaum.

The Spee-Dee CHS filler and parallel checkweigher system is used specifically for the peanut butter-filled nuggets. Eventually there will be three lines running the product, with the addition of a second Spee-Dee setup when the expansion is complete.

“We wanted to keep the number of machinery vendors to a minimum because we had a time constraint. So we went with four vendors,” explains Schaum. “When the rigid barrel containers started taking off, we brought in Spee-Dee.”

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