Cheesecake processor blends artisan appeal with in-plant automation.

Culinary Art’s Specialties, Inc. is all about cheesecake manufacturing. The company was founded in 1982 by Arthur P. Keller, a Swiss pastry chef who developed an exclusive Swiss baking process now used in the company’s New York cheesecake. Today, Culinary Art’s produces dozens of cheesecakes with an apparent endless variety of toppings.

This Cheektowaga, N. Y., processor focuses on the private label sales, which account for 80 percent of its business. The company delivers a full line of in-plant, contract manufacturing services ranging from product development to manufacturing to packaging.

Having recently expanded its production space from 18,000 sq. ft. to a 53,000-sq.-ft. plant, the company’s cheesecake making operation is new from the ground up. The facility has the capacity to produce, freeze and ship 150,000 pounds of the dessert each week-30,000 cheesecakes each day.

Handling cheesecakes requires a delicate touch to prevent marring the cakes. Nowhere in the production process is the handling of the product more critical than in the end-of-line packaging, and particularly in the conveying of the cheesecakes through the packaging cycle. Yet many systems that handle such delicate desserts run a high defect rate resulting in damaged products, lessened throughput and increased production costs.

“When we planned the move to our new building, we redesigned the entire production process,” says Art Keller, vice president of operations for Culinary Art’s Specialties. “We started from scratch and designed a facility that was cut out to do exactly what we wanted it to do - manufacture the world’s best cheesecakes with a very high level of throughput efficiency without sacrificing product quality.”

“Our prior packaging lines were largely manual,” says Keller. “We manipulated the cheesecakes by hand. One of the challenges we needed to solve with the design of the automated system was moving our cheesecakes through the packaging line before they are shrink-wrapped without having them touch anything, as this would mar the product. Additionally, we wanted to minimize the amount of cheesecake residue deposited on the conveying system for food safety reasons. We looked at a number of conveyor systems, but they permitted too much contact with the cheesecakes. It was a huge issue for us.”

Culinary Art’s brought in Shrink Packaging Systems, Edison, N.J., to handle the integration of the shrink-wrapper; and Shuttleworth Inc., Huntington, Ind., to engineer a solution to the conveyor handling of the product and set up the cheesecakes for induction into the shrink-wrapper.

The shrink-wrapper used on this line is an automatic, horizontal, continuous-motion side sealer rated at a maximum 100 cycles per minute. Shuttleworth engineered two different solutions. First, to keep the product from touching the sides along the 16-foot stretch of conveyor prior to entering into the shrink-wrap unit, and to center the cheesecakes, it designed a sequential series of different-height rollers that form a type of funnel into the middle of the conveyor.

Second, the conveyors are also equipped with Slip-Torque technology, which minimizes cheesecake damage by creating extremely low back-pressure accumulation. Low line pressure throughout the continuous-motion accumulation conveyors allows for precise product placement throughout the line and into the shrink-wrapper.

The all-stainless steel conveyors can continue to take product flow from the upstream line for a period of time instead of stopping. A low-pressure accumulation buffer absorbs irregularities in the production flow, and provides a smooth, even flow on the line, which minimizes the cheesecakes from bumping into each other.

When the cheesecakes leave the shrink-wrapper, they are placed into cartons. The conveyor runs parallel to the cartoner and is synchronized with it. As a cheesecake passes on the conveyor in front of a worker, the cartoner presents an open carton and the worker manually slides it into the carton. The conveyor/product and carton are precisely sequenced.

Officials say the new conveying capability helped Culinary Art’s automate and streamline its entire packaging line. While improving on the product quality it had with its manual processes, it has been able to transfer this product integrity to its automated system.

“The packaging line automation has reduced our product defects to less than one-tenth of one percent, while increasing our throughput,” Keller explains. “This significantly surpasses what we could do on a manual level. With the success of this line we are now building-out a second automated packaging line to further streamline our cheesecake production.”   

– Shuttleworth Inc.
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