A specialist in producing premium novelty and panned chocolate candies, The Madelaine Chocolate Co. of Rockaway Beach, NY, recently found itself challenged to increase production while reducing unit cost. Faced with a near capacity factory, Madelaine’s operations manager Jeremy Kaye contacted Frazier & Son to design a distribution system to move freshly molded chocolate eggs to a pair of overhead distribution conveyors and then back down to floor level and a pair of foil wrapping machines. The footprint of this distribution system had to fit within the existing location of the molding plant relative to the foil wrappers.
“Prior to the system upgrade, we would convey the chocolate eggs on a conveyor belt and have it fall into a hopper,” says Kaye. “From the hopper the eggs were brought up on a cleated incline conveyor to an overhead conveyor running above two wrapping machines. From that overhead conveyor the eggs would drop down one of two tubes, each of which brought the eggs down to the wrapping machines.”
One problem with the cleated incline conveyor was that it was pretty rough on the relatively delicate chocolates. Another shortcoming in this previous method of moving the candy from molding to packaging was that it lacked an effective sortation step to weed out egg halves. These are fairly common at Madelaine because the eggs are molded in halves and then joined together around a filling. Sometimes, the halves separate. The only sortation built into the system occurred just ahead of the wrapping machines, and the sortation there was somewhat rudimentary in nature. Consequently, egg halves inevitably made it into the wrapping machines and caused jams.
In June of 2010, the cleated incline conveyor was replaced. The chocolate is now moved to the overhead conveyor above the wrapping machines in a Model CB-NLC bucket elevator from Frazier & Son. That firm also provided a custom sorter using a Model HS-43 vibratory feeder from Eriez. The tooling mounted on the vibratory feeder—driven by a high-deflection electromagnetic drive—allows egg halves to fall through. Only full eggs are allowed to proceed forward. Past experience in retrofitting an older sorter with an Eriez HS-42 vibratory conveyor gave Frazier a good idea of how the sorter required by Madelaine should be built. Solid modeling enabled engineers to develop a solution that met with Eriez design parameters for the vibratory drives and assured a stout and adjustable sorting deck.
From sortation to elevation
Chocolate eggs drop from the sorting system into another Eriez vibratory feeder that runs off at a right angle to feed the new bucket elevator. The Eriez feeder starts and stops on commands sent from the Rockwell PLC in the CB-NLC bucket elevator. The PLC also receives inputs from the hoppers of the two wrapping machines. Banner photocells in each hopper notify the PLC when more chocolate eggs are needed.
“Using photocell height sensors, we’re able to determine when each wrapping machine is low in product and requires more chocolate. The whole operation is done using computer programming and the photocells. Two chutes can feed the wrappers and a third chute discharges the overflow that could not get to the wrappers.”
A critical component to the success of the system was to maintain molding production even if one of the wrapping machines jams or is delayed during a required roll change. The CB-NLC bucket elevator conveyor is capable of buffering 17 minutes of production before sending, in this case, foil wrapped Easter eggs to an overflow discharge.
Frazier used Jacob Tubing stainless steel fittings and tube to transfer product gently from the wrappers to the over-flow discharge. Jacob provides a sanitary, quick-disconnect, tubing system that is easy to dismantle for sanitation and reassembly.
Jan Tec Inc. provided a new 90 degree turn conveyor to take product from the molding plant to Madelaine Chocolate’s existing metal detector. Frazier & Son and Jan Tec worked closely to ensure that product was transferred between the new equipment and existing equipment flawlessly.
Kaye sums up the new equipment this way.
“It was installed and is running perfectly. It is the best production line in our plant. The system has reduced costs by at least $100,000 annually while increasing production by 36% and delivering a better product because of its gentle handling process.”