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How sweet it is

Enstrom Candies is a household name in Colorado. The fourth-generation family business has been serving up its signature toffees to Coloradans for more than 50 years while expanding its product line to popcorn, truffles and chocolates along the way. Now the Grand Junction, Colorado-based company is ready to break out on to the national scene. In preparation for a national rollout of its individually wrapped toffees, Enstrom Candies upgraded its packaging line with an automated, high-speed horizontal flow wrapper that could keep pace with its increased production capacity while reducing labor costs and waste. 

The candy maker has been working for the last 10 years to build its wholesale business and get its individually wrapped .5-oz. Almond Toffee Petites and .75-oz. Almond Toffee Singles into the national candy aisle. The company transitioned to a continuous cooking system from batch cooking to boost production, making nearly 1,000 lb. of toffee an hour. However, that output proved to be too much for Enstrom’s previous packaging line to handle. 

After working three or four hours making the toffee, about 10 to 12 employees would then have to move to the packaging line to manually feed the chocolate-enrobed toffees into the packaging machine as well as place the toffees manually into the wrappers for about eight hours. Because the equipment could only wrap about 200 to 220 toffee pieces a minute, much of the toffee produced from the continuous cooking system had to be stacked and stored before it could be packaged, adding another task for the employees involved in the packaging process. And they had to regularly stop and start the machine in order to keep up with the large amount of product running through the packaging line. 

Automation at work

Enstrom Candies turned to Cavanna Packaging USA Inc. for a fully automated packaging solution. The candy company chose Cavanna’s Zero 5 horizontal flow wrapper for its speed and flexibility. “The whole system, which is some 75-ft. long, is just a marvel to watch because now we can wrap all of the [toffee] pieces coming out of the cooking line without touching them,” says Doug Simons, president of Enstrom Candies. “The Cavanna really lets us wrap continuously without having to stop the machine, and we’re not stacking products up.”

The Cavanna Zero 5 flow wrapper is integrated into Enstrom Candies’ continuous cooking system. As the toffee pieces move from the cooking system’s cooling tunnel along a main conveyor belt, the toffees encounter a vertical-mounted diagonal side belt with Lexan guarding that can divert all or some of the pieces to the flow wrapper. That belt allows Enstrom Candies to move some of the pieces to another packaging line so they can be packaged in another format, such as bulk packaging, as well as add another Cavanna Zero 5 flow wrapper to the packaging line in the future.

The toffee pieces enter the chicaning area, where a series of guide rails and belts positioned in a zig-zag manner orient them into a single-file line. For the few pieces that are not in single file — usually because multiple pieces are glued together via the chocolate coating — they fall into a bin at the edge of the conveyor belt. 

Once they are single file, the toffees move to the infeed conveyor. Photoelectric eyes positioned over the conveyor scan the products to communicate to the upstream equipment to either slow down or move faster in transporting the toffees based on how many pieces have reached the infeed conveyor. “It tells the belt to either accelerate or decelerate. So those belts are constantly moving faster, slower, faster, slower,” says Bill Kehrli, vice president of sales and marketing at Cavanna Packaging USA Inc. “So that way you don’t have that ‘I Love Lucy’ effect, where everything bunches up.”

Lugs on the infeed conveyor separate the toffee pieces from each other at a specified length and will later push the candy into the wrapper in the forming area. At this point, another photoelectric eye inspects the candies for length, width and height. If a piece is deemed defective, an air nozzle blows it off the conveyor into a chute. 

The infeed conveyor delivers the remaining toffee pieces to the forming area, where packaging begins. The machine draws the polypropylene film from a reel mounted over the conveyor and forms it around a folding box to create a tube. As the infeed conveyor moves forward, the lugs push the candy through the folding box and into the tube. A series of rollers underneath the forming area close the longitudinal seam with a fin seal. The product is then transported to a cutting head with rotary jaws to simultaneously seal and cut the front and back of the package.

Sweet rewards

When Enstrom Candies transitioned to the Cavanna Zero 5 horizontal flow wrapper in January 2017, the company switched from heat sealing its individually wrapped toffees to using a cold seal to reduce product loss, packaging waste and line stoppages. Because cold sealing doesn’t require any heat, the chocolate doesn’t melt in the package or on the packaging line and leaves less residue on the equipment. Cold sealing also allows the Cavanna Zero 5 to run at variable speeds to accommodate the amount of product coming down the line. When Enstrom used heat sealing in its previous packaging equipment, the machine had to run at a constant speed to maintain the temperature of the sealing surfaces and dwell time. In addition, heat sealing sometimes warped or shrank the packaging film. According to Simons, the Cavanna Zero 5 has helped the company decrease product and packaging loss by 60 percent to 70 percent. 

“The consistency of the product has improved. The sealing of the packaging process is much more consistent,” Simons says. “We have a lot less film loss from bad seals, tangle ups, melted product or the film getting caught up in the machine. We’re much more efficient on the usage of the packaging. It doesn’t destroy as much packaging as the hand-fed system did.”

The Cavanna flow wrapper has also been instrumental in helping Enstrom increase throughput and lower labor costs, according to Simons. The packaging equipment can wrap about 700 pieces of the Almond Toffee Petites per minute and 500 pieces of the Almond Toffee Singles per minute. In addition, only two or three employees are needed to operate the entire packing line as compared to the 10 to 12 employees required to run the previous packaging equipment. As a result, Enstrom has reduced labor costs about 90 percent, Simons says.

“There’s less human activity to get the product wrapped because we don’t have 10 or 12 people around the line moving product and hand loading the machine. The reason those people were there is because we had to stage and stack up product that was coming off the cooking line because the [previous packaging equipment] couldn’t handle it,” Simons says. “We were handling the product more than once — two or three times to get it through the wrapper. In the Cavanna, we’ve got less people, but we’re handling 100 percent of the product in real time. It’s easily a tenth of the labor to get the product through there, if not less. It’s an incredibly efficient transition.”

“The best feature is the speed,” says Doug Simons Jr., vice president of manufacturing for Enstrom Candies. “It’s taken it to the point where we don’t have to have human hands on it. It goes straight through. Hands down, the best part of the machine.”