Trends and insights from the coalface of the industry 

For the last three months, I’ve been travelling around the United States, connecting with customers who hail from the full spectrum of manufacturing. From facilities owned by huge multinational conglomerates to independent co-manufacturers and private companies, I found I was having very similar conversations about the trends, pressures and pain points of operating in an (almost) post-pandemic America.  

Here I share the key trends I’ve seen on the ground and at the coalface.  

No hands on deck

The pandemic has amplified the already tricky issue of staffing  

The pandemic has shaken things up in ways that many of us couldn’t have predicted. One of those is the impact it has had on staffing. In our industry and across many others, businesses simply can’t find or keep staff. While that’s always been an issue, the problem has reached a critical point, with some facilities having to downscale production simply because they don’t have the hands they need on the factory floor.  

The feeling is that this is, in part, driven by benefit schemes put in place to support people impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Workers found that by staying home, they were making just as much, or close enough to it. While the subsidy ended a month ago, employers haven’t seen the influx of workers they were expecting. Many are using bonuses for referring and signing-on, and paying more per hour than they would have in the past.  

The disruption to communities and schedules adds to the issue. For example, one remote facility said its employees rely on carpooling to get to the site. So, if the driver stays at home, it means the other four people can’t turn up either.  

The solution that many employers are turning to is simply to work around the lack of staff. Many purchasing decision-makers are looking for more automation, not just because it can save money on staffing, but it removes the risk of variability.  

Getting from A to B is harder

Delays, costs and new shipping routes 

It’s no secret that the COVID crisis has wreaked havoc with supply chains. I saw that for myself from a flight into LA. Out in the harbour, I saw 50-odd boats just sitting there, waiting to get to the port. On those boats, I’m sure, were goods and products that US businesses were desperately waiting for. I suspect this issue alone could create unforeseen changes to the makeup of the country – huge ships are now docking in alternative port towns, and trucks rerouting through sleepy villages.  

Even with these changes, getting things from A to B takes time and money. My clients tell me it’s hard to secure a container, and when you do, it can cost four times as much as it once did. You’ll also be waiting a lot longer – what used to take five weeks now takes up to eight.  

Facetoface is back in a big way  

Trade shows and handshakes are how we do business  

We had an amazingly productive time at the PACK EXPO 21 in Las Vegas. The level of attendance and enthusiasm made it clear that while we all accepted having to do business online, it was hardly the preference. Yes, we coped and adapted, but nothing could replace the value of face-to-face.  

Particularly in our industry, which has such a long sales cycle and requires big capital commitments, people want to shake hands. They want to know they can trust you. So even if it’s just sitting down and having a coffee, you get the chance to get to know someone. In a virtual meeting, you’re rushed and focused – there isn’t much time to connect.  

For us, getting in front of customers means we can better understand their pain points and how we can help. That’s better for our clients, and it’s good for us – it accelerates projects and identifies opportunities we might not otherwise have seen. Catching up with other people is also what makes work enjoyable. The PACK EXPO attendees were getting a chance to see old friends – it wasn’t just about work. 

Hygiene and extra SKUs are still the focus  

And flexibility is the solution to both 

After the year we’ve had, I’m not surprised that hygiene has remained at the forefront of clients’ minds. More people ask how they can build hygiene practices into processes and equipment as standard – rather than an extra step that slows down production. Similarly, the trend for SKU proliferation hasn’t slowed down – customers want variety, and manufacturers are struggling to work out how to deliver on that.  

The answer to both issues is, of course, multipronged, but it comes down to flexibility. That starts with equipment you can customise to the way you need to work. Clients are also looking for smaller machines to make more of existing factory spaces, ones that have hygiene features built-in and make changeovers fast and simple.  

Rigorous team training is perhaps more of an ask, given the issues with sourcing and keeping staff. It’s why more customers are looking for equipment that reduces the chance of human error and can be used almost without training. It’s part of why I’m seeing so much interest in our V20 melter, which seems to tick a lot of these boxes.  

I’d be happy to share more about these insights and trends, and how they could apply to your business. Click here to schedule a virtual meeting or read our case studies here. 



