Private Label Perfection
"With our new round top cone system, we can put the freezers in pause mode and the product would retain its consistency within the freezer." says Greg Grawe, v.p. of plant operations, during a recent visit by Dairy Foods. "With older technology freezers, you would have to shut down and restart everything."
With 12 different lines, Driggs Farms has a variety of equipment, all of it designed and maintained to produce top quality ice cream and novelties for grocery store customers in more than 30 states from coast to coast. But not surprisingly, its newest line features state-of-the-art equipment that makes production more efficient and takes some of the numbers crunching out of keeping the tightest product quality tolerances.
Driggs Farms, a member of All-Star Dairy Assn., is a 94-year-old company that began as a full line dairy serving Southeastern Michigan and Toledo, Ohio. For more than 40 years the company has focused on ice cream, and in 1986 it moved its operations to Decatur where it now operates two facilities, the second being built in 1999.
A royal treatEven the location of Driggs Farms' newest production line says something about how the company plans for and executes its plan for growth. The cone room, completed last spring, is an enclosed, sanitary structure within the dry storage area of the 1999 plant. But the dry storage area itself was designed to anticipate conversion to production.
"When this part of the plant was built, the company put in stainless steel drains and other features so that we can grow the production area in this direction," said Howard Driggs Jr., pres. When needed, more storage can be added as well.
Inside, the cone room's construction offers a high level of hygiene, with white tile walls, and stainless steel drains in Stonhard flooring, which is non-porous and cleanable. The line consists of two Gram GIF 2000 freezers, an imperial filler designed by Norse Dairy Systems, and a custom- fabricated tunnel hardener. The line produces 160 cones per minute.
"This Gram freezer is the next generation of ice cream freezers," Grawe says. "The mix is pumped in at 36 to 38 degrees, the overrun is automatically adjusted, with the smart mass flow meters and air flow correction. The controls also monitor and allow automatic operation of parts during the CIP mode."
The freezers offer faster startup with less waste and a consistently high-quality product, Grawe says, and they are extremely easy to operate.
"You start the freezers up in the morning and set your recipe and you can basically let the freezers run all day long and monitor the process and be confident of its performance while focusing on the rest of the operations."
The two units continuously send a simultaneous flow to the filler, and are capable of producing up to 450 gal per hour. The system is run on a PLC with an Allen Bradley VDT control panel that is a few steps from the operator, but few adjustments appear to be needed. Sleeves of 48 cones are fed into the filler by the operator and the system pretty much handles everything from there.
The sleeves are configured with eight cones across and six deep as they enter the machine. Pneumatic controls move the filling heads into position and simultaneously coats the first rows of cones with chocolate coating. Ice cream is then deposited into the coated cones at the second position.
"Precision holding pins stabilize the cones during the hardening process, and once the hardened ice cream is dipped in chocolate and coated in chopped peanuts the holding pins are released and the cones drop into the wrapper," Grawe says.
The cones travel about 50 feet through the blast tunnel and are then inverted and brought back through the tunnel. Along the way they are blasted with sub-freezing air by a series of ammonia-chilled freezer coils. The entire trip takes about 20 minutes from the time they enter until they leave the tunnel.
Still inverted, the cones exit the tunnel a few inches below the point where they had entered. They are dipped in chocolate coating and then in nuts before being ejected in the wrapper.
The WCB wrapper draws film material from roll stock to wrap and seal each cone. Once they are sealed the cones travel along a conveying system that bundles them for cartons of six or eight. They are inspected and oriented by hand before they are packed into cartons with an automated Hayes cartoner that was also supplied by Gram Equipment. Cartons then pass through a metal detector from Safeline.
The big pictureAll of the mix used at the Driggs Farms operation is formulated in the original building, which company personnel refer to as Plant 1. Driggs has (4) 5,300-gal silos, (3) 6,500-gal silos and (4) 15,500-gal silos for pasteurized mixes. The plant also has two 6,000-gal storage tanks for chocolate coating.
Mix is transported from Plant 1 to Plant 2 via an overhead pipeline that is insulated and heated in winter weather.
Plant 1 produces bulk ice cream in half gal squares as well as 4 and 5 quart pails and 3 gal cans. As this story went to press, Plant 1 was being retrofitted with new Gram freezers and other improvements were being made that include a polytray freezing system.
While Plant 2 is set up primarily for novelties, it also houses two ice cream filling lines that produce squrounds, or half gal squares, (hardened in an amerio freezer) and one pail filler that fills 4 or 5 quart pails.
The novelty lines include two Tetra Pak Hoyer Rollo 35 machines that produce a variety of molded stick novelties, and four identical sandwich fillers from Norse.
A 16 wide Hoyer Rollo is used to produce flat bars. It can produce up to 34 dozen bars a minute. A 24 wide Rollo is used for 1.75 oz water ice sticks, and can produce up to 50 dozen per minute. Both systems use a standard cold brine bath for hardening. The sandwich lines are set up to run simultaneously at a rate of 600 sandwiches a minute.
Real efficienciesBeyond the production floor, product is palletized by hand, but with the assistance of automatic lift tables. Completed pallets are conveyed automatically to a pallet wrapper and then into the subzero freezer that features roll-through first-in-first-out pallet racking.
There is a full service lab at the facility, and all batch systems are fully CIP-able.
The plant sits on 18 acres in an industrial park, with plenty of room for future expansions.
Some of the product lines offered to Driggs' customers include sandwiches, mini sandwiches, round top cones, fudge bars, ice cream bars, toffee bars, orange cream bars, strawberry and chocolate cookie crunch bars, 3-oz sundae cups, junior pops, tropical pops, no-sugar-added pops and a variety of bulk ice cream products.
As a private label manufacturer Driggs Farms has to remain flexible.
"We have to be flexible both in terms of the lines that we operate and also the styles of packaging, Grawe says. "Our customers frequently change packaging or add new product lines in their efforts to market more effectively."
Grawe says the people at Driggs Farms are just as instrumental to the company's success as the technology.
"At our core group we have well-trained operators who have been with the company a number of years. In the busier seasons we bring on college help to support it," Grawe says. "The employees take a lot of pride in ensuring that the product is of good quality and in maintaining a safe clean work environment."
Grawe says one of the things he likes most about working at Driggs Farms is that there is 100% commitment from the top down as the company strives to be an efficient, effective operation.
"This company is committed to being a high quality, low cost producer of private label ice cream and novelties. Private label products are increasing in share every year and our customers deserve the best."