Through a string of baking industry positions that started in the 1980s at Heinz Bakery Products, Al Sautner paved a legacy of successes, leading to his current role of plant manager, Otis Spunkmeyer, Cayce, SC. He never stops learning and always seeks opportunities to master new skills, even if the resulting knowledge has no foreseeable return. "I never say no to a challenge and make it a point to know as much about each aspect of a project as possible," he said. "Observing machine maintenance, asking questions and studying equipment operation became an obsession and yielded valuable knowledge I could use."
He gave an example of installing three Adamatic dough processing lines and getting good results. "However, learning from past experiences, we modified the design of the rounding drum and improved throughput from 35 cuts per minute to 43, a 23% increase," he said.
He has also met and retained friendships with many people in the industry, from mentors to those he helped along the way. Several of these were the catalysts of Mr. Sautner’s selection for Baking & Snack’s Operations Executive of the Year. "I am a very hands-on manager, and this industry is very relationship based," he said. "I try to establish good rapport with everyone I encounter along the way."
His reputation preceded him when he made the move to Maple Leaf Foods and most recently to Otis Spunkmeyer. "It’s kind of funny that I spent three years at most of my past bakeries and six years at Maple Leaf, and at each one, we went through major expansions and line improvements," Mr. Sautner added. "And with each of the companies, I was asked to go to different bakery locations where there were challenges or capital projects."
Maple Leaf projects included installation and startup of two Mecatherm lines at its Oxnard, CA, facility. He also oversaw a $2.3 million capital investment at its Roanoke, VA, plant that included a liquid-sponge system, Peerless mixing systems, Kaak dough processing, and Mecatherm and Winkler ovens for par- and fully baked items. It was also at Roanoke where Mr. Sautner implemented his growing desire to be a teacher of all-things-baking. "I wanted to be the ‘dean’ of what I called a Breaducation Center," he said. "Richard Lan, president of Maple Leaf, was very supportive, and we installed a classroom and laboratory and held classes for employees of multiple Maple Leaf locations on many topics. It was one of my most treasured accomplishments. I had the title of plant manager, vice-president of operations and dean, all at the same time."
This trust, reputation of success and entrepreneurial drive were traits Otis Spunkmeyer management admired when it hired Mr. Sautner for his current position.
When Mr. Sautner came to Otis Spunkmeyer, the then-130,000-sq-ft facility had one muffin and one cookie dough line.
One of his first projects at Spunkmeyer was to improve efficiency and reduce waste on the muffin line. "I formed a ‘Muffin Chasing Team,’" Mr. Sautner recalled. "We had people literally following the process and determining bottleneck points and areas that were not under optimal control. We identified $2.5 million in changes, most of which were in the packaging area."
Most of the packaging conveyors and wrappers were replaced with SpanTech and Formost Fuji systems, respectively. "We also added automation to facilitate autonomous maintenance procedures," he said.
Within Mr. Sautner’s first year, the plant added a second cookie line and expanded by 77,000 sq ft to house two frozen bread dough lines. Total monthly output at the 5-production-line plant is more than 14 million lb of muffins, 13 million lb of cookies and 400,000 cases of frozen bread. The plant runs 24 hours, six to seven days per week and employs 350 people.
The muffin process starts with a Stefan mixer. A cup and 2-station batter depositing system fills the 54-cup moulded trays. With three to four changeovers per shift, the line uses up to six mobile topping units for blueberries, chocolate chips and other ingredients. Filled trays are loaded into the Meincke 12-ft-wide by 120-ft-long oven at a throughput of about eight to 12 pans per minute.
After cooling, robotic depanners use needle grips to remove muffins from the pans, which return to depositing. "The full system handles 685 pans, and we have two pan sets to accommodate two muffin weights," Mr. Sautner said. The company’s 23 varieties of muffins include 4-oz for retail as well as 2.25-oz low-fat varieties for schools and food service.
Depanned muffins diverge to four Formost Fuji wrappers then converge again into L.J. robot tray and case packers. "We continue to look for ways to automate and improve efficiency in the operation," Mr. Sautner noted. "Flexibility, quality, speed and service — that’s what we look for in equipment and industry partners."
Processing for cookie dough is straightforward and at very high speeds. Each line relies on Peerless 4,000-lb capacity mixers, fed by a Reimelt ingredient handling system, to output batches every 12 minutes. Baker Perkins’ depositors drop dough pucks, which are then frozen and bulk packed before shipping.
Most of the cookie dough business goes into food service and fast-food restaurants. "We also started selling bulk cookie dough for fund raising and to wholesale club stores.
The company recently created the Delicious Essentials brand, a line of reduced-fat cookie dough made with 51% whole grain that meets school nutrition guidelines. These cookies are currently available in five flavors — Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, Butter Sugar, Carnival and Chocolate Brownie.
For all his accomplishments in his 3-year tenure at Otis Spunkmeyer, as well as past successes at Maple Leaf Foods, Heinz Bakery Products and beyond, Mr. Sautner exemplifies the traits of a manager worthy of Baking & Snack ’s Operations Executive of the Year award.
Earlier this year, Otis Spunkmeyer implemented an enterprise resource planning (ERP) project nicknamed Project Fusion that would ultimately integrate software applications from SAP. A full-time group of people designed an ERP system that defined business requirements, and then created processes that supported those requirements.
It built and tested the system specs and is currently in the process of testing and training. "The company will launch the system in the next few months and immediately implement continuous improvements," said Al Sautner, plant manager.
"As a worldwide company, this system should help us reduce risks, integrate processes and procedures across all our plants, increase information so we can make better decisions and help us grow profits," he added.
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"My goal is world-class manufacturing, which includes training, education, employee empowerment and enhanced quality through Kaizen teams, lean manufacturing, Six-Sigma and 5S programs," said Al Sautner, plant manager, Otis Spunkmeyer.
To achieve these goals, Mr. Sautner guided his associates to be thinkers. "Training is fine, and it is important," he said. "However, teaching allows employees to fully understand a task and to take ownership."
He recently secured $30,000 through community outreach programs to send his associates to classes on better management, problem solving and improved supervision at a local technical school. He also recently hired an industrial engineer to help implement some of these programs.
"We don’t worry about failure; we stay focused on our goals," he said. "That’s how we achieve success."