Long on cash and short on capacity, T. Marzetti Co. took the plunge two years ago and began construction of its first new plant in more than half a century. Now it intends to exploit its new asset.

2007 April

Acidity is the first defense against bacteria in salad dressings, a point hammered home to mixing operator Tom Mahoney with the critical control point reminder on his HMI cabinet.

When Food Engineering’s first Plant of the Year award was presented a quarter century ago, outsourcing of non-core food-production competencies was still a vague rumor.  The winning entry in 1983 came from Campbell Soup Co., which built its Maxton, NC, facility with homegrown talent.

A starkly different approach was taken by T. Marzetti Co., winner of the 25th annual Plant of the Year designation. While the company’s eight-person corporate engineering staff and key operations, R&D and QA personnel played a role, the project’s engineering, equipping and innovation initiatives were driven by outside experts. Plant manager Jim Kirton, with two prior greenfield projects under his belt, was recruited from California. Even the suitability of the land on which the Horse Cave, KY, facility sits required input from geologists and other outside experts.

The Marzetti team took possession of the 220,000-sq.-ft. building last fall and is gradually ramping up production. Fully staffed, the plant will employ 257. As customer orders and comfort level with the new plant increase, management hopes to take full advantage of its first new facility since the Marzetti family owned the firm. The walls are up, machines are humming, but learning to exploit its potential is just beginning. Shambaugh & Son, the Fort Wayne, IN, design/build firm for the project (MSKTD was project architect), turned the keys to the $50 million project over to Marzetti in September. Now the company is learning to use it.

A maker of salad dressings, sauces and dips, Marzetti’s traces its origins to 1896. Émigré Teresa Marzetti opened a Columbus, OH, restaurant popular with Ohio State University students. Diners often left with bottles of creamy coleslaw and French dressing, creating a brisk carryout trade. Dressing manufacture eventually dwarfed the foodservice business, and Marzetti had multiple manufacturing sites by the time it was acquired in 1969 by the newly organized Lancaster Colony Corp. Capacity constraints began crimping growth several years ago, particularly for the strategically important foodservice segment. By 2003, management began evaluating sites for its first new-plant project.

Fifty possible locations were considered, according to Jeff Harris, Marzetti’s vice president-engineering, before the focus shifted to Hart County, KY, a community 300 miles Southwest of Columbus. Applying the Field of Dreams philosophy of industrial development, the county’s industrial authority built a 46,000-sq.-ft. spec building in 2001 on a 50-acre parcel on the southern edge of Horse Cave, then began looking for a manufacturer willing to locate there, recalls Terry Shelton, the county’s judge executive at the time. “We ruled out some industries as too unstable” while seeking a tenant, says Shelton. A food company was high on the county’s wish list, he adds.

The search for a suitor intersected with Marzetti’s site research. Horse Cave was convenient to key customers’ DCs, and the available network of interstate highways would make a supply-chain strategist squeal with delight. On the downside, Horse Cave lies immediately East of Mammoth Cave National Park. A honeycomb of caves and karst formations lies under a layer of often-unsettled topsoil. Sinkholes and cavern collapses that can swallow entire structures are a distinct danger.

Operators must remove the projectile from the pig catcher before a swing valve for the CIP system can be engaged.

Manmade bedrock

The town’s namesake cavern extends to within 300 ft. of the new plant, and a series of smaller caves pockmark the area beyond that. Site work began with the assistance of geologists at nearby Western Kentucky University. Electrical resistivity tests and a micro-gravity study were used to identify possible voids and density differences in the soil.

Wider spacing of the building’s footings and other foundation modifications were incorporated into the design. Still, it wasn’t until 4,000 cubic yards of grout were pumped into strategic points that engineers were confident they had terra firma.

Up to 400 psi of pressure was used to inject a low-strength sand mix into the ground. If the grout had been mixed off site and delivered, “you’re talking 500 trucks,” estimates project manager Gary Hegger, a senior vice president at Shambaugh. “We have as much (mortar) in the ground as above the ground.”

The foundation for Horse Cave’s functionality, flexibility and expandability was laid over two days in intensive meetings between 10 Shambaugh engineers and twice as many Marzetti employees. “Shambaugh pulled out of us what we saw this building being,” Harris recalls. “We had time to massage the information and get a plan we can live with for years to come.” During the 12-week planning and budgeting process, 90 three-dimensional renditions were generated as different approaches and tweaks were considered. “Renderings that took hundreds of hours to generate years ago are now easily created and modified,” says Shambaugh’s Paul E. Meyers Jr., design/build projects engineering manager. Freed from restrictive software licenses, designers now share public files with the client’s engineers, who then have an easy-to-understand graphic to present to operators, managers and corporate officers.

Liquid ingredients feed through mass flow meters and are combined in the attic area, resulting in preliminary mixing as they flow through a single vertical pipe to the kitchens below.  Source: Shambaugh & Son.

