Artisan Cheese Manufacturer Turns to Wrabacon Ingenuity 
to Increase Production

Client Challenge:

An artisan regional cheese manufacturer faced a challenge. Their production line was completely manual and very slow. The problem was that the operators had to manually denest and place clam shell trays on a conveyor. Then they manually place finished cheese balls in the clam shell. Once this was completed, the operator would manually close the calm shell. They turned to Wrabacon to manufacture a packaging line that would transform their production line from a completely manual system to a semi-automatic packaging line.

The new system designed by Wrabacon consisted of a tray denester, a conveyor to transport trays to the operators, and an automatic lid closer. All equipment was built in stainless steel to meet the high demands and sanitation needs the food industry requires.

The Wrabacon Solution: 

  • Custom designed and manufactured a tray denester that denests plastic clamshells onto a moving conveyor at the rate of up to 30 per minute.
  • The system works with two tray sizes: 4” x 8.75” and 5.38” x 5.38” Each are denested with the long edge leading on the conveyor.
  • The trays are denested onto a conveyor where they will be manually filled by the operators.
  • After filling, they travel downstream to a lid closer that automatically folds and closes the lids prior to transferring to downstream equipment.

Denester Operation

Operators manually load the trays into an adjustable 45 degree twin hopper with the open side of the tray facing down. Pneumatic cups extend up to the trays, pull one from each stack, pivot down over the conveyor and then release the two trays. The trays travel on the conveyor with the wide edge leading. After placing the tray, the process repeats—picking and then placing the two trays onto the conveyor.

The denester utilizes a photo sensor to trigger the cycle. The sensor is mounted on the conveyor and when clear, the denester drops the trays onto the belt. The conveyor has variable speeds, so the denester rate is controlled by the speed of the conveyor. After denesting, the clamshells are manually filled with product.

Clamshell Closer Operation

After filling, the clamshells travel downstream to the closer with the lid open. A rail guide and partially closes the lid as it transfers to the conveyor. Once the lid is partially closed, a set of powered rollers snap the lid around the perimeter of the clamshell. Wrabacon designed the closer with power rollers since applying pressure to the top center of the lid might not seal the container properly.

The powered rollers are above the clamshell while a set of free spinning rollers are on the underside of the clamshell. By sitting over the two edges of the clamshell, the guides and rollers contact the edges of the container and ensure a proper closure. After closing, the clamshells transfer to downstream equipment for further processing. The closer is adjustable for the two tray sizes and can be easily adjusted via hand cranks and physical stops.

As part of this proposal, Wrabacon supplied (1) twin, adjustable hopper, tray denester with support frame, (2) 32” long denester hoppers that holds approx. 100 trays each, (1) main packing conveyor, (1) split belt clamshell closer and (1) control system.

Click on the picture to see the plans.

Our Solutions in Action

Food Process Automation at its Best

Wrabacon’s Pizza Shell Handling System: Mergers, Diverters, Conveyors, and a WHOLE lot of Pizza.

Whether you’re ordering or making it fresh – pizza night is a pretty painless process in most households.

Think about it this way: Americans eat about 100 acres of Pizza a day and purchase approximately 3 billion pizzas a year. When you break it down, each man, woman, and child in America eats – on average – 46 slices of pizza a year (Source: Packaged Facts, New York). When you consider the numbers behind all of that pizza, the amount of work that goes into a single pie can really add up. No matter how you slice it, the businesses producing the pizza have their job cut out for them.

This reality created a bit of a “Pizza Problem” for one of New England’s favorite regional convenience store chains. Fortunately, creative automation from Wrabacon was able to provide a convenient solution that increased productivity and efficiency.

Solving “the Pizza Problem”

What our customer needed was a pizza shell handling system that could quickly and efficiently transfer pizza shells from a topping line, to a tunnel freezer, and into a shrink-wrapping machine. On top of this, since the machine would be working with food – it all had to be made of washable and USDA approved materials.

First, Pizza shells exit the topping line in single file. To maximize the efficiency of the tunnel freezer – our creative automation team implemented a 1-3 servo controlled diverter, seamlessly splitting a single row of pizzas into 3. Once aligned, a gate is released and the shells are transferred into the freezer tunnel.

After the pizzas are frozen, they need to be returned to a single row before passing through the shrink-wrapping machine. At this juncture, the Wrabacon solution was a 3-1 merger that consolidates the 3 frozen rows. By gating pizzas exiting the freezer and then releasing them back into a single file using a series of guides, our solution was capable of more effectively processing the frozen product through the shrink-wrapping machine. This enabled our customer to realize an incredibly consistent and reliable throughput rate of 25 shells per minute. With each pizza wrapped, it is then transferred downstream to a hand pack-off area where the shells are placed in shipping cartons and delivered to stores throughout the area.

The Wrabacon Difference

Approaching any foodservice application can be a tricky prospect for some automation providers. For Wrabacon, it’s something we regularly contend with, but ensuring that each piece of the system meets USDA requirements is only the beginning. From diverters and mergers to conveyors and controls used throughout the system, each element is carefully considered and implemented to make a difference for the operation at hand and thespace it has to work with.

Ultimately, by optimizing our customer’s automation system, Wrabacon was able to help our customer increase throughput by at least 300% while making production smoother, more consistent, and more energy efficient.

For this project, Wrabacon provided:

  • (1)1-3 diverter
  • (1)3-1 Merger
  • (1)Infeed Conveyor
  • (1)System control & communication design/installation