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Hi-tech helps cone making remain a Joy
Comparing cone baking today to the process used in the 1930s is a lot like putting a Model T Ford up against the automakerís high tech 2001 models.
"If my Dad came back today, he would immediately recognize the cone machine. What would be different are all the attachments," said Joseph George, CEO of Joy Cone Co., Hermitage.
George said most of the technological advances in the cone industry are in three major areas: the office, production and machine shop.
The majority of the computer advances can be seen in the office operations, George said, though computers play a role in every department. The newest technology in use is Electronic Data Interchange for processing orders, acknowledging the order back to the customer, invoicing electronically and communicating with suppliers.
Mark Hiler, manager of the computer department, said that with EDI, the customers order electronically from computer to computer. Instead of conducting transactions via phone, fax or traditional Internet e-mail, a more-direct connection is made across telephone lines with their computer modems. George said the only thing that travels "snail mail" -- U.S. Postal Service -- is the payment, and he anticipates that will be sent electronically in the future.
Speaking for his section of the office, Joyís Distribution and Warehouse Manager, John Stanton, said computers are used throughout the entire routing process. His department downloads orders and runs software to compile suggested routing that the dispatcher can accept or modify. On orders that do not ship on Joy trucks, Stanton said Joy uses EDI to request shipment by outside trucking companies.
Stanton said that the inventory of both finished goods and raw materials is tied into the computer system that gives him an inventory each morning.
"We used to have to run around and count everything to see what we needed to order or make," Stanton said.
According to George, "In the plant, we donít use computers per se, but we are using electronic technology." This covers the product from the arrival of the flour until it is a finished product.
"We know when to order (flour) because of electronic measuring devices inside those silos that tell us if there is room for flour ... In addition, there are electronic controls in the tanks that keep the flour mixed and dry and free-flowing," George said. Electronics also controls the mixing of cone batter.
In the batter room, separate coolers are used for each type of batter Ė sugar cones, waffle cone and cake cone. When any cooler runs low, an electronic signal is sent to the mixing machinery and sets a process in motion that automatically pulls in the raw materials, mixes the correct recipe and sends the batter to the appropriate tank.
However, a human being is still needed to manually add the small ingredients -- but the electronics even sets off a buzzer to tell him when to come and do that.
According to George, out on the production floor, a sophisticated assortment of technological devices controls the machinery "to make a very low-tech product (cones) in a very high-tech way."
On the ovens, there are batter-level readers that pull up more batter from the batter room when it is needed. Sensors on the machinery keep a watchful "eye" on the cone-baking process and shut down a machine that is about to become damaged by a mold that didnít close, temperatures that got too hot or a cone that stuck inside a mold. Prior to those electronic controls, if the machine operator did not notice the problem, it could result in thousands of dollars in damage to the equipment.
Once the cones are baked, electronics assists in counting, indexing (staging) and packaging the cones. Electric eyes can see when cones are present and send a carton to meet them. On the color cups, electronics tell the machinery what color the cone is and sends it to the proper staging point for insertion into the packaging.
Electronics also is at work to maintain climate-controlled conditions in the plant, including a constant air pressure. Heat exchangers capture otherwise "lost" heat from the ovens to help heat the production facility in winter, and cooling systems work to control summertime heat, maintaining more comfortable working conditions.
Another thing that is different today is that Joy has its own machine shop that not only repairs the machinery, but also builds their own new cake cone machines. The engineering department also designs and develops molds for the machines with the aid of computer assisted drafting (CAD) technology. The machine shop then cuts the molds and fabricates the machinery in the machine shop.
George said that, besides using electronic controls in making cones, they are also using electronic devices to make the cone-baking machines in Joyís machine shop.
He said, "The machine itself is cheaper made because of the controls." George said,
"The cone machines of today are basically the same as they were in 1930. A lot of improvements were made, but the basic design hasnít changed. What has changed is the unbelievable myriad of controls that makes the machine smarter."
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