The give and take produced an innovative layout for the kitchens, the area that houses mixing bowls and other equipment related to dressing production. Typically kitchens are on a plant’s main level, while mixing operators add dry ingredients and control the process from a scaffold. Meyers suggested recessing the kitchens, a concept similar to an approach Harris encountered from his days as an industrial engineer with Campbell. The advantages were clear; the question was: what problems might be created?

Excavating a 7-ft. deep trench to house the Scott Turbon high-shear mixers, pumps, valves and other equipment added cost, but it was offset by the elimination of stainless-steel platforms where operators otherwise would be positioned. Lowering the equipment also eliminated ergonomic issues associated with lifting ingredients up the scaffolds, though it also created a challenge in evacuating wastewater after washdown. Four pits were dug, and the low point of the line is 15 ft. below grade. A PD pump that operates at up to 900 gpm lifts wastewater 20 ft. from the low point to an adjacent pretreatment plant. “That’s a fire line,” jests Hegger, noting incoming water arrives at 600 gpm.

Marzetti’s Jeff Harris (left) and Shambaugh project manager Gary Hegger review schematics on a laptop in the plant’s lab.

Toys in the attic

Meyers and his process/controls colleague were involved in some of the most innovative aspects of the project. Much of their work is hidden from view for sanitary-control reasons.

Though skid-mounted systems are common, Horse Cave is skids on steroids. As much as one-quarter of construction man-hours were performed in Fort Wayne in Shambaugh’s equipment fabrication and panel shops. Quality control was one benefit, though faster job fulfillment was the primary objective. Finding enough skilled workers in a rural area is an issue, and the Horse Cave project was underway during a rainy spring, when large pieces of equipment were being pulled out of the mud. While site workers dealt with the elements, tradesmen 320 miles north wielded orbital welders and circuit solderers in climate-controlled rooms.

An armada of trailers carried dozens of process skids and utility pipe clusters in 40 ft. lengths to Horse Cave. One CIP skid with two shell-and-tube heat exchangers, condensate pumps and related equipment weighed 15,000 lbs.

While gallon containers are filled and packed on this line, most products are filled in single-serve portion packs.

Many of the skids were hoisted more than 30 ft. above the process floor and anchored to steel trusses and other structural steel. As many as four trusses were ganged together to support the weight. When a stainless-steel walkable ceiling was later installed, the interstitial space became an isolation zone where maintenance and repairs could be performed without jeopardizing sanitary conditions in the processing and packaging areas below. Equipment typically found on the processing floor was shoved into the attic, leaving an uncluttered work area below.

Bulk liquid ingredients are piped to the interstice and through mass-flow meters to meet a batch’s recipe: 100 gallons of oil, 50 gallons of vinegar, 20 gallons sucrose, etc. The liquids are combined in a 6-in. vertical pipe that descends to the mixers below. “You’re starting to get some mixing in that batch column before it hits the mixer, which can decrease blending time,” says Meyers. The main advantage, however, is a significant reduction in the amount of piping in the makeup area. Dust buildup on horizontal surfaces is a nonissue.

Energy efficiency took a backseat to food safety in illuminating the processing and packaging areas. The metal-halide lights over the work areas can only be accessed from the attic, eliminating the possibility of contaminants entering the food-handling space during maintenance. High-efficiency fluorescents that draw considerably less power were used in the plant’s warehouse.

Sensor wiring laces the backside of the flowverter that ties blending and cooking kitchens to the tank farm and provides 156 possible paths.

Meyers engineered a CIP system his colleagues refer to as “parallel/sequential path.” Efficiency, flexibility and cost effectiveness factored into a design that borrows from dairy’s CIP principles and pharmaceutical’s cross-contamination concerns. Also incorporated is a pigging system that serves as a CIP failsafe, as well as product recovery mechanism.

The six existing kitchens are linked to 26 holding tanks through a flowverter that provides 156 possible paths from the mixers to the tank farm. When three more mixers and four more tanks are added, the possibilities will expand to 270 paths. Automatic valves would simplify routing but greatly complicate product recovery: up to 300 ft. of 3-in. piping separates the mixers from the tanks, making the recoverable product between batches as much as 100 gallons. The pigging-system projectile can travel the entire length, and an operator must remove it in order to make the CIP connection. If the pig isn’t removed, wash water doesn’t return, shutting down CIP.

“The basic system would have been a swing connection to each line circuit, but then you could only clean one line at a time,” notes Meyers. Three 240-gal. CIP tanks give operators the ability to clean multiple lines in parallel or sequentially. A single 650-gal. CIP tank and 4-in. serpentine lines would provide similar capabilities, but the larger pumps and piping would be overkill, he says. “It’s an economics issue.”

Operators and sanitation workers were given weeks of training to make sure they are able to execute changeovers quickly. “Once you understand how it works,” says Meyers, “it offers tremendous flexibility.”

Two heat exchangers are included on a 15,000-lb. skid fabricated in Fort Wayne and housed into an attic above the processing floor. In the foreground on the walkable ceiling are light fixtures accessible only from this level, preventing contaminants from entering the production area during servicing.

Back to the future

Expandability is built into every area of the plant, from blending and filling to air and refrigeration compression and boiler capacity. The automation system is no exception, and the heart of the controls in Horse Cave has a distinctive beat.

