Pembroke company turns up the heat for Cape Cod chips
Cape Cod Potato Chips have been a homegrown New England favorite since the 1980s, but the kettle-cooked snacks are perhaps even closer to home than Granite Staters realize, having been cooked in commercial fryers that were designed and manufactured at Heat and Control in Pembroke.
Cape Cod has had a relationship with Heat and Control for some time. Its current frying system was developed by PitCo automated division Mastermatic, which was purchased by Heat and Control in the late 1980s and continued to service the old machines.
Recently, however, Cap Cod chips decided it needed to increase production in order to meet demand. With limited floor space, and reluctant to significantly change its facility, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the cape, the company found itself with a very specific need: higher efficiency fryers, same footprint, same product.
"The project was based on the premise that the kettles we work with are the original fryers the brand was started with. So our challenge was to replace those kettles without expanding the plant and still make the Cape Cod Potato Chips our customers love," said plant manager Jeff Newell in a Heat and Control news release.
Cape Cod approached Heat and Control with the project, in part given their previous relationship, and its Pembroke facility set to work, utilizing much of its personnel.
"A good piece of our engineering staff were involved, so three or four people there at different times, and in the manufacturing end pretty much everyone from purchasing all the way down to metal fabrication, polishing and shipping were involved in it," said Ron Ferrante, vice president of operations at Heat and Control. "At one stage or another the whole facility was involved."
After about six months, Heat and Control developed its new model, based on a different concept of frying.
"It uses a sealed burner technology. Instead of heating the fryer by way of standard cross tubes, which the existing fryers had, we've gone with a longitudinal design. What it allows us to do is get very, very high efficiency," Ferrante said. "Sometimes with cross-fire fryers, your efficiency is 45 to 50 percent. Our efficiency is probably reaching close to 70 percent.
"The old units were producing about 110 pounds. In the same footprint we're producing 200 pounds per fryer. What's unique about that, when you're processing potatoes you have to appreciate that its 80 percent water, so 200 pounds of potato chips equates to roughly 800 plus pounds of raw potatoes per fryer, per hour."
Six models were built and later installed in the summer of 2012 as a trial setup. The Hyannis factory has a total of six banks of six fryers each. Each costs a couple hundred thousand dollars, according to Ferrante.
"The plan is eventually to replace all 18, so there's still fryers that they're looking at us replacing," Ferrante said.
The Pembroke facility employs about 50 workers, though Ferrante noted that this number fluctuates, in part because of the difficulties in finding the kind of specialized skilled labor they require.
"Finding resources here to work in our technical kind of metal fabrication, it's more than just a general run-of-the-mill, it's been really tough finding talent," he said.