Streamlining the wrap

To effectively automate getting a product wrapped and into a carton, a baker must control the position of that product at all times, especially on a high-speed line. To that end, Oak State uses a number of different devices to ensure that positioning.

On one of its cookie lines, the bakery invested in a system custom-designed by Benchmark Automation that begins with two different row aligners to guarantee the position of the rows prior to removal. Before the infeed, auto blowoffs detect the size and space between the cookies to improve production efficiency. If there isn’t space between the cookies, they are automatically removed from the line to keep the wrappers from gumming up.

Next, the cookies feed into multiple Formost Fuji individual wrappers. Afterward, they are manually placed six at a time into a Langen sideload cartoner. While big-box stores and c-stores typically require 36- and 12-count packaging, respectively, five- and six-count cartons are the standard in grocery stores, according to Byron. “Case sizes are getting smaller; a six-count case size really isn’t unusual anymore,” he noted.

Meanwhile, over at Line B, a drop system and Benchmark touchless infeed send bars into the Formost Fuji wrappers. “The benefit of a touchless infeed is that the bars are automatically fed into the wrappers, and there’s no labor here at all,” Byron said.

A post-wrapping cookie counter in the Benchmark system automatically stacks bars six at a time for manual loading into a top-load cartoner.

Line D4 produces cookies with a lot of inclusions, so maintaining proper position for the row removal has to start first at the wirecut, where two people manually align them, and keep them aligned for the oven — the bakery’s largest at 200 ft long — to keep them in line for baking. To maintain position throughout, Oak State heavily invested in four row aligners after cooling. “We spent a lot of money on making sure we know exactly where these cookies are positioned all along the way,” Byron said.

The line’s four row aligners are positioned after the cooling spiral to address the slant that happens as a result of the cookies’ oval shape on the spiral conveyor. In addition to the aligners, an accumulator/buffer refeeds products back into the line instead of sending them to scrap.

This cookie line uses the pressure of a cold seal wrapper, as opposed to the heat seal on Lines A and B. “It’s more expensive wrap, but it runs faster,” Byron explained. When the line sees a million cookies come out of the oven every day, speed and efficiency outweighs the incremental price.

On this particular day, Byron saw that value in action. “Look at those cookies flying around,” he observed. “And all these people are doing nothing. That means everything’s working. I love to see people doing nothing.”

The Line D packaging room epitomizes speed and efficiency. Every leg has its own AFA Systems cartoner and uses a Blueprint Automation case packer that places six boxes per case. “Throughput is fast and in a small case, so it can generate a lot of cases per minute,” Byron said, noting the key to efficiency lies in the balance of speed, flexibility and throughput.