Engineering a better bakery
Focus on planning, preparation and skilled labor when installing or upgrading a production line.
BakingBusiness.com, March 1, 2013
by Dan Malovany

Before expanding or building a bakery, what’s the single most important thing an engineer or project manager must do at all costs? “When you think you have planned enough, start over again,” said Bill Zimmerman, president and CEO, The Long Co., Chicago. “With any new equipment, the most important things are the preflight and the pre-running of equipment. Start it up, and run it, run it and run it.”

For Jeff Dearduff, Baking & Snack contributing editor and member of BEMA’s Baking Industry Forum (BIF) Committee, getting all the right people involved in the process increases the chance of a smoother startup. That means creating a task force consisting of people from operations, engineering, maintenance, sanitation and purchasing to ensure all bases are covered.

“No matter what we do in life, it is the people who make the difference,” Mr. Dearduff said. “A solid team of diverse thinkers and doers will keep you headed in the right direction, and when one team member drifts, the others will pick them up. Mechanical stuff is repeatable. People are the variance to a successful project.”

At Tennessee Bun Co., the F-5 Leadership Group brought myriad expertise to the consensus-driven, decision-making process prior to expanding the company’s Nashville, TN, bakery by 30,000 sq ft and adding a production line that can crank out 1,800 biscuits a minute. That core group included Cordia Harrington, president and CEO; Tom Harrington, partner and CFO; Alan Barton, partner; Beth Westjohn, CPA and controller; and Alan Edington, vice-president of operations.

Risk-adjusted ramp-up

When the line went live in 2011, the bakery began producing saleable product almost immediately. The smooth ramp-up wasn’t an accident. In addition to feedback from all members of the group, Mr. Edington relied on risk-adjusted performance measurement techniques that included a comprehensive Decision Matrix analysis and computer-supported mind-mapping, among others, to prepare for the launch. That decision process took meticulous planning, including four months of analysis, before Tennessee Bun cut a purchase order for the impingement oven because that technology had never been previously used to bake biscuits.

“There was a lot of work put into our decision making,” Mr. Edington recalled. “Quality was our No. 1 priority for the consistency of bake, and price came in at No. 2. That’s what drove the purchase. That oven had the most consistency of any oven out there, and quite honestly, it was the easiest oven to operate from an operators’ standpoint, where they could adjust it with minimal effort.”

Despite all the preparation, the project ended up being delayed several months due to a failure of a subsystem on the line. In a postmortem analysis, Mr. Edington identified the root cause of the delay. “We put tremendous effort into the selection process and making sure we would meet our customer’s expectations, but we didn’t spend enough time on the project plan,” he said. “We hit a couple of bumps along way that we could have avoided, if we had a more comprehensive project plan that stayed better focused on the critical path.”

That lesson will be among many others to be applied to a smaller project that the Nashville bakery plans to start later this year. On the preflight checklist: Failure-mode analysis to predict what might break down and how to prevent it as well as factory and/or plant acceptance tests. Key performance indicators (KPIs) will provide clear specifications for understanding what the bakery plans to accomplish and what it expects from the vendor.

“The one piece of advice I’d give anybody is to put the time in upfront to make sure you have truly identified what you want to accomplish before you buy the equipment, so the vendor understands what you are asking for and run through the analysis of the equipment to break down the equipment by determining any potential failures,” Mr. Edington said. “You need to develop the whole project plan with your vendors and your project team inside. If you spend the time, everything will go that much smoother.”

Be prepared

All the planning in the world, however, can’t prevent inevitable glitches. As the saying goes, no battle plan survives intact after its first encounter with the enemy. Often, it’s just a matter of being prepared for unexpected surprises.

“Nothing ever goes wrong,” Mr. Dearduff noted. “Sometimes, it just doesn’t go as smooth as some thought it would. Underpreparation will bite you every time. Thinking that someone else was taking care of an important task can get you, too. Just like in big-time sports, preparation is the key to winning. Visualizing the project steps in your sleep always helps.”

Before starting up its 110,000-sq-ft bakery in Frederick, MD, Bakery de France spent more than three years lining up financing, contractors and builders and testing out equipment, according to Nadine Salameh, executive vice-president for the Rockville, MD-based company. It even shipped flour and levain to potential European vendors to conduct tests to replicate production of its artisan breads and rolls prior to purchasing the systems.

“When you build a new bakery, you think of all of the excitement and new directions where you are taking your company,” she said.

For Bakery de France, that new direction involved installing two production lines making premium, all-natural baked goods for in-store bakeries and foodservice operators. Ms. Salameh joked that the equipment, in the end, taught her and her fellow bakers a few new things about baking. “It can be a challenging and difficult road to travel,” she said. “It takes much longer than initially planned or forecasted. This is the biggest lesson we learned.”

Her advice to bakers setting up a production line, especially one that has been custom designed to produce Bakery de France’s signature products, “Be more open to change,” she said. “It’s not only having the will to change, but you have to be able to react to any changes. You have to be ready for the good, the bad and the ugly. I was not prepared mentally for all of the changes, but now I have adjusted.”

