Quebec bakery’s automation investment hits the packaging line efficiency sweet spot
October 19, 2014
by Andrew Joseph, Canadian Packaging Features Editor; Photos by Pierre Longtin
No manufacturer of global renown has ever gotten to be that way without daring to set high goals for itself, and Kitchener, Ont.-headquartered Dare Foods Limited is as fine a testament to the virtues of dreaming big and reaching high as any major Canadian food producer out there—even after more than 120 years in the highly competitive baked-goods business.
Founded in 1892 by Charles Henry Doerr under the name of C.H. Doerr Company, the family-owned business that rose to iconic prominence as a manufacturer of delicious, high-quality cookies is nowadays also a major North American player in the market segments for crackers, fine breads, candies and other baked goodies and treats that busy modern-day consumers can’t seem to get enough of—including the very popular line of snack-bread products produced at the company’s highly-automated, 140-employee breadmaking facility in Saint-Martin, Que.
One of six manufacturing plants operated by Dare Foods in North America—employing over 1,300 people in total—the Saint-Martin plant is home the company’s very popular line of Boulangerie Grissol brand portfolio purchased by Dare Foods in its 2001 acquisition of the cookie and fine breads business of the Montreal-based Culinar Inc.
Housing two baking lines and three packaging lines, the busy plant turns out the full range of Boulangerie Grissol brand products, including the perennial bestseller Melba toast, Canapé, Bread Sticks and Baguette Bites, along with the recently-lunched new favorites such as Morning Thins, thin crispy slices of bakery-style loaves with seeds, fiber and fruit for on-the-go mornings; Sweet Thins, a sweet calorie-controlled snack; and Artisanal Baguettes, a line of premium-quality, oven-baked baguettes made under authentic recipes and using fresh natural ingredients like black olives, cinnamon and raisin, or cranberry and figs.
“We are a leading Canadian fine bread manufacturer,” says Saint-Martin maintenance manager Matthew Beauchamp, noting the company considers itself to be one of the leading players in the fine bread market segment across North America, despite growing competition from both imports and private-label store brands.
“Increased competition is a reality for us,” Beauchamp told Canadian Packaging in a recent interview, “but we constantly strive to remain competitive by launching new and innovative products.
“We also look at our bottom line results with the realization that by constantly updating our manufacturing equipment, we will not only improve our production line speed and efficiency, but will also reduce our manufacturing costs,” says Beauchamp, citing four major facility expansions and innumerable equipment upgrades taking place at the Saint-Martin factory since it first started producing the venerable Boulangerie Grissol products back in the 1940s under previous owners.
As the plant’s maintenance manager, it is Beauchamp’s job to ensure the plant’s production and packaging lines are always running up to snuff, which is no easy task for a plant “producing on three shifts a day, covering the entire week—with regularly scheduled sanitation—24-hours-a-day and seven-days-a-week.”
Despite the plant’s high-throughput rates and growing volumes, Beauchamp says the facility does not take any shortcuts that would in any way undermine the final quality of the product manufactured at Saint-Martin.
“After fresh ingredients are mixed in batches to produce dough, we process it into various pans, and bake it in large ovens,” he relates. “After de-panning, the cooked loaves are placed onto large wheeled racks and are refrigerated for several days to ensure most of the humidity is removed.
“Removing it from the refrigerated section, we slice the now-dry bread, and further toast it on a processing line specific to the type of cut and packaging required,” Beauchamp expands.
“After packaging—either semi-automatically or fully-automatically—the packaged products are palletized and immediately placed into vans for shipment to our distribution center which will then ensure our products go to the proper destination.”
For a company that is often credited with rewriting the book on cookie packaging in Canada, having borrowed a trick from coffee packaging and introducing the tin-tie strip to cookie packaging in 1954 to make it a new de facto cookie industry standard, the performance of packaging machinery and equipment at the Saint-Martin facility naturally get all the close scrutiny and attention it duly deserves, according to Beauchamp.
“When I became the maintenance manager for the Saint-Martin plant last year, I noticed early on that an existing carton former that was in use on one of our major line was not up to par,” he says.
“Relative to our needs, it was a poor design that featured overly complicated changeovers and adjustments that, quite frankly, caused us a lot of unnecessary downtime.
“Back in the summer of 2011, I was looking for a simple, robust, yet high-performance design with a high level of performance and efficiency, and I found one that offered all of that in one,” relates Beauchamp. “We found that at Delkor.”
Delkor Systems, Inc., a St. Paul, Minnesota-headquartered designer and manufacturer of packaging machinery, installed a brand-new Trayfecta S4 1502 model case, carton and tray former at the Saint-Martin facility.
According to Beauchamp, it was when he worked for Dare’s engineering department that he first considered them for a project.
“I was impressed by the equipment that they offered, but unfortunately, that project fell through,” relates Beauchamp.
Delkor sales manager Fred Sowa says that for the latest project Dare Foods was looking for a new tray former, but that “the actual carton matrix they presented was a bit unique in that they had a large format that ran quite slow and that the other smaller formats required speeds up to 90 cartons per minute.”
According to Sowa, the Trayfecta S4 1502 was the best possible solution for Dare Foods, allowing it to utilize two heads for the higher rate, while only one head would be required for the slower rates, a flexibility offered by the machine that is considered to be unique in the business.
“We actually design and manufacture three other carton formers, with another having four heads allowing for forming speeds over 200 cartons per minute, but the 1502 matched so perfectly for this mix of size and rate required, that it was a no-brainer for us to recommend it to Dare Foods,” advises Sowa.
