Fragile cookies gently, quickly slide into bags

Lauren Hartman

March 11, 2015

6 Min Read
Fragile cookies gently, quickly slide into bags

Dancing Deer Baking Co. is passionate about food, nature and esthetics. The Boston-based bakery sells all kinds of cookies and brownies to restaurants and stores and is dedicated to excellence in all it produces.
It also offers specialty cakes and gift baskets filled with tasty treats. The cookies are a favorite among employees, and if you worked at Dancing Deer, you could eat all the cookies you'd want.
How'd the bakery get its name? According to the company's website, the namesake was an antique shop in Bar Harbor, ME, run by the grandmother of Suzanne Lombardi, one of the company founders, and from whose recipe box came the origins of Dancing Deer's signature Deep Dark Gingerbread Cake.
Noted as one of the fastest-growing inner-city companies in 2003 by Inc. Magazine, Dancing
Deer was experiencing a bottleneck in the manual counting and filling of three different types of
cookies into clear bags. The fresh-baked cookies are each about 1.5 to 2 in. dia and 0.5 oz. Dancing Deer bags single flavors and three-flavor packages in bags from 5.5 to 7 oz. The company also currently packages a four-count bag.
The bakery has grown so much recently, that it needed more automation on the packaging side
of its operation. That's why it contacted Ohlson Packaging. "Dancing Deer was a small company
that grew very quickly," affirms Michael Marchand, engineering project manager at Ohlson. "They started out in a small facility and were looking to expand. The operation was fully manual. Dancing Deer moved to a plant that was three to four times in size, but at that point, all of the packaging was still done by hand. With the added space, they were looking to automate and reduce labor. Our equipment now automates the weighing process."
Dancing Deer decided to purchase Ohlson's automatic 3M2 three-scale weighing system with
a flat-belt incline infeed conveyor that divides into three lanes. On the single cookie flavor, having three lanes achieves more speed. The bakery runs each flavor in the variety
pack in a separate lane to get three flavors in one bag.
The company liked Ohlson's equipment and the fact that Ohlson was close by, says Tim Ryan, manufacturing manager at Dancing Deer. "The cookies used to be placed into the bags by hand. Throughput was a function of how many people we put on the line. Since purchasing
this machine, we have essentially doubled our throughput and halved our labor. Counting was
done by dividing the desired bag weight by the estimated post-bake weight of the cookies. If the
cookies were slightly over/underweight, we would be too heavy or too light so we had to weigh each bag manually, take a cookie out or put one in, etc."
The machine is also fast. Now, the operation also saves on product giveaway. Says Marchand, "They achieved very good accuracies with their manual packing operation, but the automatic equipment maintains the accuracies, and produces 500 units/hr instead of only 200 units /hr."
The weigher has a counting feature, "but we go by weight," Ryan explains. "What's great about the machine is that it doesn't under-fill the bags. If it's programmed to drop 7 oz and only 6.9 oz drops, it will add another cookie. We would much rather be slightly overweight than underweight."
This accuracy has also greatly reduced product giveaway (down to less than 0.5 percent). And the equipment has more than doubled Dancing Deer's throughput while maintaining very accurate weights.

Goodbye Mr. Chips
According to Ohlson, the 3M2 machine is designed for minimal drop heights to prevent the
cookies from chipping or breaking. There are no vertical drops-instead, slide chutes with minimal angles gently handle the product. The incline conveyor was designed to allow the cookies to travel upwards without sliding backwards and to prevent cookies from hitting each other and causing breakage.
After Dancing Deer's plant manager Robert Boudreau visited Ohlson's facility in
Taunton, MA, he liked the fact that Ohlson could customize a weigher to fit the bakery's needs.
Ohlson designed the infeed to create an inspection area so that Dancing Deer can remove fines or crumbs before the cookies enter the weigher. by using pans with grates in the bottom. The pans are located at the base of the line where employees load the conveyor infeed, and at the top where the product drops into scales. "Many of our cookies have an icing drizzle on them, so the grated pans allow particulates to fall out before they get up the scales," says Ryan.
"Most remaining particulates fall through the grates on the scale pans. The finished bags end up with very few particulates in them."

System allows staff reduction
Marchand says, "The former manual operation required 15 to 30 people, depending on the season. Now, it only requires eight operators to run the equipment year-round."
After being inspected, the cookies travel up the incline conveyor, which is angled slightly. The infeed has no flights. The angled conveyor and no flights means that the cookies move without sliding back down into one another or onto a flight. The cookies are automatically weighed and dispensed by the new machine, and a bag is manually placed on the discharge chute by an operator. The polyester bag sizes range from 3x3 to 6x11 in. Says Marchand, "Dancing Deer was very concerned with product damage because its products can be fragile. The weigher is designed with low drop heights for gentle handling."
Specialty discharge chute
What's more, the discharge unit was also custom designed to fit the bakery's variety of bag sizes. One chute in the discharge allows the bags to slide so that a line operator can easily stack the cookies right into them. The system also accommodates the three-packs of cookies, and can weigh three different types of cookies, which are filled into the same bag.
The bags of cookies range from a four count up to a 25 count. If one flavor of cookie is running, two operators can load the premade bags onto the weighing machine and it only takes one operator to run the variety packs. This operation took between 10 and 15 operators hand filling before the machine arrived in September 2008. Ryan says the new system paid for itself in about four months.
"We're extremely pleased with it," he says. "In addition to being affordable, the machine is
extremely low-maintenance. It's recipe-driven, so we just turn it on, set the recipe and start
packing. It was the perfect solution for us. Sales have been solid. Fortunately, we have really been able to minimize operating expenses because of investments like this machine."

More information is available:
Ohlson Packaging, 877/668-7800.

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