When Nellson looked to expand with a new bar facility, it found a facility in Ontario that provided the space it needed for current and future growth. This previously empty warehouse now houses segregated production lines that operate independently from each other and provides room for further expansion. Production is streamlined into straight lines, even the automated packaging department.
“One of the limitations of the Irwindale site was its length,” said Jamie Better, chief executive officer, Nellson. “Product needs to spend a certain amount of time in the cooling tunnels, so to run the line at higher speeds while maintaining quality, the cooling tunnels and line need to be longer. This site enabled us to accomplish that.”
Construction began in December 2016, and commercial production began a year later. Mr. Better anticipates that the plant will be fully operational by the end of 2018 and employ 250 to 300 employees, many of whom will transfer from the Irwindale facility.
Employees come into the facility through a secure entry point. After washing up and donning hairnets, gloves and coats, they enter the plant, walking past raw material receiving and storage to the production lines. The plant receives ingredients 24 hours a day, and they are sampled and tested in the QA lab before being accepted; once approved, they are tagged and racked. Allergens are segregated horizontally and vertically within this storage facility.
Outside, Linde silos hold bulk binders and coatings. The facility also has refrigerated and heated storage for nuts, seeds, fruits and other temperature-sensitive ingredients such as peanut butter and caramels.
Raw materials for each day’s production are staged by the line in racks between each room where forklifts retrieve for production. Production rooms, sanitation and support areas mirror each other across the corridors for each line, which enables forklift equipment to never enter the production space.
Before the mixing stage, wet and dry ingredients are prepped with syrups pumped from the silos and brought up to the appropriate temperature. In the Breddo Likwifier blender, these syrups are modified and customized to the formulations with proteins, fibers and other nutrients added to meet the customer’s formulations. This syrup is then pumped to one of three holding tanks where its final consistency will be achieved with a combination of heat and time. Only then is the syrup incorporated with the dry ingredients in one of two mixers.
Dry ingredients are pre-scaled and combined into kits in a separate room, then delivered to a mezzanine where Nellson’s proprietary mixing technology for granola and cereals is housed.
“We found that it’s much more efficient to centralize the measuring in one place, bring the kit to the mezzanine so all the operators have to do is open the mixer and pour in the kit,” said Bart Child, senior vice-president, commercial development.
Nellson’s mixing technology was customized by the company to gently handle granola- and cereal-based doughs to preserve particle integrity. It also makes production smoother.
“If you’re not careful with a cereal bar, you’ll grind up the cereal pieces, and it’s like making concrete,” Mr. Child explained. “You’ll compact it, and it will be as hard as a rock, so the idea is to preserve the piece integrity as much as possible.”
This mezzanine also sits above the high-sheer Peerless mixer that combines syrups and dry ingredients to create dough-based bars. Dough, granola or cereal-based material is then transferred from either mixer onto a Sollich bar line.
Installed in the facility is a sophisticated line where three sets of rollers in combination with coatings and toppings can create a seven-layer bar, which is the only production line in the Nellson network that can do that. Each of the rollers also may be independently temperature-controlled by a support room specific to the production line. Every line has its own heating and cooling room that is self-contained and accessible only to maintenance.
“We can heat one roller, and the very next roller can cool it,” Mr. Child said. “If a dough matrix is really sticky, a cold roller will keep it from sticking even more. A hot roller will help soften up a bar so it doesn’t crack when its cut.”
With multiple layers of very different dough matrices, sophisticated temperature control keeps production moving and product consistent.
After the material is rolled out, toppings can be applied before or after the slitter. The slitter creates separate lanes of bars and determines each bar’s width. Bars can then be drizzled or enrobed before entering a cooling tunnel. After cooling, the bars are cut by a guillotine. Here the length of the bars are determined by both a combination of conveyor speed and cutter speed.
While seven layers is impressive, the line really shines in the packaging department. One of the most sophisticated pieces of equipment in the new plant is a Bosch product distribution system (PDS). A single product run can be separated into two different pack-out configurations simultaneously.
“For example, we can run a six-count pack-out for Canada and a 12-count for the U.S. at the same time,” Mr. Child explained.
After the PDS, bars are individually wrapped by Bosch Doboy horizontal flowwrappers and then X-rayed and checkweighed for food safety and quality control. Product is then cartoned by a Doboy pick-in-place machine before being case-wrapped and palletized for shipment.
Bars don’t stay in the finished goods warehouse for long. Nellson manufactures with a just-in-time model, producing to fill orders as they come in.
“The freshness factor is really important for bars, so we want to be able to develop products so they get to market quickly and aren’t sitting in a warehouse for a long time,” Mr. Child said.
Nellson’s customers handle their own distribution with bars racked, and as the customer schedules pick-ups, those products are staged and ready to be loaded onto the customer’s or distributor’s truck.
“We’ve focused on setting up our plant as networks so we can optimize their logistics by having bi-coastal redundancy,” Mr. Child said. “It gives customers, especially the bigger brands, the opportunity to maximize their logistics savings by manufacturing the same product in two different plants closest to their distribution centers.”
To maximize its own efficiency, Nellson uses an E.R.P. platform and scheduling tool to navigate the varied production complexities.
“It’s not just allergens, but it’s also sequencing flavors, run sizes, pack sizes, slitter sizes and claims requirements,” Mr. Child explained. “It takes into consideration all those things to optimize our schedules so we’re not constantly in changeover or clean-up mode.”
E.R.P. software develops schedules so that sanitation fits in a way that keeps production moving as effectively as possible. For example, an allergen product will be scheduled last so that the line can keep moving.
“Sophisticated manufacturing scheduling tools is one of the ways we have been able to adapt to the ever-changing demands of our customers,” Mr. Child said.
Another advantage of the segregated lines is that sanitation cycles only interrupt the line being cleaned and production elsewhere can run unencumbered.