Frozen or heat and eat pizza is one of the most popular fast foods in every household. It is delicious, convenient, and easy to prepare. Processing and packaging frozen pizzas with their delicate ingredients, on the other hand, is no easy task. To master this challenge, a major frozen foods manufacturer in the US relied on Syntegon’s system competence. Involving four international sites, Syntegon provided an integrated, highly automated production line for processing frozen pizzas – from product distribution to final case packing.
Sales of frozen pizza amounted to approximately US$ 5.47 billion in the US in 2020 – a profitable business for manufacturers, albeit in a competitive environment. The frozen pizza market is expected to reach US$ 1.84 billion in India by 2027. High-quality products and production efficiency are vital for economic survival in this challenging market. Against this background, a large frozen foods manufacturer based in the US commissioned Syntegon to plan and install a highly efficient distribution and packaging line, including various automated processes needed to reduce costs and enhance productivity. “With the expert support from four international Syntegon sites, we designed a line that perfectly fits the current and future needs of our customer,” says Tobias Bruetsch, senior account manager. “Our combined expertise helped the customer take a leap towards more efficiency.”
Automated distribution for optimum food safety
In November 2020, Syntegon started with the design of a 4-leg distribution and packaging system with a capability of more than 400,000 pizzas per day. After the frozen pizzas are delivered from a spiral freezer, they are transported towards the Product Distribution System (PDS) from Syntegon. On their way, the pizzas pass the so-called ‘dump gate’ – in case downstream processes need to be stopped, an integrated pullnose will automatically retract the conveyor belt and deposit the products on an evacuation conveyor. This dump gate can also be opened manually if an upstream problem such as contaminated ingredients or other quality issues is detected in the freezer.
The products arrive at the Product Distribution System in random order, where they are arranged in regular lines and rows before being packaged on one of four packaging legs. The PDS from Syntegon’s site in Beringen, Switzerland, features individually controlled lanes and a sensor-based control system that detects missing products or wrong orders in the lanes. “The automated Phasing Unit stops single lanes when a product is missing to possibly create a complete row. This way, the other distribution lanes can refill to ensure perfectly lined up products and evenly filled rows without empty spaces,” explains Hans-Peter Kientz, Technical Sales manager at Syntegon in Beringen.
Efficiency on 4 legs
Once the pizzas are aligned, complete product rows are deposited onto a crossfeed belt and then fed into one of the shrink-wrapping legs. The pizza manufacturer wanted to integrate a backup to reduce downtimes and production losses to a minimum. The solution – a distribution system that automatically distributes the frozen goods into three packaging legs and detects any problems in the production process. As soon as an error occurs on one of the three legs, the system redirects the products to a fourth leg that is always on standby to avoid any downtime in production. In the event that two legs are down, the system features a re-feed conveyor on the end to temporarily store the products, then automatically returns them to the fourth leg once available.
In the next step, the frozen pizzas are shrink-wrapped with a Pack 301 SK flow wrapper from the Syntegon site in New Richmond, Wisconsin in the US. Shrink-wrapping is not only important for product safety and to avoid contamination. It is also needed to keep the pizza toppings in place. What’s more, the machine features an integrated metal detector to make sure the pizzas do not contain any foreign objects. Before leaving the Pack 301 SK, a checkweigher performs an accurate weight and completeness check to ensure the consumer receives the quantity guaranteed. Since the pizzas contain sensitive foods like cheese and meat, the machine fulfills the washdown requirements for optimal hygienic conditions.
Secondary and tertiary packaging in one line
The shrink-wrapped pizzas then enter the downstream packaging area of the extensive line, where Syntegon installed not only the endload cartoning but also the case packing equipment. First, single pizzas are loaded into the typically thin cardboard boxes for frozen pizzas in the Kliklok Enterprise endload cartoner from the Syntegon site in Decatur, Georgia, US. The Kliklok Enterprise features one of the fastest rotary carton feeders in the industry and can package at speeds of up to 340 cartons per minute.
The final packaging step consists of packaging either 14 or 16 cartoned pizzas into one large transport case using the Elematic 3001 from the Syntegon site in Remshalden, Germany. The wrap-around case packer offers the flexibility of several pack styles – the pizzas can either be wrapped in trays, trays with inner hoods, or full wrap-arounds. Considering the manufacturer’s high hygienic standards, both downstream machines meet the wipe-down requirements and ensure hygienic production conditions.
Collaboration across the globe
With this highly automated packaging line, the frozen food manufacturer was able to take its pizza production to the next level of efficiency. With an output of 340 pizzas per minute, the new line from Syntegon will outperform the existing packaging line by a wide margin. To make this possible, Syntegon brought experts and machines from four of its international sites together. “We coordinated technologies and team members from three different countries and every expert contributed with their individual expertise,” Brad Baker, Senior Sales director North America points out. “Together, we proved our system competence and provided the customer with a comprehensive integrated line.”
Thanks to the joint team efforts, Syntegon was able to offer the project as a single-source solution. The team designated one contact person to funnel the communication from all four Syntegon sites with the customer. This proved to be an important advantage for the customer – not only did Syntegon deliver a turnkey system from product distribution to finished cases with high efficiency, but also maintained close contact throughout the entire project and shared holistic advice on the project implementation.
 Source: Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/562344/frozen-pizza-sales-us/