How your production line affects your bottom line  

If internet experts and business management guides are anything to go by, boosting profitability is easy. Find the gaps in your efficiency, rework key processes and your bottom line will improve.  

Of course, the reality is far more complex. Most production facilities are already working at full volume, and squeezing out extra numbers can require major process changes and even new machinery. By the time you’ve implemented any changes, the investment in time, equipment and training may make short work of any potential gains.   

That’s why enhancing your bottom line needs to be smart and strategic – not a quick fix. At PTL, we’ve helped a whole range of customers make real changes to their facilities and ultimately boost their bottom line.  

After years in the business, here’s what we’ve learned:  

1: Be smart in your use of space  

The way you configure your production floor – and the equipment you use – can make a tangible difference to your production numbers. This can mean reworking lines to maximise efficiency and choosing machines with a smaller footprint. More compact machinery lets you add more production lines and SKUs without increasing the size of your facility. PTL’s V20 Melter is a prime example – it’s easy to move and reassemble, fits into smaller areas and produces on par with larger machines.  

Because compact machines can slot into smaller spaces, they can also help you create shorter, more efficient production runs. Rather than being constrained by machine size and the space available in your facility, you can set machines like the melter in place exactly where they’re needed. This can help reduce the length of pipes required and the overall time needed to create each product. Even if this only equates to milliseconds per bar, when you’re producing thousands of bars per day this can have a discernible impact on profitability. 

When Pittsburgh, PA’s Trufood Manufacturing was looking at options for a new melter, a smaller footprint and shorter pipe runs were two key criteria. They found that the V20 was able to deliver in both areas, which helped them save time and boost efficiency.  

Project Engineer Mike Berko explains: “The short length of piping means the circuit can be broken down into easy-to-handle individual components that can be easily and thoroughly sanitised in a fraction of the time that would be required with a traditional setup.”  

2: Diversify your product offering  

While some businesses manage to thrive while sticking to one or two well-loved lines, profitability isn’t always about sheer volume. With consumers demanding frequent new product launches, different types of product to meet dietary needs and interesting ingredient combinations, increasing the variety of SKUs you produce can be another path to boosting your bottom line. 

The right equipment can help. Older machinery tends to be designed for a single product or category, with little flexibility. Now, modern machinery can be used for multiple types of product and process, making it easier to adapt your facilities as you develop new product lines.  

Again, the V20 Melter is a great example. It’s a flexible melter, rather than one designed to work with specific bar-line machinery, so it can be adapted for use in all types of facilities. Importantly, the V20 is designed for ease of cleaning and breakdown as well, making it quick and efficient switching between product lines, even if you’re working with allergens. When you’re producing more products in smaller volumes, this is crucial. 

 TruFood Manufacturing sells a wide range of products, including chocolate, protein bars, and other health-focused foods. Their broad product range means flexibility is a must at their production facility. Project Engineer Mike Berko explains why: “Ease of use, ease of sanitation, minimal downtime for sanitation and flexibility to switch between products to keep up with our customers’ demands.”  

3: Machinery matters  

Better machinery and equipment seems like a logical step in boosting efficiency – unfortunately, you can’t draw a straight line from new machinery to a better bottom line. Any investment in new machinery needs to be backed by gains in productivity over time.   

Although you won’t necessarily see a return on your investment immediately, you must be able to forecast improved efficiency and a boost to your bottom line in the long term. This is where seeking out flexible, modern equipment can make a difference – it can help you maximise efficiency and increase SKU production in future, even if that’s not a priority right now. 

National Foodworks Services is an Illinois-based facility that manufactures food products for a wide range of smaller operators. The business has invested in the best possible equipment for their production floor – after all, that’s what drives profitability. 

President Matt Dausman explains: “The reliability of this line is of paramount importance as it drives 95% of our revenue.”  

Because NFS helps develop new products for so many other businesses, big and small, it’s also essential that their production line is flexible – they need to be able to switch between products quickly, introduce new ingredients and product lines frequently, and maintain rigorous standards of hygiene throughout.  

“The many different types of bars we have been able to run on this line has really helped our flexible business model,” says Matt.  

Process perfection with PTL  

If your business has done things a certain way for years, introducing new equipment and new processes can be difficult and time-consuming. But if you want to boost efficiency and improve your bottom line, there’s really no alternative.  

