Smith Dairy’s making ice cream and lots of other great stuff at two plants right in the heart of the community.

Summer’s always a busy time at an ice cream plant, and Smith Dairy in Orrville, Ohio, is no exception.

“It’s just starting to slow down with school starting,” Karl Kelbly, director of manufacturing, says during a late-summer visit to the plant in downtown Orrville where the company makes ice cream and frozen desserts under the Smith’s and Ruggles brand names.

Of course, school starting just means school milk is ramping up across the street at Smith’s milk plant, built in 1924. The milk plant makes all the ice cream mix, which is pasteurized and piped over to the ice cream plant – 20 years old this year – on a bridge spanning the road.

Once the mix makes the flyover, the process begins toward transforming it into the dozens of varieties of packaged ice cream and other frozen desserts made under the Smith’s and Ruggles brands (novelties are co-packed for the company).

Drawn from six storage tanks, ice cream mix makes its way through the flavoring process and is prepared for filling in three WCB freezers, an 800-gallon model and two of 1,200-gallon capacity, one of which features a “churning” package to create churn-style reduced-fat products, explains Mark Wilson, ice cream plant superintendent.

The freezers feed to five filling lines, encompassing 5-quart pails, half-gallon squares, 56-ounce scrounds and 3-gallon tubs for foodservice and dip shops. Kelbly and Wilson take pride in noting that the Smith’s brand still offers a full half-gallon, resisting the industry trend of downsizing toward the new 48-ounce standard. The Ruggles brand is offered in a 56-ounce container, this fact a prominent part of its on-package messaging this past summer, declaring its cartons to contain 15% more than most brands, notes Penny Baker, director of marketing.

Scrounds are lidded, get tamper-evident bands applied and are shrink-wrapped in bundles of six before going to the tri-tray hardener for a stay at -25 to -35 degrees F (or -80 with the forced-air wind chill). Wilson says most products go to the tri-tray except for milkshakes, which typically go through the spiral hardener, but he notes: “We have flexibility to send everything anywhere.”

But before entering the deep freeze, Smith’s ice cream passes through an additional layer of food security. The top and side of all filled cartons are scanned from the top and side, and the scanner matches them to scanned images on file. Wilson says this helps to ensure cartons actually contain what they say they do, to guard against allergen problems. “If the image doesn’t match, it kicks the carton out,” he says of the system, which also catches missed tamper bands. “It looks for the unique field for every carton.”

On the tub line, gravity-fed cartons are placed by hand on two fillers, which raise the cartons up into position and lower them as they fill. Manually lidded, they’re sent down a conveyor to the hardener.

After a stay in the hardener of up to 3½ hours, products are stacked in the plant’s manned high-rise storage system pending load-out and delivery. Frozen products are distributed directly from this facility, while fluid and cultured products made across the street are funneled through the main distribution center next to the corporate headquarters on Dairy Lane northwest of downtown Orrville.

Beyond the aforementioned camera system, the ice cream plant employs a HACCP program and a “license plate” system that allows tracking of products from production through distribution to store shelf. Further, the plant has achieved second-tier SQF approval.

Kelbly points out the floor’s CIP drain system is unique among dairy plants. “Not too many plants in the country have that capability,” he says of the drains that are flushed weekly with chlorinated water to promote sanitation.

Back over at the milk plant, more than 20 trucks each day drop off loads of raw milk in the two receiving bays. Most of the milk comes from farms within a 50-mile radius in Wayne County, Ohio, reportedly the state’s top milk-producing county.

Milk that passes lab testing is offloaded into the raw tanks to await HTST pasteurization; there’s 260,000 gallons of raw storage and 180,000 gallons of pasteurized storage in the roof-mounted silos (alongside tanks of sugar, resin and other liquids).

Meanwhile, the plant’s blow-molding operation creates gallon and half-gallon jugs, which get a sticker or belly-band label before reaching the fillers (small bottles are purchased).

