Ice cream excellence

By Jack Mans, Plant Operations Editor in Automation on December 31, 2011
From simple beginnings as a dipping shop in 1932, Pierre's Ice Cream Co. has progressed through a series of Cleveland locations and facilities to its present spectaOctober 2011_0023.jpgcular $9 million ice cream plant that opened this past June.

Construction on the plant, which is located adjacent to the west end of Pierre's 56,000 sq-ft headquarters office and distribution center in Cleveland's MidTown District, began September 2010. The new factory replaces Pierre's former 34,000 sq-ft production building.

 

On the occasion of the new plant's dedication, Shelley Roth, Pierre's president and CEO, said, "Today is a very exciting day in the history of our company. This new factory not only provides our experienced team the space and resources to continue making the most delicious ice creams imaginable, but will also allow us to better serve and offer new products to our customers."

 

With more than 50 flavors in pints, quarts, 48-oz sqrounds (sqrounds are rectangular containers with rounded corners) and 3-gal dipping cans, Pierre's produces well over 300 SKUs. Its core brands are distributed primarily throughout northeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania and Michigan. However, its ¡Hola Fruta! pure fruit sherbet, which was launched in 2007, reaches a larger market, with penetration in 11 states, from New York to Texas. Yovation probiotic frozen yogurt was introduced in 2009 and is distributed in Ohio and five East Coast states.

 

Many sustainability and energy conservatioOctober 2011_0025.jpgn features were built into the new plant. See the sidebar "Sustainability and efficiency" on p.28 for details.

 

Two mirrored lines

The plant has two production lines, which essentially mirror each other. Some of the equipment was moved from the previous plant, but most of the equipment is new. Pierre's also installed a new spiral freezer from NTFE-America that can reach -40 deg F. The freezer is a dual-spiral design and is designed to accept product from three lanes simultaneously. 


Plant manager Tom Settle says, "This gives us room to handle a third line, when the time comes that we need to expand."

 

During Packaging Digest's visit, one line was running quarts and the other was running sqrounds. On both lines, ice cream is pumped to Huhtamaki model FC-2320 intermittent-motion rotary fillers that are specially designed for the frozen dessert industry. Settle says, "Pierre's relationship with Huhtamaki goes back 25 years or more, both for packaging and equipment. They give us excellent service and it has been a great working relationship."

Separate filler for each size of carton


Pierre's has separate fillers for each size of carton it runs. The fillers are mounted on wheels, and operators simply rolls the proper unit into the production line for the size of carton running. 


"Having separate fillers is much simpler and faster than changing over a single filler every time we change carton sizes. The lines are designed so the fillers can be switched quickly and easily," Settle says.


The Huhtamaki filler includes a separate lid orienter that ensures the lids are facing in the proper direction to be applied to the cartons. One orienter can handle the lids for all carton sizes. 

 

Lids are dumped from a box into a floor hopper and they are lifted on a vertical elevator with narrow shelves. In this process, the lids are all supposed to be oriented wiOctober 2011_0034.jpgh the inside surface facing outwards, and the shelves are sized and tilted so lids facing the wrong way drop off the shelf back into the hopper.


The properly oriented lids travel on an overhead conveyor that curves down to the filler, where they are applied to the filled cartons.

 

Empty cartons are placed in a vertical magazine and dispensed individually into cavities in the rotating turret. Each operation takes place while the intermittent-motion filler is stopped. 


The filler for the sqrounds has six cavities. Filling takes place at the first station following carton dispensing. The carton is lifted and the ice cream discharges. This is a timed fill, and when the preset time expires, the fill valve closes and the carton is lowered back into the cavity. 


The lid is applied at the next station. As the turret rotates, it moves the carton beneath the lid, which is extending slightly from the lid conveyor. The carton catches the lip of the lid and as the turret rotates, it passes beneath a sloping metal plate that pushes the lid onto the carton. 


A sensor detects if the lid is incorrectly oriented on the lid conveyor or if it is missing, and stops the machine.
The filler for pints and quarts is a dual-lane unit with 20 cavities running two cartons side by side. This operates similarly, except that there are two carton magazines, fill systems and lidding systems.

 

Double-stacked cartons

From the filler, the cartons are transported on conveyor designed by Hy-Tek Material Handling Inc. and pass through a Mettler-Toledo Safeline metal detector. An Axon Corp. Styrotech tamper-evident- band applicator is installed on the Sqround line. 


The cartons then pass through a Markem-Imaje Model S4 IP65 inkjet printer. The printer's cabinet and printhead are pressurized with air to keep out water and other contaminants.


The next piece of equipment on the line is a shrink wrapper from Packaging Machines Intl., which is now owned by Arpac Group. The sqround cartons are arranged three-across on a conveyor, and an arm catches the bottom of the lid of the middle carton and flips it over so that the tapered cartons fit together more closely. 


The cartons then enter the shrink wrapper, where film is wrapped around the three cartons and shrunk tight. After passing through a Markem-Image print-and-apply labeler, the shrink-wrapped cartons are passed through an automated stacker designed by Hy-Tek and are double stacked to travel through the freezer.


In this process, vacuum cups lift a row of three cartons, after which the next row moves into place beneath them. The upper cups are then lowered onto the bottom cups and the double stack is conveyed into the -40 deg F spiral freezer.
Smaller cartons are hand-packed in corrugated trays and then enter the shrink wrapper. They also go through the double-stacking operation before being conveyed to the freezer.


The frozen cartons leaving the freezer are manually palletized and then stretch wrapped by a machine from Wulftec Intl.

 

Settle says, "The old plant was land locked, crowded and very inefficient.This new plant gives us room to operate our equipment effectively, and it gives us room to grow."October 2011_0036.jpg


Sustainability and efficiencySustainability is an important initiative at Pierre's Ice Cream Co.'s new facility, and many energy saving features were included in its design.

 

•  Hot and cold temperatures generated during the ice cream making process are captured to heat and cool rooms in other parts of the building.


• Heat from the boiler is used to heat the building.

 

• Insulated panels were installed to save on energy usage.


• Strategically placed windows and skylights make use of natural light.

 

• Corrugated packaging is recycled.


• Pumps and controls were installed to reduce water consumption and process waste.

 

• CIP rinse water from the milk silos is captured to prerinse equipment and lines.

 

 

Arpac Group, 847-678-9034. www.arpac.com
Axon Corp., a Div. of Pro Mach,
800-598-8601. www.axoncorp.com
Huhtamaki Inc.
913-583-3025. www.us.huhtamaki.com
Hy-Tek Material Handling Inc.,
800-837-1217. www.hy-tek.net
Markem-Imaje,
866-263-4644. www.markem-imaje.com
Mettler-Toledo Safeline, 8
13-889-9500. www.mt.com/safelineus
NTFE-America,
507-786-9494. http://ntfe-america.com
Wulftec Intl.,
877-985-3832. www.wulftec.com

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