We can’t offer a quick fix, but our flexible, customisable, hyper-efficient machinery means we can help you make real changes in your manufacturing facility – and hopefully improve profitability in the long term. 

Need more detail? Download our eBook ‘5 Key Elements of Successful Bar Production’ to see our world-class equipment in action.  




Using the right melter can help you innovate and adapt in a fast-moving industry

Food manufacturing moves at warp speed – is your business keeping up? With consumers constantly on the lookout for new products and innovative flavor combinations, manufacturers are in a race to get new products to market. More and more factories are manufacturing huge product lines and introducing new SKUs frequently – impossible if your machinery doesn’t allow efficient change-overs and cleaning. 

If you’re using older machinery designed for one or two product lines, it can be difficult to introduce new SKUs efficiently – by the time you set up new equipment or implemented new systems, you’ve fallen behind your competition. You need machinery that’s flexible enough to let you introduce new products frequently, and do it all without compromising the efficiency or quality of your production process.  

Why flexibility matters

This new normal means that your production facility and machinery set-up can’t be set in stone. Equipment needs to handle a wider range of products, with shorter run lengths and increased changeovers. If your equipment isn’t up to speed, your business may fall behind as your competitors process far more bars in a shorter time.  

Fred Grep, Director of Engineering at US-based Hearthside Food Solutions, switched the business to PTL equipment shortly after the business launched. He explains that using efficient machinery, customized to the unique product range, gave a competitive advantage right from the start.  

“It worked out well because our modifications were changes our customers wanted to see. By getting them first, it meant Hearthside was ahead of the game,” he says.  

More bars, similar costs 

As with almost every business, manufacturers need to maximize efficiency if they want to succeed. There’s no point in producing a huge range of bars if the process is slow and costly – passing the price on to consumers is usually a no-go. That’s why flexibility needs to be backed up with efficiency, so new processes and production methods can be completed rapidly, and frequent changeovers between SKUs don’t slow down the process.  

PTL’s new V2O melter was designed to do just that, with features built around efficiency and fast changeovers. Instant melt functionality and continuous supply mean fewer delays and faster processing, while removable melt grids and easy-wash design make it simple to clean between products – even if you’re dealing with allergens. The whole unit is more compact than older models, making it easy to move around your production floor to be used in different processes. The ‘plug and play’ design means that it can be set up next to other equipment as needed, eliminating long product pipe runs, which can slow production time and be cumbersome to clean afterwards.   

Ready for innovation  

Every manufacturer wants to make the latest bar – the one consumers go crazy for – but introducing amazing, innovative products means changing manufacturing lines and, in some cases, even investing in new machinery before a product goes to market.  

Newer chocolate manufacturing equipment – like the V20 – is designed with innovation in mind. Built-in flexibility makes it much easier to configure production lines and produce new bars without buying costly new machinery. This means you can create products that combine ingredients in surprising new ways, use different texture profiles to stand out, or appeal to demographics with specific dietary needs.  

In many cases, you can also customize equipment to suit your production goals. That’s what Hearthside did when it wanted to create a specific range of bars and other products. As Fred explains, the company worked with PTL to customize equipment that fit its unique needs.  

“By [PTL] being open to our modifications and design change requests, we can create superior solutions for customers and gain increased flexibility in our operations,” he enthuses.  

Flexibility, efficiency, innovation

As more products hit the market every day, it’s becoming near-impossible to succeed with a limited range of SKUs. New, interesting products are a must-have – and your production facilities need flexible, efficient, and reliable machinery to turn those innovative ideas into a reality.  

That’s where PTL’s V20 Melter, along with other chocolate & bar -manufacturing equipment, comes in. The V20 is a unique piece of machinery, designed to fit the modern manufacturing environment. Rather than a set piece of equipment that can’t be modified or changed without a large time investment, it’s a flexible, hyper-efficient unit that can adapt to meet your changing needs.  

