Chocolate Candies Treated To Automation Upgrade

Since Gertrude Hawk Chocolates was founded in 1936, the Dunmore, Pa.-based confectioner has been well known throughout the candy industry as a manufacturer of high-quality, premium chocolates. The company’s products are created with great care in an efficient manner. The candies are sold under its own brand and from its own stores throughout New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Gertrude Hawk’s product line includes domed, chocolate-robed candies, as well as bars, boxed chocolates and even caramel-dipped apples.

However, in addition to molding its own delicious brand of chocolate products, the company also provides contract manufacturing and packaging services for a variety of well known customers. Recently, a valued customer experienced a surge in demand for one of its sugar-free chocolate lines, and Gertrude Hawk needed to quickly ramp up production speeds. To meet the anticipated demand, the chocolate maker needed to produce 240 pieces of chocolate per minute, a task that had proved to be difficult for Gertrude Hawk’s previous packaging capabilities. As a result, the company turned to Bosch Packaging Technology to update its factory infrastructure with one new piece of equipment, connected to an existing Bosch machine.

Prior to bringing Bosch’s equipment in-house, Gertrude Hawk’s contract packaging line essentially comprised a long conveyor belt with assemblers feeding the product by hand to a wrapper. Unfortunately, because of the low speed of the line, Gertrude Hawk found it challenging to meet scheduled delivery dates and the growing consumer demands put upon its high-profile customers.

In the fall of 2008, the company worked with Bosch Packaging Technology in New Richmond, Wisc., to retrofit a two-arm Delfi robotic placer to Gertrude Hawk’s existing Linium 301 horizontal flow wrapper from Bosch. When consumer demand for the sugar-free chocolates rose, Bosch answered the challenge and connected the new feeder and existing wrapper to one another within two months. The line has been fully operational now for more than one year, reports Al Hollister, director of engineering and former consultant to the company.

Gertrude Hawk’s president, David Hawk, says that Bosch “installed the new feeder and integrated the line quickly and seamlessly. It has operated flawlessly ever since.”

Bosch’s pick and place robot and Linium 301 wrapper allowed Gertrude Hawk’s shift manager to increase the productivity per shift by about 25 to 30 percent. But even more impressive, manpower demands decreased 50 to 60 percent, says Hollister. The Delfi feed placer, combined with the Linium 301 wrapper, allows the confectioner to produce the necessary 240 pieces of chocolate per minute, dropping the wrapped candies through a spiral chute into a bagger on the floor below the wrapper.

The Delfi feed placer is ideal for a cross belt, or perpendicular, arrangement, positioning randomly orientated products into the wrappers infeed chain with the accuracy and speed of a Delta robot. An integral vision system incorporates pattern recognition to quickly locate objects with extreme accuracy. The vacuum cup end effectors deftly handle fragile products without damage. A color touch-screen HMI facilitates setup and changeover, with an intuitive menu. Changeover can be accomplished in five minutes or less.

The Linium 301 horizontal flow wrapper from Bosch is designed to maximize production uptime. A solid steel plate frame and food-grade product contact parts make the machine ideal for food applications. Its proven low backlash end-seal drive ensures dependability. Special software features reduce the chance for jams and speed recovery when a jam does occur. The WinPack multi-axis controller uses a Windows CE operating system with data collection capability.

Tender Loving Care

Another benefit Bosch’s robotic equipment brings to Gertrude Hawk is improved aesthetic quality for each individual chocolate. With hand-wrapped methods of packaging, center-filled candy, which may have a shell that is no more than an eighth of an inch thick, is extremely susceptible to impressions, nicks and other visual damage. Bosch’s robotic system, and its ability to handle delicate products via suction cups, leaves no marks or impressions on the chocolates. The packaging line has a vision software system that distinguishes a product’s parameters and orientation to ensure the suction cups gently handle the product.

“Before the implementation of the Delfi feed placer, we had fluctuations in terms of the quality of the packaging,” says Hollister. “A center-filled candy with a shell only an eighth of an inch thick requires very gentle handling to avoid breakage and damage. The Delfi robot does a great job here.”

A Sweet Future

Gertrude Hawk is contemplating using the placer/wrapper combination system for two or three more product lines in addition to the contract-packaged sugar-free line because of its consistency of production flow. With the system’s ability to produce 240 pieces of chocolate per minute and lower vulnerability to breakage or damage, Gertrude Hawk increased the overall equipment effectiveness and productivity significantly. Anyone would judge that accomplishment to be a sweet reward.