MARION, OHIO — In its 250,000-square-foot facility that rose from the devastation of a fire in 1996 that essentially melted the production floor, Wyandot Snacks now houses 10 processing lines and what seems like a never-ending row of 40 packaging lines.

In this space, Wyandot’s can-do attitude is seen in rapid motion as it acts as a co-manufacturer and produces private label and popcorn products. “I’m always amazed at how we can make things and then live-load a truck,” said Rob Sarlls, president and chief executive officer, Wyandot. “I love that. It’s coming off the line, and then like six hours later, it’s leaving us. That’s huge.”

But in snack food manufacturing, attitude isn’t enough. To get products down the line and out the door, Wyandot must streamline the process and equipment to focus on the end result. The company partnered with Clextral to install a total of three twin-screw extrusion lines in various areas of the plant, with another set for installation this spring.

“When you get really good at a certain type of equipment, when you develop a good relationship with the OEM, you want more of it,” Mr. Sarlls said. “When it works, you want to multiply it.”

One of the first Clextral installations is still going strong producing toddler snacks, a key piece of business for Wyandot. To accommodate the line, the blending station was relocated in accordance with the customer’s food safety requirements.

“The customer said, ‘Get the blending out of production so we can reduce possibilities for foreign materials,’” said Mike Wells, senior vice-president, operations.

Now, ingredients are brought in and blended in the room next door, and supersacks are transported via forklift to all extrusion lines.

For every product, all ingredients are barcode-scanned upon entering the facility.

“It doesn’t hit our warehouse without printing a ticket,” Mr. Wells said.

After the sacks are unloaded into a loss-in-weight feeder, the ingredients are run through the twin-screw extrusion.

“That’s when all the mixing happens,” Mr. Wells said.

Once the meal is formed, it’s run through a die — Wyandot has a full library of die shapes for extruded products — and is cooked after being cut. Once dried, the snacks receive a seasoning, either water- or oil-based, depending on the product.

Flexibility is key for Wyandot’s extruded products as well as its other traditional snacks like tortilla and corn chips that are produced with Casa Herrera ovens and Heat and Control fryers and seasoning drums. The company has seemingly innumerable roller dies to create any shape of chip imaginable, and the same can be said on the extruded lines.

“We can make just about any shape a customer wants,” Mr. Wells said.

From dime-size tortilla chips to whale-shaped snacks, the possibilities are endless.

While co-manufacturing is the supermajority, Wyandot still has some private label business, and popcorn — the legacy product — is still on the menu. To get this many different products out the door, packaging automation is a key factor. And flexibility is the battle cry.

In any food manufacturing facility with a limited footprint, when the rows of packaging machines have stretched as far as they can, operators will typically look upward. At Wyandot, a mezzanine level houses Heat and Control FastBack systems that convey, portion and weigh products such as corn and tortilla chips before they are packaged into bags on Kliklok-Woodman or TNA packaging lines.

After being placed in bags, chips are automatically placed in one of two BluePrint Automation (BPA) case packers, the most recent entry into the company’s extensive packaging operation having been added in 2017.

With just one production facility, Wyandot’s strategic packaging equipment purchases, such as with the case packers, help the company remain mindful of its space constraints.

“Technology has advanced even from just a year ago,” Mr. Wells said. “The footprint continues to shrink on equipment, which is good for companies like Wyandot, where space is a little tight. The technology is getting to where we’ll be able to automate more than what we do today.”

The BPA equipment was Wyandot’s first foray into automating this area of the operation, but the company’s propensity to work with incubator snack producers lends itself well to the prospect of new automation technologies that allow Wyandot to increase its volume without having to expand its footprint … at least for now. As part of the next phase of the company’s strategic plan, Wyandot is looking to eventually open a second plant on the West Coast.

This article is an excerpt from the March 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Wyandot Snacks, click here.