Today, Bakery de France finds itself running at full speed with plans to install two more production lines at its Frederick facility. In January, the company rolled out its “Be the Baker” Retail-Ready Program that invites consumers to turn their kitchens into a bakery with 95% par-baked artisan breads that can be heated up and served in six minutes or less.

“Starting up of the Frederick bakery was fabulous,” Ms. Salameh said. “I don’t regret anything that we’ve done. The things that we’re discovering about making artisan breads are unbelievable.”

When asked about engineering a better bakery, Kirk O’Donnell, vice-president of education for AIB International, Manhattan, KS, quoted the late author and motivational speaker, Leo Buscaglia. “He said, ‘People who are the most sane have the most options,’” Mr. O’Donnell recalled. “If you need to do just one thing, it’s do your homework. Don’t be in a hurry to get things done. Look at all of the options available.”

Efficiency finally defined

Unlike decades ago, bakeries today are installing production lines that provide the maximum amount of flexibility to react to current and future changes in consumer preferences and emerging market trends. Additionally, bakeries and snack producers are consolidating operations. “Instead of having three plants that each make one type of product, companies are looking to have one plant capable of making everything,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Rising commodity prices coupled with a lack of price elasticity have bakeries calculating uptime and reducing waste by identifying bottlenecks and incorporating sustainability initiatives. Applying best practices such as lean manufacturing and scheduling production runs to reduce changeovers may dramatically increase efficiencies. “To put it in historical terms, 20 or 30 years ago, it was not unusual to have 30% downtime for changeovers,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “Changeovers today should be less than 10% downtime for a good operator.”

Few bakeries operate on the time-honored five-days-a-week schedule, with downtime for sanitation and maintenance, according to Mr. Zimmerman. “There’s 168 hours in a week, and most operators now are trying to find ways to maximize that uptime because you can’t make money if you are not making product in your oven. They will look at 152 hours a week with two 8-hour downtime periods because you need to fill your oven as much as possible to operate profitably in today’s economy.”

To adjust to changing market demands, BakeCo, Sterling, VA, is in the process of removing an older bread line and installing laminating and muffin makeup systems as well as a second new tunnel oven. New products are driving changes in the bakery, said Kambiz Zarrabi, BakeCo’s chief marketing officer.

Mid-sized bakeries like BakeCo, he added, need to be nimble because they face a number of challenges, including a shortage of good bakers and extreme price fluctuations with ingredients and packaging materials. Mr. Zarrabi advised bakeries that are expanding their operations to establish a strong management team to oversee the projects and work with state and federal government agencies to take advantage all of the tax benefits available.

At the coming International Baking Industry Exposition in October, BakeCo will look to further automate its operations by adding robotics in the packaging area and searching for hybrid makeup lines and ovens. “You also need to buy the most reliable equipment — the most versatile equipment — that allows you to expand capacity at minimal time and cost,” Mr. Zarrabi said.

Gauge your talent pool

When determining what equipment to purchase, Mr. Dearduff takes into account worker safety, headcount reduction, product quality and throughput. “Simplicity in design is also highly regarded because we know that complex designs require complex technicians, who are hard to come by these days,” he said.

When upgrading production, the type of equipment needs to complement skill sets of the bakery’s workforce, according to Mr. Zimmerman. “You need to match the equipment with the people in the bakery — their processing skills and their aptitude to understand what it’s going to take to operate the new equipment,” he said. “We don’t spend enough time on the pre-training and understanding why we got that piece of equipment for the bakery and how the operators are going to operate it, maintain it and prepare it for food safety and sanitation.”

Sometimes, there can be a knowledge gap between those who purchase new systems and those who operate them. “The equipment may not be new to you because you have seen it and worked on it before,” Ms. Salameh said. “Even though you may have people in key positions throughout the bakery, you often have to hire other new employees to run it, and that can be a challenge.”

In addition to reliability, simplicity can be sublime in the long run. For Mr. Edington, that often involves the ease of controlling or adjusting equipment. On the biscuit oven, the human-machine interface (HMI) takes only a short time to learn. “The HMI is so simple,” he said. “I have had CEOs of other companies come here, and I showed them how to interface with the HMI, and about five minutes after answering their questions, they know how to make adjustments to the equipment.”

To calculate full return on investment (ROI), the initial step involves gathering all of the numbers. “The raw data comes from all of your resources — internal, external and even some guesswork,” Mr. Dearduff said. “Known line speeds, headcount analysis and versatility of a line provide the basic for throughput discussions.”

Some factors like reducing labor are a no-brainer. “Simple math will tell you that a robot that eliminates four human inputs to complete a task will always provide the ROI in a heartbeat,” Mr. Dearduff said.

Companies, however, need to make sure they account for all soft and hard costs associated with a project. Putting KPIs into a purchase order will help determine when the actual ROI was reached, Mr. Zimmerman noted.

“Once a line is up and running, you need someone to validate the ROI,” he said. “You need someone to monitor that ROI and keep everyone abreast that the expectations are being met. You need to establish KPIs from the beginning and monitor them going forward until that ROI is actually attained.”