A Sticky Situation

Feb. 15, 2003
Candy-maker Ferrara Pan searches for a conveyor to keep even
Kids young and old have enjoyed candy from Ferrara Pan for nearly a century, including the Chicago-based manufacturer's famous Gummie Bears and Worms. Consumers with a sweet tooth don't care how Ferrara Pan makes the candy or gets it into individual bags, but for company packaging director Phil Tencate, transporting and packaging 470,000 pounds of candy a day presents challenges.These challenges, according to Tencate, are as varied as the products Ferrara Pan produces. "Whether we're running a sticky product like a Gummie Worm or a firm product like a Lemonhead, we need equipment that can respond. There are so many variables involved."Tencate needed to find a conveying solution flexible enough to move a wide variety of product. "The systems I had in place functioned, but not very well. I needed to move difficult product at a good rate of speed. After talking to some of my colleagues, I knew there had to be something better out there." Tencate invested a good amount of time searching for a better solution, eventually visiting manufacturers of other sticky products, such as Sargento Cheese, to see how they handled their products. He also considered a potato chip conveyor, but found that even though it handled product gently, it couldn't move difficult products at the required speed. A custom solution Finally, a colleague recommended Key Technology, whose Iso-Flo Vibratory Conveyors are designed to handle difficult products like sticky gummy bears. Iso-Flo is known for producing less vibration than other mechanical conveying methods, and for providing installation flexibility. Tencate sent Key some of his most difficult product for testing and discovered that Iso-Flo could move it at the required speed. In fact, because the conveyors are designed to handle a worst-case scenario, more stable products moved too quickly. As such, staff members from Key worked with Ferrara Pan to make the necessary adjustments. "We did some re-engineering," Tencate explains. Ferrara Pan installed the Iso-Flo Distribution System in its packaging area over a year ago. The line is now automated to control product flow, so that when a cross-feeder conveyor above a scale has no product, it automatically signals the main feeder to send product to it. When a scale is empty, it signals a cross-feeder to supply product.The Iso-Flo cross-feeder delivers product to the scale in a single layer, essentially metering the amount of candy being fed to the scales.  "If we're running 100 bags of 1-oz. pouches per minute, we can't discharge a wall of product to the scale," notes Tencate.  "It would overcharge it. The Iso-Flo delivers small amounts of product so we can control how much is going to the bagger." More improvementsAlthough Tencate and his staff were happy with the performance of the Iso-Flo conveying system, they worked with Key Technology to refine product flow, especially for conveying Ferrara Pan's stickiest products.  Rods at the discharge end of the feeder conveyors acted like a rake to even out product levels. But the sharp edges caused clogging problems at the feeder end with gummy products. Tencate worked with Key engineers, and rods were eventually added to help the product flow more freely. After several production runs and discussions about ways to make product-leveling even more effective, Key built a prototype based on Tencate's suggestions."I suggested they make the rods adjustable so you could lift them up and tighten them down," Tencate recalls. "That way, we wouldn't be using them unless we needed them. They let me run the prototype for a month, and when it worked built us three more for the other feeder conveyors. We've been running well since they made that modification."The "raking" prototype also eliminated the need for "product movers" -- employees who stood on a mezzanine above the scale feeders to physically manipulate the flow of the candy. Ferrara Pan continues to work with Key to make it easier to adjust conveyor speeds for the wide variety of candy Ferrara Pan produces. Currently, operators manually speed up or slow down the conveyors, and Key is working on a modification that will automate that function.

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