Here’s how it works:  

  • Efficiency – accelerate production speed 
  • Flexibility – customization and quick changeovers make the V20 ideal for producing a wider range of bars and other products.  
  • Changeover speed – efficiency continues with high-speed changeovers and ease of cleaning – even for allergens.  
  • Size and portability – the smaller footprint makes the V20 easy to slot in anywhere on your manufacturing floor, and move around as needed.  
  • Innovation – flexible, customizable functions mean that manufacturers can create and develop new, innovative bars without the need for a whole new equipment set-up.  

In an industry obsessed with innovation, it could be just what you need to get ahead.  

Want to know more? Download our eBook ‘How SKU-ed up is your chocolate and bar production process?’ for insights, statistics, and more detail.    



Supporting new SKUs without added production pressure

SKU proliferation is one of our industry’s biggest challenges and it continues to impact on production. How do you respond and adapt as an engineering leader?

 As our recent report into SKU proliferation identified, quantitative and qualitative evidence from the industry demonstrates that across the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) sector, including chocolate and bar manufacturing, businesses are adding to their inventory and product range in order to meet an increased and diversified demand. This has a significant impact on how you plan and operate your production process.

Increasing SKUs will allow you to offer a more diverse range of products for your customers. Product portfolios do develop some ‘middle aged spread’, especially since desire for more product choice leads to more changeovers and, possibly, smaller batches. The challenge of supporting new SKUs without adding production pressure is down to agile manufacturing, which will enable your facility to embrace SKU proliferation while lowering the cost of production. We’ve got three ideas to help you make it happen.

1: Improving the speed and efficiency of changeovers
Key to achieving this is through scheduling. For example, when enrobing bars, it’s important to ensure coating and ingredient compatibility, e.g. starting with white chocolate and following up with compatible milk or dark chocolate.

Then there’s the machinery itself. Ideally, your machinery should include features that are designed to facilitate swift changeovers, such as:

  • A minimum of swap-out parts
  • Tool-less swap-out parts
  • Neat and easy storing and handling of swap-out parts on compact and hygienic storage and wash-down carts
  • Easy, simple center lining and location for swap-out parts
  • Easy-to-follow instructions in large picture-based formats on display for operators to refer to

A key aspect is ensuring multiple safety zones along a process line. This enables sanitation to commence on a zone as it completes production. For example, once all product has passed through the forming and slab cooling section, the Lockout / Tagout can be done in sanitation mode, and cleaning can commence while the cutting and coating processes continue.

It’s also a good idea to have secondary swap-out assemblies for quick changes. For example, an enrober with two swap-out reservoir assemblies enables fast change times, and cleaning can be done when production is up and running again.

Remember too that local drains allow more equipment to be washed on the line, and self-draining surfaces should be used as much as possible.

2: Minimising downtime
Again, efficient scheduling plays an important part here, in that a regular preventative maintenance schedule is critical for minimising equipment downtime. So too does the cleanability of your equipment, which comes down to it being designed with allergen and pathogen hygiene in mind – such as consideration as to how the machinery is dried as well as cleaned.

You can also minimise equipment downtime by:

  • Ensuring the ability to remove equipment parts for cleaning offline
  • Making use of secondary changeover parts as per the above point
  • Ensuring the fast priming of equipment

Key to inimising downtime is ensuring your personnel are constantly trained. Production facility jobs often see high turnover; as new employees come into the production facility, they need to be properly trained in all standard operating procedures (SOPs). Your equipment supplier should offer training to those who will then go on to train employees. Make sure that everyone is aware of all line requirements, because if you reduce or even eliminate damage to the line, you’ll significantly reduce downtime.

3: Managing allergens efficiently
Once again, scheduling and following SOPs – which need to be clear and consistent – is key to managing allergens.

Just as crucial is hygienic equipment design, so that you’re working with production equipment that will minimise the possibility of contamination from pathogens or allergens, while enabling maximum production capacity. It needs to meet stringent allergen standards, ensuring:

  • No bacterial build-up
  • Fast and easy changeovers and wash-down options

It’s also important to ensure that non-product contact surfaces are also designed with hygiene in mind because even with the highest standards of containment, bacteria can still travel from one part of the facility to another.

The PTL approach to dealing with production pressure
Production machinery and equipment shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. Off-the-shelf equipment won’t have the flexibility to adapt to the individual needs of a food processing facility. Every organisation has different requirements, meaning the equipment they use should be able to change to fit those requirements, not the other way around.

