Software’s the solution
Software systems for material handling equipment improve traceability and reduce errors and waste.
BakingBusiness.com, Oct. 28, 2013
by Shane Whitaker

Knowledge gives comfort. Knowing exactly which ingredients went into every batch and having the ability to track this with only a click of the mouse provides bakers and snack manufacturers with the security that will allow them to sleep better at night. Today’s high-tech automated ingredient handling systems feature the software that gives them this level of comfort.

That’s because this technology provides bakers immediate access to information without time constraints. “The biggest driver for an automated system is food ­safety, true production data, access to live and archived data, efficiency and repeatability,” said Marco Gallo, ­director of automation, Buhler, Inc., Plymouth, MN.

Storing formulas

Automated recipe management systems often ­integrated with ingredient handling systems allow bakers and snack manufacturers to input and store formulas for every product they make.

Production Resource Information Management Applications (PRISMA) software from Zeppelin Systems USA, Inc., Odessa, FL, also provides complete lot traceability. By maintaining their customers’ and raw materials suppliers’ information within the system’s database, the bakery has one up, one down supply chain traceability required by the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, according to Ed Ryon, Zeppelin’s systems software manager.

“It provides more granularity than what a lot of companies may have if they are tracking lots with an ERP [enterprise resource planning] system,” Mr. Ryon added. Accordingly, if a problem should arise with one of its ingredients, manufacturers using PRISMA can cast a smaller net when determining which products were ­affected, he explained.

PRISMA, which is actually a suite of applications, features a central data management interface for formula management, production scheduling, ingredient inventory and usage, batch logging, real-time process views, and supply chain traceability. Zeppelin, which has ­offered PRISMA for more than 20 years originally on DOS and Unix platforms, currently uses a Windows-based program and has achieved Microsoft’s Silver Data Platform Competency. The software interfaces with major supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) packages, yet the company is a Rockwell partner. Zeppelin employs Microsoft SQL Servers to provide all data storage.

Integrating an ingredient handling system into the ERP is more common for bakeries with multiple plants, noted Dominique Kull, Buhler’s manager of value-adding processes. It allows them to use the same formulas across the various locations, and if they make any changes to the formula, it will translate to all the systems companywide.

AIM, or Automated Ingredient Management, from Shick, Kansas City, MO, is batch management software designed to integrate with new or existing material handling systems. Bakeries can manage automated and hand-added ingredients using AIM as well as processes such as mix times and temperature setpoints.

“AIM reduces errors and improves quality control by delivering ingredients per a centrally controlled recipe database,” said Scott Fischer, the company’s director of sales and marketing, noting that bakeries can access the batch management software from any PC on the local network, and multiple ­clients can simultaneously connect to the server.

For ingredient tracking, AIM tracks lot codes for each ingredient. Processors can look up batches using a specific lot code, ingredient, batch number or recipe, and all searches can be filtered by date and time. Ingredients are allocated to batches on a first in, first out basis.

AIM also assists with creating production schedules, and the PLC manages batch sequences using the production schedule module,

Mr. Fischer said. Because formulation information is loaded into individual batching units, the equipment can continue working during changeovers, and the module can operate multiple mixers that feed a single production line to improve plant efficiency.

AZO, Inc., Memphis, TN, offers automated recipe management system known as Kastor, and the ­company designs its material handling equipment to precisely deliver ingredients. “We tell people all the time that ­depending on the ingredient, we can get within grams of the amount they require,” said Russell Nadicksbernd, system sales for AZO Food, a division of AZO, Inc. “Some ingredients are more difficult than others because of bulk densities, the particle size or whatever it may be.”

The formulas are loaded in the system, and an operator simply tells it that it needs to run this batch for this particular product and it starts, he observed. “It will say the scale needs this many grams of this ingredient and starts batching to however the system is devised,” Mr. Nadicksbernd said. “It gives the plant a lot of tracking and tracing capabilities.”

More than traceability

In addition to ensuring complete product traceability, state-of-the-art ingredient batching software registers all production weights, analyzes each integrated process line and provides graphics showing the flow of raw ­materials and end products.

“The graphical design of the data makes it easy to follow the production flow from receiving to mixing,” Mr. Gallo said. “Traceability is based on a complete registration of all the inputs and outputs of weight and product into the database. The program will handle the data inputs as virtual layers. The data can be entered manually or automatically by reading the accurate values from registration scales, which will simplify the handling. From a technical perspective, silos and dosing elements need to be designed to ensure a mass flow, or silos need to be emptied after each batch.”

