Choosing the right slicer

by Charlotte Atchley
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A million things can go wrong at the end of a production line, but it takes just one mishap to back up the entire bakery’s production. That’s why when choosing slicers, a bakery must consider its products’ different characteristics, the equipment’s flexibility and the company’s strategies to adapt quickly in case a problem does occur. Adapting equipment to work globally adds even more variables that bakeries must consider.

The first step to avoid problems at the end of a production line is confirming that the equipment matches the product. If a bakery chooses the wrong slicer blades for its bread, buns or rolls, that one decision could create excess crumb and cause problems such as unnecessary wear and sanitation issues.

Whether a bakery slices standard-sized pan bread, rolls or buns; artisan-style baked foods; or flatbreads all influence what kind of blade and slicer equipment the bakery should choose. Even the crust determines the blade choice. According to Allen Wright, vice-president, sales, Hansaloy, Davenport, IA, the crust’s softness or hardness makes a difference in how a blade penetrates a loaf of bread. A blade with a smaller pitch, the distance between the tips of the blade’s teeth, will cut into bread’s crust better, so artisan-style breads with harder crusts need to be sliced with such blades, while soft rolls and buns should be sliced with a larger-pitched blade. For example, European breads tend to have a harder crust. According to Mr. Wright, many of Hansaloy’s European customers choose the company’s cross-ground blade with a 6- or 9-mm pitch.

The bread’s style also determines how a product is orientated into the slicer. Artisan-style products, popular in Europe and gaining a following in the US, tend not to bake in uniformly consistent sizes. This makes hinge slicing particularly complex, according to Ray Anater, LeMatic, Inc., Jackson, MI.

“The nominal dimensions for that product may be 3 in. wide by 6 in. long by 2 in. tall. Well, in any given batch, you could end up with product that could be 3 to 4 in. wide, 6 to 7 in. long and 1½ to 2 in. tall,” Mr. Anater said. “That’s a wide range, so if you’re trying to guide a product and slice it correctly, you have to employ means other than to presume all pieces will have a given dimension.” When trying to cut a ½-in. hinge into products whose widths keep fluctuating, Mr. Anater suggested adjusting the slicer based on the desired hinge size, not the product’s width as would be done with a uniform pan-baked bun.

Flatbreads, a category gaining ground globally, require precision not necessary in other bread-slicing applications. Slicing a product that is only ½ in. thick in half makes crumb control, sanitation and precision more important than slicing a 2-in.-tall hamburger bun in half.

Today, more bakeries slice buns and rolls after freezing, according to Mr. Anater. The trend is particularly strong in Europe, where wholesale customers want a more finished product. This brings a whole new set of considerations that don’t necessarily apply to room-temperature products. With a frozen product, bakeries must consider not only the extra force needed to hold the product in place and slice it but also their layout and whether the product should be sliced before or after freezing.

“We recommend slicing before freezing because the product is easier to handle then. It slices more consistently,” Mr. Anater said. “It’s just an easier application; however, there are some applications where if you slice before freezing, the slice will stitch itself back together somehow.”

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