PTL machinery is designed to be modular, flexible and hygienic. We also focus on waste reduction capabilities while gaining production efficiencies. From full production lines to individual machines, PTL can design a tailored solution for a facility’s specific needs.

Once installed in your facility, the unique design of PTL equipment will enhance performance efficiency and will reduce production pressure, allowing you to support more SKUs as needed. When it comes to production output, our equipment includes features that improve that output; specifically cleaning reduction, changeover reduction and end product accuracy, again resulting in increased uptime and reduced pressure.

When it comes to hygiene and managing allergens, our equipment is designed to several international standards; our focus goes beyond the equipment itself, as sanitation and hygiene are primary factors for us. We also provide direction and guidance on how best to clean the equipment post-deployment, to ensure that hygiene standards are always met.

For any food manufacturing organisation, the number of SKUs is going to increase as consumers’ needs and desires grow. However, as long as your facility is geared towards reducing production pressure while managing SKU proliferation, you’ll experience positive business growth along with an enhanced reputation and of course, a boost to your profitability.

Discover our collaborative ‘Creating Together‘ approach – combining our experience and expertise with your exact requirements, resulting in fit for purpose machinery every time.



Nutritional bars have steadily grown in popularity since first conception in the early 1960’s. They were first formulated by Nasa, in partnership with Pillsbury, as a solution to provide astronauts their required daily nutrition in a compact and convenient way.

Steadily growing in popularity over the years, nutritional bars are now consumed by a wide demographic and as a result this functional food category is valued at US$6.875 million and is expected to reach $7.735 million by 2022.

While nutritional bars provide significant health benefits to a variety of consumers – from high performing athletes to school children – the ever-growing ingredient list and accompanying marketing tactics (all natural, organic, paleo, genetically modified organism free and gluten free), has left the nutritional bar and functional food category open to a growing list of quality assurance (QA) and compliance concerns.

This article, ‘Nutrition bar manufacturing: A quality assurance perspective’ by Natural Products Insider, discusses the growing QA and compliance concerns felt by bar manufacturers today and offers valuable tactics manufacturers can implement to overcome them.

We’ve outlined the key challenges they addressed below, but if you’d like to read the article you can do so here.

The key challenges bar manufacturers are faced with today

Increasing food safety regulations mean that bar manufacturers need to tighten their food hazard prevention rather than just controlling critical points. But that’s easier said than done. As consumers yearn for more variety, bar manufacturers have been inundated with the need to produce assortment whilst adhering to the list of growing regulations – causing headaches for many bar manufacturers today.

  1. Identifying regulatory compliance throughout the supply chain.

Raw material suppliers are a critical step in purchasing raw ingredients for bars. However, it is now necessary for raw ingredients (domestic and foreign) to meet FSMA rules, meaning the ingredients manufacturers use must be compliant. While this reduces time spent testing ingredients, manufacturers must now be more vigilant when purchasing and managing their raw material supply.

  1. Hygiene and handling critical to offering SKU variation.

With more and more consumers looking for variety, whether that be to cater to an allergy, a specific diet or add additional nutrition, bar manufacturers need to provide assortment at pace. As most bar manufacturing production lines host a multitude of equipment that comes into direct contact with a product as it completes its process to form a bar, cross contamination and cross contact become a huge issue – specifically with allergens and microbial contamination. A cause for concern for manufacturers as failure to adequately clean production machinery can result in costly product recalls from undisclosed allergens or adulterants.

The growing demand for nutritional variety in convenience bars alongside growing compliance demands has created a wealth of challenges for bar manufacturers today. However, if addressed with deliberate focus and assistance from management throughout operations, these challenges can help manufacturers to produce a quality and compliant finished bar product.

Here at PTL, we design and build industry-leading bar and chocolate manufacturing machinery and as result, know all too well the challenges manufacturers face, especially around hygiene control.

In our eBook, 10 Hygienic Design Principles for Food Manufacturing Equipment, we provide an introduction to the subject of hygienic design of food manufacturing equipment – from the factors driving changes, regulatory response and industry requirements, to best practices in terms of equipment design. If you would like a copy, you can download one here.