Field Reports: Gertrude and the chocolate factory

October 1, 2006
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In the absence of Oompa Loompas, Gertrude Hawk saves 60 hours a week with new filter system.

The self-cleaning filter system from Russell Finex reduced labor by 60 hours a week and eliminated filter blockage and pump seizures at Gertrude Hawk Chocolates. Source: Russell Finex.

When Gertrude Hawk began making chocolates in her family kitchen almost 70 years ago, she had no idea her endeavor would eventually become a large Dunmore, PA-based business that produces assorted chocolate products for retail and wholesale markets, as well as contract manufacturing, fundraising and ice cream inclusions.

However, unlike the celebrated chocolate factory associated with a kid named Charlie, the Gertrude Hawk Chocolates factory has no Oompa Loompas helping with production. Instead, three shifts of full-sized humans work 24/7 yearround to meet high-volume and high-quality demands.

The right equipment must not only minimize downtime and deliver required throughput, it must also meet strict hygiene and safety standards, including HACCP, FDA inspection, kosher certification and physical and micro tests.

"While in production we need to run as much as we can, as fast as we can, as long as we can," says Bill Alfano, maintenance foreman and lead mechanic. "Even a single filter element clogging can disrupt production, requiring reassignment of up to 30 employees to other tasks."

To achieve premium taste and texture, the company uses filtration on any chocolate-coatings related product, which involves about 70% of its line. Previously, traditional wire filter baskets were predominantly used for chocolate coatings filtration, but these had serious disadvantages.

"The filter baskets cost us production downtime when cleaned every other day," says Alfano. "They had to be removed, scraped, washed, dried and replaced before we could get production back up."

And they required increased pump maintenance. "When a filter would block, the chocolate pump would seize, costing us about three hours of production," he says. "In addition, if a filter basket wasn't replaced correctly, air could be sucked through a chocolate pump, causing consistency issues or problems with our tempering units." Due to these drawbacks, Alfano's crew had to "virtually baby-sit" the filters.

In search of a better solution, the company turned to the self-cleaning Eco Filter system from Russell Finex. The product integrates directly into the pipeline and eliminates the need to clean filtration baskets or change filter bags. Using a spiral wiper design, the filter element is kept continuously clean, ensuring optimum filtration efficiency. Because of its self-clean design, cleaning the filter between batch runs is quick and easy with minimal disruption during production changeovers.

"Twice a week we just have to open a valve and the oversized material pushes out the bottom while it continues filtering," says Alfano. "There's no production stoppage or slowing."

Gertrude Hawk now uses four Russell Eco Filters in production. These have a unique Q-Tap valve that allows sampling of freshly filtered material so the quality of chocolate coatings can be monitored without interrupting production.

The filters also feature the Russell Filter Management System, a technology that automatically opens the oversized discharge valve at a specified differential pressure or time interval, enabling the filter to run efficiently without operator involvement.

According to Alfano, these filters are saving the company a substantial amount of labor and downtime. "Because the Eco Filters eliminate the need to clean filter baskets, we're saving about 60 man hours a week," he says. "They've also eliminated filter blockage and pump seizures. Rather than baby-sit the filters, the staff is now staying on top of other tasks such as preventive maintenance."

For more information:
Dan Davis, Russell Finex, Inc.; 704-588-9808;


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