King's Hawaiian production line
Most King's Hawaiian employees work in the packaging area, due to the soft nature of the products.

OAKWOOD, GA. — On its third and newest line in Oakwood, Ga., automation abounds. In fact, only a handful of employees work from ingredient handling through the bagging of its popular-selling 12-packs of signature rolls on the dedicated operation.

However, about a dozen employees are needed to manually load the 12-packs of rolls into cases because of the extremely soft and delicate nature of the products. That’s an observation not lost on Curtis Taira, vice-president of the Torrance, Calif.-based company.

“Most of our employees work in the packaging area,” he noted.

In all, the two, adjacent bakeries in Georgia house three lines installed within the last six years at an estimated cost of $130 million.

In the original 125,000-square-foot bakery, Line No. 1 produces its original round bread in foil pan while the12-pack dinner rolls are baked in paperboard trays that double as the consumer packaging.

The adjacent Line No. 2 is a versatile operation that cranks out panned buns, rolls and subs as well as products made in the bakeable paperboard trays, which provides extra production for the soft rolls during distribution. The complexity of the line, the variety of products and the multiple packaging formats — ranging from individual four-packs of rolls to club-sized packaging — complicate the search for a labor-saving alternative.

“Because we change packaging sizes and master cases all the time on the other lines, it becomes very difficult to automate,” Mr. Taira said. “Down the road, we’ll be looking into robotics and other potential solutions.”

While items baked on line No. 1 are conveyed directly to Formost Fuji horizontal form/fill/seal stations using heat-sealed film, those from line No. 2 travel a different path. A Shuttleworth conveyor splits the flow of these products into two lanes. One sends buns through a LeMatic slicer equipped with horizontal slab and vertical split cutters. The other lane bypasses the slicer. A Capway diverter divides Line No. 2 buns into three lanes that feed the four Formost Fuji paddle-bagging stations.

On Line No. 3 in the new 125,000-square-foot bakery that opened last December and practically mirrors the original bakery, the paperboard cartons enter one of three stations with Formost Fuji baggers, Kwik Lok closures and Mettler Toledo Safeline X-ray systems. After automatic case erecting, the packages manually are loaded with inserts to support and stabilize products during shipping.

Each case carries a bar code, allowing the company to track products by lot and item number as well as quantity. Filled cases ride a conveyor to the shipping department. At present, cases are manually palletized, but the company plans to put in robotic palletizers once the second bakery is up and running. Finished product leaves the bakery in tractor-trailer rigs or railcars. All packaging supplies are warehoused in an area adjacent to the packaging room, in the shipping room set between the two buildings.

Asked if he is challenged by the inability to automate casepacking, Mr. Taira simply shrugged it off in typical laid-back Hawaiian style.

“That’s just the way the product is, and that softness is a key part of what makes them so special,” he said. “Eventually, we’ll probably figure it out, but until then, the way we’re doing it now is the best alternative.”

For more on King’s Hawaiian’s Georgian operations, check out the upcoming November issue of Baking & Snack magazine.