He adds that since Dare required a nominal rate of 78 with a surge rate of 90 cartons per minute for their fastest requirement.
Delkor was aware that the speed on these machines is dictated by the carton size and style, “But on the 1502, we can mechanically operate at 60 cycles per minute so the machine is not being stressed.”
Key features of the Trayfecta S4 1502 include:
“You might note that Delkor seems to be a wee bit obsessed with the number three—but when we are talking about the Trayfecta series, it is by design, as it is a play on the word ‘trifecta’, bringing the power of three to the forming applications,” reveals Sowa.
“The Trayfecta can also run three different package formats—cartons, cases and trays, and handles glued, locking and fold-over lock designs,” he expands.
“Should you require it, it could form a paperboard carton on one lane, while at the same time form a corrugated case in the other lane,” states Sowa. “It’s just that impressive.”
To handle rough going at Dare Foods, the Trayfecta S4 1502 boasts a robust construction with fixture head slide guides that maintains a stroke tolerance within 0.008-inches for repeatable and close tolerance motion.
The Trayfecta S4 1502 utilizes a Rockwell Automation Allen-Bradley brand PanelView Plus 700 for easy operator interaction, and a ProBlue 7 hot-melt adhesive system to seal the cartons, cases and trays, manufactured by Nordson Corporation.
Now using the Trayfecta S4 1502 for cartoning of the Melba toast products, and the new Sweet Thins and Morning Thins products, Beauchamp is quite happy with the whole project.
“Everything worked out very well,” he begins. “The machine was up and running in no time, and it passed all the SAT (site acceptance test) and commissioning at a 99.5 per cent efficiency.
“We went from a two-hour changeover that took another two hours to fine-tune in production with our old machine, to a less than 10-minute changeover that generated perfect cartons in the first cycle after startup,” recalls Beauchamp.
Sowa concurs, noting that Delkor performed substantial testing prior to the customer’s factory acceptance test.
“Once their team arrived, we followed Dare’s extensive protocol to prove the machine,” says Sowa.
Beauchamp says he was also happy about the fairly simple training for Dare Foods’ operators.
“After only about 12 hours of training, a new operator could run and perform changeover with the Trayfecta within the required time,” Beauchamp says, noting that Delkor’s assembly technicians also serve as the installation service support.
“As such, when we do our extensive training with the customer in our facility, and follow through at the installation with the same technicians, we can provide a training service that is perfectly in tune with people who are familiar with not only the tray former, but also Dare’s requirements,” relates Sowa.
Other key equipment installed at the Saint-Martin facility include:
Beauchamp says he is convinced that the bakery will continue to move forward to be the best in the market segment.
“We will continue to improve our line efficiency and performance for our existing products to maintain our strong market position, involving integrating new technologies and workplace practices,” sums up Beauchamp. “We will also continue to be a leader in innovation by launching new and delicious products that fit well with our core business and values.”
As for Dare Foods’ continued commitment to proactive capital investment, Beauchamp proclaims: “It’s a credit to the Dare family, and their foresight, for empowering the company to not merely be viable financially, but to be a successful business now and for the long-term future.”
DARE FOODS TIME-LINE
The humble start to the Dare Foods empire began when Doerr began making and selling hand-made cookies at his own grocery store located in Berlin, Ont.—a predominantly German community now known as Kitchener, about an hours drive west of Toronto.
By the time World War I had ended, the company a locally well-known and fairly successful cookie and candy business.
Unfortunately, Doerr’s son Webourne and daughter-in-law Irene both died of the Spanish Flu of 1918, but he carried on by running the business and raising his infant grandson, Carl.
By 1933, Carl began working at the family business and took over at the age of 24 when Charles passed away in 1941.
After the factory burned down in 1943, the business-savvy Carl bravely proceeded to rebuild and modernize the factory, and change his family name.
Perhaps because his family name was of Germanic-origin, and Canada was at war with Germany, Carl surmised that a name change might be good for business, proceeding to change both his surname and company name to Dare, and soon after starting to ship product to all regions of Canada.
Not content with just producing food products, the company also took an active role in its food packaging. In 1954, Dare Foods took a coffee packaging concept and introduced cookie packaging to the tin tie-strip. The new format allowed consumers to reseal the bag to better maintain the product’s freshness, ultimately becoming the de facto standard of cookie packaging in Canada.
By 1956 the company had penetrated into the lucrative U.S. market, and in 1983 introduced the popular Breton cracker line, which became a bestseller in both Canada and the U.S.
Other key expansions include:
Manufactured in Canada and the U.S., Dare Foods has a wide range of cookies, crackers, fine breads and RealFruit candy all of which are available throughout North America and in more than 30 other countries around the world.
A close-up of the Trayfecta carton forming machine shows cavities being formed in the cartons to make just the right amount of space for the packaged product.
Formed cartons exit the Trayfecta S4 system via conveyor to be filled with product.
The Markem-Imaje 6064 thermal ink coder and the Loma IQ2 metal detection system pair up for optimal product coding and quality assurance.
Dare Foods employs a robotic top-loading system to execute gentle and efficient placement of packs of Melba toast in the outer boxes.
Machine operator using the Allan-Bradley PanelView Plus 700 terminal to monitor and control operations of the Delkor Trayfecta S4 model 1502 carton former.
An SEW-Eurodrive motor powers the conveyor line leading cartons to the product handling robotic station, where the wrapped products are placed inside cartons formed by the Trayfecta S4 model 1502 system.