For Marion company, new pizza pan a project to die for

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The next time you munch on a “4forAll” pizza at Pizza Hut, you can thank Marion Die & Fixture for making the popular four-choice pizza feast possible.

The company recently manufactured dies used by Carlson Products of Wichita. Carlson was contracted to make the specialty proof and baking pans to produce Pizza Hut’s newest product-four individually topped pizzas in one large box.

“On this particular product, we made two dies,” said Stan Bruce, sales manager for Marion Die & Fixture. “They needed two dies to have the capacity to make enough parts to launch this thing at the Super Bowl.”

In the highly competitive fast-food world, Pizza Hut initially introduces its new ideas in test markets. If the concept proves successful, the parent company offers these to its franchisees across the nation.

But where does Marion Die & Fixture enter the picture?

Last year, the company was approached by Carlson Products to design the dies to make the 4forALL pans. This is not the first time they have designed a die for a product Pizza Hut contracted with Carlson. Marion Die & Fixture also produced the die to make the Pizza Hut bread-stick baking pans.

A die is a manufacturing device that cuts and shapes material by using pressure and force to produce a desired form.

“It’s basically a precision-built product,” Bruce said. “It takes a piece of material-be it steel or even plastic-and through the die, it can create either a portion of the product or a complete product.”

The two devices designed for Pizza Hut were called progressive dies. “It’s just a method to produce high-volume parts at low cost,” Bruce said.

Pizza Hut engineers designed their new 4forALL pans so they could be inserted into the bread-stick pans currently used by the restaurants. Those aluminum pans are about 9 inches by 13 inches and
11/4 inches deep.

The 4forALL pan-with two openings at the bottom- is inserted into the bread-stick pan to create two small pizzas. Two pans produce four individual pizzas.

“It was a way for Pizza Hut to use an existing pan with another piece to put inside,” Bruce said. “And now, you have a product you can put in a box and call a 4forALL pizza.”

Marion Die & Fixture has been in existence since 1977. Originally in the downtown area, it was moved to a new location 20 years ago just west of town. About 4 1/2 years ago, it became a division of the Bradbury Company in Moundridge.

“Our business is mainly to produce precision dies for Bradbury-for the lines that they build for customers,” Bruce said.

Marion Die & Fixture is located in a 16,200 square-foot building and employs 32 people.

Contacted by Carlson Products to bid on the die design, Bruce and former owner Don Bredemeier reviewed the Pizza Hut 4forALL pan specs.

“We reviewed the drawing and concept to come up with a way to produce that part,” Bruce said. “What’s the die going to look like, how many progressions, what do we think it’s going to cost?”

The bid was submitted in the fall and, once the company won the contract, a team of company designers were enlisted to fine-tune the final dies to manufacture the product.

“We sit down with our design team and review what our concept was,” Bruce said.

“Then, we hand it to them to take it on and start developing in detail what this die is physically going to look like when it’s done.”

The 4forALL pan project to develop two progressive dies “was just a little bit outside of our comfort level,” Bruce said.

“It was a great challenge to Marion Die as a company. It was a very short lead time to produce the dies and get them into a functioning mode, and there was a lot at risk. If it didn’t work well to start with, we would have had a lot of money out of pocket.”

The two dies manufactured for Pizza Hut cost that company about $200,000.

One die is a 12-station progression, and the other is a nine-station progression.

“They both build the very same (4forALL pan) part,” Bruce said.
But Carlson needed two dies to have the capacity to make enough parts for Pizza Hut to launch the product during the Super Bowl.

In November, Marion Die & Fixture delivered the two dies to Carlson Products-two weeks ahead of deadline.

“Carlson only had four to six weeks to produce the number of pans that Pizza Hut franchisees ordered for this kick off,” Bruce said. “For the initial rollout, they produced 648,000 pans.”

Each of the two dies installed at Carlson Products produced the 4forALL pan inserts at a rate of 30 per minute and about 20 hours a day.

Leaving the production line at Carlson Products, the pans went to an anodizer, then on to a packaging facility, were loaded onto trucks and finally shipped to franchisees nationwide in time for the January Super Bowl.

“I was told by Carlson that Pizza Hut said this was the most successful (idea) they had ever launched,” Bruce said. “It was a very successful product for them. The chances of Carlson running more of this product for Pizza Hut is probably pretty great.”

But Marion Die & Fixtures part in the 4forALL concept is complete.

“Our part of this thing is to make money the one time,” Bruce said. “We get once chance at it. You either do or you don’t. We’re completely out of the picture at this point.”

No longer in the possession of Marion Die & Fixture, the two dies are a proprietary product for Pizza Hut.

“Pizza Hut owns them, and Carlson just runs the product on them,” Bruce said.

To his knowledge, the die his company produced is not patented, although the 4forALL name is trademarked.

“I would not build this very same die to make this very same part for anyone else but Pizza Hut, because it’s proprietary to their franchise,” Bruce said.

“We could make another die to build a product similar to that, but we wouldn’t design that product.”

Looking back over the project, Bruce said the two 4forAll dies his company designed and produced were successful.

“They worked exceptionally well from the start,” he said. “We pulled them back on one or two occasions from Wichita and did some work. But they had very few problems.”

Although this appears to be a big project for a small company in Marion, Bruce said that idea is a misconception.

“We build equipment that goes everywhere in the world,” Bruce said. “We try to do everything we feel comfortable doing.”

The company manufactures dies for a variety of fabricators, such as the appliance, automotive, garage door, lighting and metal-building industries.

Their dies ship to countries such as Australia, China, England, South America, Mexico and Canada.

In the past, the Pizza Hut International Headquarters was located in Wichita. Bruce said it’s possible that someone at Carlson Products had an association with the parent company at one time, and that might be the connection that allowed Marion Die & Fixture to bid on the dies for the bread-stick pans and the 4forALL pans.

By late February, Marion Die & Fixture was working on a hand-built component for Pizza Hut to put in its test markets.

But he couldn’t divulge what that was.

“This is an international one we’re doing,” he said.

And does Bruce feel good about being a part of the most popular product line launched by Pizza Hut to date?

“For sure,” he said. “But it’s not something you can walk out on the street and crow about.”

He chuckled when he remembered a recent incident at the Marion Pizza Hut.

Dining with two former owners of Marion Die & Fixture, Bruce and his friends were ready to pay their bill when one of them spotted the 4forALL pan and told the Pizza Hut staff they built the die that made it.

Bruce said the response was one of amazement as the staff said, ‘You did not. No way.'”

Yes, indeed. The die for the 4forALL Pizza Hut pan was produced right here in Marion County.

Just ask Stan Bruce.

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