“I call it a fault-tolerant system,” explains electrical engineer Doug Clark, Shambaugh’s manager of process control & automation. Instead of a distributed controls architecture, a redundant PLC system was designed with a Profibus line to remote I/O racks that connect to motor controls, VFDs, pneumatic valves and other field devices. If the first PLC fails, a second connected by fiber optics immediately takes over. “That redundancy is carried over to the Profibus I/O network,” Clark adds, with two cables connecting to each rack.

Similar redundancy is built into the server network, with a Siemens Win-CC backing up an identical unit for recipe management, HMI supervisory control and other functions. Ethernet connects the servers to nine HMI consoles, warehouse PCs and the PLC network.

Open-architecture controls have been fundamental at the firm for 20 years, and the Profibus network can be used with any PLC, Clark points out. A bus Y link provides a bumpless switchover of the I/O line if there is a fault on the Siemens S7-400H PLC. He tested the hot back-up by killing power to the first PLC while a motor with a VFD was running. “The changeover occurred in hundredths of an RPM,” says Clark. “The motor didn’t even know it.”

While a controls security blanket was a priority, integration of the servers to a remote ERP system for offline monitoring and data acquisition was not.  “All the fundamental building blocks and architecture are there,” Clark says. “As time goes on, if they want to integrate to IT, there are no dead-ends to upgrade.”

Upgrades are possible throughout the plant. Packaging is a prime candidate. A gallon-container filler and 64-oz. Cryovac machine that can exhaust a 3,000-gallon storage tank in under 90 minutes are the only high-volume fillers. Portion packs of 1.5 oz. make up most of the packaging volume. Besides creating a production choke point, slow fill rates work against automation. Cases are manually formed and palletized. When a second Cryovac filler is added, automated case forming and palletizing systems can be designed, says Marzetti’s Harris.

Most dry ingredients for batches are metered by hand and delivered by hand trucks to the mixing area. The opportunity for automation exists, but not until more lines are installed.

Security issues are front and center in today’s food production. A facility’s location influences biosecurity needs, and Horse Cave (pop.: 2,252) is a low-priority target for international terrorists (though the US Department of Homeland Security gave the Appalachian community $89,000 in 2004 for emergency-response equipment). No fence surrounds the plant, and bulk ingredients arrive in an open outdoor bay. Padlocks secure the receiving portals for liquid ingredients. On the other hand, employees wear color-coded uniforms, and key-card readers restrict access within the facility. Workers use their cards to enter through an imposing metal turnstile suitable for a maximum security facility.

Only a handful of the plant’s workers had previous food-plant experience. Developing a job matrix with skill requirements for all 257 positions, including good manufacturing practices for food handling, was Kirton’s first challenge. Working backward from the start-up date, new hires joined the staff in time for up to six weeks of training.

One of only two Marzetti employees to transfer to Horse Cave heads the 14-man maintenance department, which is installing the newest generation of enterprise asset management software from Greenville, SC-based AssetPoint. The functions of a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) are augmented with capital and equipment analytics and mobile maintenance, two modules that will be implemented over time at the facility, says Michael Stone, AssetPoint’s senior director-product strategy & marketing. Handheld devices collect and record data for work scheduling, preventive maintenance, parts management, purchase orders and warranty tracking, a critical function in a new plant.

“Implementing CMMS with a new plant is a huge advantage,” Kirton notes, because a change in behavior is not required. Additionally, many workers migrated from the automotive industry, where computerized systems are entrenched.

It’s a fresh approach to old challenges, and the same can be said about many of the systems at Horse Cave. Multiple experts worked to deliver a world-class facility to Marzetti. Now it’s up to the in-house staff to make the most of the opportunity. u

For more information:

Michael D. Stone, AssetPoint,



Paul Meyers Jr., Shambaugh & Son, 260-487-7805,


Doug Clark, Shambaugh & Son, 260-487-7772,


By recessing the mixing vessels and installing much of the process equipment above, Marzetti enjoys an uncluttered and relatively open processing area.

Lancaster Colony's crown jewel

Restaurants that morphed into manufacturers were not unusual in the 20th Century, though T. Marzetti Co.’s path is distinctly its own. Beginning as a small Italian restaurant in Columbus, OH, Marzetti saw its dining receipts eclipsed by retail sales long before its acquisition in 1961 by Lancaster Colony Corp., a diversified manufacturer of automotive floor mats and decorative glassware and candles. Salad dressings and sauce production was part of a specialty foods division that grew with the acquisition of Mountain Top frozen pies, Amish Kitchen egg noodles and other brands to become a $212 million segment by 1992. Since then, national distribution and a growing foodservice business have pushed food sales to $708 million, 60% of corporate sales.

Columbus will continue to be the corporate and manufacturing heart of Lancaster Colony, but Horse Cave, KY, promises to be an engine for growth. Besides the T. Marzetti facility completed last year, the company is building a frozen-dough plant for its Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls unit immediately north of the sauce and dressings building.