One of the only companies producing cluster machines made in the United States, FEMC automates the process with itsChocolate Clustermatic.

Approximately an hour and a half south of Cleveland in Walnut Creek, Ohio sits Coblentz Chocolate Co. Known for its homemade fudge along with milk, dark, white and sugar-free chocolates, Coblentz Chocolate also produces clusters, one of its best selling items. But after 22 years of hand-making clusters at Coblentz Chocolate, owner Jason Coblentz realized he had to automate the process.

With cluster sales continuing to increase, Coblentz saw that he had less time to produce a greater amount of product.

“We were looking for a machine that would speed up the production of our clusters,” Coblentz says.

FEMC, which has been in the packaging industry for more than 30 years, responded to Coblentz’s request, thanks to Doug Long, director of confectionery sales at FEMC. Long, who “had a background in machinery and an interest in chocolate,” explained his idea of creating a cluster machine to the owner of FEMC.

“He said they had some stuff that would probably work pretty well, so we tried some of the existing machinery and discovered it didn’t do quite what we’d hoped,” he says. “So we set out to build a customized machine.”

Before creating the machine, however, Long needed to discover the needs of confectioners. Along the way, he noticed there weren’t many confectionery machines available that were made in the United States.

“We’re trying to bring back ‘made in America’ to the confectionery machinery market,” Long says.

To create the cluster machine, FEMC worked with confectioners to determine what they liked and didn’t like. After Coblentz’s, and other confectioners’ help in the development of the machine, theChocolate Clustermatic was born.

“A heated hopper holds the chocolate and inclusions, which can be either peanuts, coconut, raisins, almonds, cashew pieces, pretzel pieces, potato chip pieces [or others],” Long explains. “Through a series of valves and gates, it moves the product forward, measures it and drops it onto the conveyor belt.”

The machine is adjustable in size to make between 12 and 36 clusters per pound and can be adjusted on the fly while the machine is running, Long says.

One of the distinct features of theChocolate Clustermatic is that it produces clusters that look hand-made. The machine also saves candy makers time and energy while freeing up the belt for other confections.

“We’re able to do at least three times more in a day than we were able to do before, which is efficient for us,” Coblentz says. “The other thing is that we’re not tying up the belt as much as we were before.”

And with a possible expansion in the future, theChocolate Clustermatic’s production speed will benefit the company’s expected growth.

“We have single-story production right now, but we do have space for a second floor,” Coblentz explains. “So we’re looking at putting a second floor in for more production, which would add another 4,000 sq. ft. We’re at about 6,000 sq. ft. right now.”

“Everybody’s looking for that handcrafted, hand-made product and I think we’re able to deliver that,” Long says. “Not being deceptive to the consumers, but we’re able to give them a good quality product at a fair price.”