Mass flow ensures first in, first out of ingredients from silos and storage bins, but it is dependent upon the ­mechanical design of the material handling equipment, Mr. Kull said. While bakeries can retrofit automated ingredient handling systems with software packages for controlling ingredient flow, he stressed that bakeries cannot fix mechanical issues with new software.

Mr. Gallo pointed out that state-of-the-art software will give bakers instant access to all consumption data. “With such data available, product tracking, mock recalls and traceability is a matter of a mouse click,” he said. “In the past, tons of paper needed to be stored to ensure traceability. Today, this can all be managed by an automation system thanks to very powerful databases. With the computer technology available nowadays, in fact, it is possible to store each and every event and mouse click that has been made.”

The affordable costs of computer-controlled systems today allow for ­ingredient systems to provide real-time monitoring of their process. “While basic conveying technology remains relatively unchanged, more and more bakeries are relying on more accurate scaling, integrated major and minor ingredient systems, lot tracking, more intelligent operator interfaces, better safety systems and much more system information to streamline production control and efficiencies,” said Michael Palmer, general manager, KB Systems, Inc., Bangor, PA.

Determining flowability

In addition to their lot tracking capabilities, recipe management systems are generally employed to ensure product consistency and reduce waste.

More sophisticated and centralized control systems represent the primary advances in automated ingredient handling equipment, according to Bill Kearns, vice-­president, engineering, Fred D. Pfening Co., Columbus, OH. “Electronic scales on silos, hoppers, bulk bag unloaders and even bag dumps provide much better recipe control and inventory management information than old paper-based systems,” he said. “Automated trending and alarming in weighing and delivery systems can flag problem areas before they become critical.”

Computer-based recipe systems coupled with PLC touchscreen operator interfaces improve ingredient handling equipment’s operation and overall utility, Mr. Kearns noted. “Sophisticated controls provide flexibility and feedback undreamed of a few years ago,” he added.

By testing and researching all characteristics of the ingredients being handled, the equipment manufacturer can optimize the handling, weighing and metering systems to better meet the needs of each bakery, Mr. Kearns said.

AZO’s product testing lab in Memphis allows its engineers to determine flow characteristics before designing systems. Because every product and situation is unique, Mr. Nadicksbernd explained that it will try to re-create the conditions in which ingredients will be dispersed. “If they have areas that are cooler than our actual lab, we will bring in air-conditioning to cool the temperature to get closer to their true working environment versus what we have right now,” he said.

Also, the equipment manufacturer can address flowability issues with the use of discharge aids like a vibration bottom, air pads or whatever the particular product may call for, Mr. Nadicksbernd added.

Automated delivery systems permit quick, easy changeovers for recipe control, which can be extremely beneficial when dealing with multi-ingredient formulas. “The use of automated PLC systems, complete with recipe control, are now engineered into the system design to allow bakeries to produce more consistent goods in a shorter time,” said Sharon Nowak, global business development manager, food and pharmaceuticals, K-Tron, Pitman, NJ.

After K-Tron provided a complete turnkey system for production and handling of corn flour at a tortilla production facility, Ms. Nowak noted, the plant manager indicated that automating this process had allowed company officials to monitor and control the equipment remotely and reduce labor costs. Additionally, the plant manager observed that it produced a more consistent final product. Since it takes less time for changing equipment settings, the plant increased production by about 20%.

Traceability for manuals

For ingredients not used in sufficient quantities to justify automated batching, Zeppelin’s PRISMA Pre-weigh is designed to eliminate errors and inconsistencies when manually scaling ingredients by requiring operators to verify preset accuracies. Operators confirm which lot codes are being scaled and can place the manually weighed ingredients into kits.

“Then when the kit is completed, it goes to the mixing area, and the operator then confirms when it is added to a batch with a barcode label that is generated for each ticket,” Mr. Ryon explained. “The mixing operator scans the ticket, which marries the data of what was collected in the pre-weigh process with the final batch record. They control variances, and alarms will be triggered for out-of-tolerance situations.”

Mr. Kearns also noted that the use of bench scales with HMI prompts and acknowledgements can dramatically reduce operator errors and improve quality.

Meanwhile Shick’s batch management software allows multiple hand-scaled ingredients to be entered as a single operation with this batch detail loaded into the PLC for prompting and confirmation.

Software solutions to help manage ingredient handling represent some of the most significant advances with these systems. These management systems can provide that information bakeries and snack manufacturers need to know exactly what lots of ingredients are going into each batch. They not only are valuable for food safety but also improve quality, as bakers will no longer question whether they’ve added a particular ingredient, added twice the amount or forgotten it altogether.