Kelbly notes the newer of the two blow-molding machines features “contoured cooling” to allow for faster operation, up to a 15% increase in speed. To be sure, the bottle room is constantly abuzz with activity, churning out bottles at breakneck speed to be used right away or stockpiled for later.

As an example of how Smith Dairy maximizes the vertical space in its limited small-town footprint, pint and half-pint bottles are conveyed upstairs to the labeling area, where they’re labeled at up to 400 a minute. “Then they go across the roof, down two stories into another descrambler and into the fillers,” Kelbly explains. “It’s probably the most complex line we have.”

There are two HTST systems running at 6,000 gallons per hour. The one for milk features a separator and inline standardization. The other handles ice cream mix, cultured products, cottage cheese dressings, juices and drinks.

Six fluid fillers handle gallons, half-gallons and small bottles, along with 5-gallon bags and gable-top cartons for school milk. A 26-valve Federal filler handles gallons, a 30-valve model fills halves and a 42-valve unit fills plastic pints and half pints at up to 400 per minute. Paper pints and halves are filled at up to 150 a minute.

Two cultured fillers, handling retail-size cups plus 3- and 5-pound tubs, are supplied by the cottage cheese room, equipped with two open cheese vats. Smith’s makes four vats of cottage cheese every day, along with up to 4,000 gallons of sour cream and dips.

Operators frequently test products on the line, Kelbly says. “We want to make sure it’s right, whatever they’re making,” he says, noting his team conducts off-line tasting panels, too. “That’s probably the most important check.”

Close quarters in the compact facility make video monitors a necessary innovation to keep tabs on all stages of production, Kelbly explains. “Operators can view remote areas. If they blow a line, they otherwise wouldn’t see it,” he says.

Finished products are cased and moved to the palletizing system. “When the pallet has 72 cases, the computer prints a label, which becomes the ‘license plate’ for the pallet,” Kelbly says.

A clamp truck grabs each pallet and places it on a truck that takes the finished products from the North Vine Street plant to the Dairy Lane distribution center. There, pallets are sent through a system of conveyors and racks to be sorted based on customer orders. Data for orders is tracked on handheld computers; a computer-controlled crane sorts product into the center’s three-tiered racking system.

“Many times what we ran on the fillers depended on what truck was out here,” Schmid recalls of production in the days before the new distribution center, which provided sorely needed space to stockpile finished product.

“This room would only hold a third of our biggest day’s production,” Kelbly says of the North Vine cooler. “We had to adjust our production schedule, which caused a lot of changeovers and inefficiencies. Now, only a portion of our production will even hit a pallet anymore until it’s loaded.”

Elsewhere in the plant, a new cafeteria and break room were recently added. Outside, the company gussied up the historic facility with enhanced brick facades and colorful murals commemorating Smith Dairy’s centennial. The cosmetic changes go a long way toward softening the plant’s heavy industrial presence in a small-town business district.

It’s just one more thing for the local folks to be proud of, after 100 years of pride in its hometown dairy.  

AT a glance

Smith Dairy
Location: Orrville, Ohio
Built: 1989
Size: 14,500 square feet
Number of employees: 35
Products made: Ice cream, frozen yogurt, shakes.
Total processing capacity: Two freezers at 1,200 gallons per hour, one at 800 per hour.
Pasteurization: HTST, two @ 6,000 gallons per hour (at adjacent milk plant).
Fillers: Five lines for scrounds, half-gallon squares, pails, bulk cans and milkshakes.
Storage capacity: Pasteurized mix, 45,000 gallons; frozen storage, 1,700 pallet spaces.


These companies are among Smith Dairy’s key suppliers:

B&H Labeling Systems
Berry Plastics
Burd & Fletcher
Cannon Equipment
Chr. Hansen
Filler Specialties
Ideas in Motion
Kusel Equipment Co.
Pecan Deluxe
Plastic Enterprises
Poly Pack
Terry Lynn
WCB Ice Cream