Ingredients under control from the start
Automated ingredient handling improves food and operator safety by taking the guesswork out of storing and dosing ingredients.
BakingBusiness.com, March 1, 2014
by Charlotte Atchley

Ingredient handling systems offer some subtle and not-so-subtle signs when they need to be repaired or replaced. Aaron Irvin, director of systems and products, Shick, Kansas City, MO, said bakers should look out for excessive leaks and dust, inaccurate batching and delivery and frequent downtime related to maintenance and repairs.

When that time comes, bakers need to take a step back and evaluate their system for productivity and ­efficiency. Because ingredient handling systems head up the bakery’s production line, bakers should take the opportunity during breakdowns to upgrade their food and operator safety at this point, starting the bakery off on the right foot.

Bakers should consider how to update safety systems and improve maintenance and sanitation so their repaired or new systems will go the distance.

Click for a slideshow of ingredient handling systems.

Food safety from the start

When it’s time to repair or replace an element of — or the entire — ingredient handling system, it’s important to consider updates that improve the entire process, not just fix the immediate problem. John Hunter, sales account manager, Buhler, Plymouth, MN, recommended bakers consider how they can optimize their process to make it as simple as possible while still performing at the quality standard they require. This means considering moving from manual handling of big bags to automated bulk handling, such as switching from 200-gal drums of liquid ingredients to automated dosing systems using 1-tonne totes. Asking those questions can lead to not only improved efficiency in production but also food safety.

Automated systems eliminate the manual factor of weighing and adding ingredients. Unfortunately, with the human element comes the potential for human error.

“The more you’re doing manually, the bigger chance something is open to outside influence and the more likely there will be challenges from a food safety perspective,” Mr. Hunter said.

Automation removes those chances for outside influence.

“Bags stored on pallets are subject to damage, insect and rodent infestation, and pieces of paper or foreign material from the exterior of the bags may end up in the final product,” said Bill Kearns, vice-president of engineering, Fred D. Pfening Co., Columbus, OH.

Using large totes of ingredients in place of smaller bags can also protect the food, according to Tom Guenther, food safety engineering director, Horizon Systems, Inc., Lawrence, KS. Totes have less exposure to outside elements than bags and provide safer storage.

Equipment and their computers weigh and dose bulk and liquid ingredients straight from silos and drums. By eliminating access to ingredients straight from their source, automated systems eliminate the threat of allergens, pathogens or even plastic or metal being introduced.

Buhler’s latest automation design incorporates hand-added ingredients into the automation. The computer informs the operator of the proper weight and then confirms that the measurement and even the ingredient itself are correct.

Stephen Marquardt, sales director, food, Zeppelin Systems USA, Odessa, FL, has seen an uptick in requests for minor ingredient systems because that is where bakers are seeing operator mistakes. “They’re not weighing accurately,” he explained. “If you have an over-dosage of certain ingredients such as salt, you can taste it immediately. If it’s in the dough, then you have to throw the whole thing out. Automating with minor or micro ingredient systems helps with safety and definitely reducing waste.”

Automation also gives bakers a wealth of data and control over their ingredients. With the Food Safety Modernization Act bearing down on the industry, reliable records of where ingredients come from, and when and how much were used, become valuable information for a baker to have on hand.

“Automated ingredient handling systems allow you to manage what’s happening in the process so you can get better control,” Mr. Hunter said. “With recipe management systems, bakers can tie in all of the hand-adds, bulk ingredients and big bag ingredients so they have a record of every product that has gone into the mix.”

Mr. Irvin suggested that integrating lockable or controlled filling and ingredient storage locations protects the supply at its source. Bulk systems with mass flow discharge ensure first-in, first-out movement of ingredients in silos. Inline sifters, strainers and magnets can screen and protect ingredients against foreign matter and contamination.

When Adolf Zimmermann, founder of AZO, Inc., Memphis, TN, developed his flour screener in the 1950s, a miller or baker’s major concern was sifting out flour weevils. “In this day and age, it’s more about keeping out shreds of the bag or a pin top that came off of someone’s shirt,” said Russell Nadicksbernd, sales, AZO, Inc. Food safety concerns may have evolved since then, but screeners and sifters remain an important part of keeping foreign particles out of the food supply. AZO continues to improve its screeners such as its DA Screener, which has a built-in feeding device, eliminating some of the machine’s height, which can help relieve stress on the operator.

Improving operator safety

Food and operator safety go hand-in-hand when it comes to ingredient handling. “The same features that contribute to food safety also frequently improve worker safety,” Mr. Kearns said. Large minor ingredients can be needed several hundred pounds at a time. Manually dumping those pounds can cause back problems and other injuries for workers. Installing a bulk bag unloader system to replace manual bag dumping can reduce opportunities for injury and remove a chance for operator error, according to Mr. Kearns.

Automation can eliminate most manual handling, but Mr. Hunter said there will always be some form of manual labor involved. In those cases, the question equipment buyers must ask is how to minimize the impact on operators.

Buhler kept that user question in mind when designing its latest ingredient discharge station, the MKSB. The unit’s modular ergonomic design offers operators five different positions allowing height adjustments to match where the operator stands. The machine’s large sieve movement and direct pick-up give the MKSB its low profile, eliminating the need for stairs. “It’s been designed to be at the right height so people aren’t having to either lift up or bend over too much,” Mr. Hunter said.

Safety switches can keep operators safe during routine maintenance. “You want to disengage operators from possibly coming into contact with moving equipment,” Mr. Nadicksbernd said. Safety switches shut the machine down as soon as someone opens a door or panel in the equipment whether to clean, inspect or change a filter.

A major threat to the people working ingredient handling systems hangs in the air; dust in the bakery can ignite fires and even explosions. “At the end of the day, it’s not likely to happen, but obviously, past experience has shown us those things can happen, and you have to make decisions on the front end to properly protect the people who will be in the vicinity of the equipment,” Mr. Nadicksbernd said. “During transport and packaging, crystals rub together and form their own dust, so when the operator dumps ingredients into the system, there’s going to be dust buildup.” This accumulation can be flammable and explosive, but bakers can employ dust control and containment to mitigate the problem. 

Bakeries can keep the amount of dangerous dust to a minimum with a fan and filter system that creates a vacuum at the bag dump station. “When the doors open, the system will kick on and pull a slight vacuum. If there is dust present, rather than it floating outside the bag dump, it will actually be sucked up into these filters,” he said. “We’re pulling dust out of the environment before it goes into the plant.” Any dust that manages to escape this vacuum can be dealt with by a proper sanitation regimen.

Shick helps bakers understand OSHA standards for preventing dust fires and explosions and has improved the design of its equipment and processes to control dust. The company also minimizes the danger of electrical explosion with arc-flash-safe panels on its equipment.

While flour dust poses a fire hazard, it also can cause a breathing hazard for operators working the line. Mr. Guenther suggested contained automated systems protect operators from inhaling potentially harmful dust.

Ingredient handling systems can be engineered to mitigate the effects of fire or explosion. A venting system can allow the blast or fire to propagate but away from more dust or people. Equipment can be built strong enough to absorb explosions, but it must be decoupled from the rest of the line with a rotary valve, according to Mr. Nadicksbernd.

For dangerous bulk solids, Zeppelin Systems USA builds its standard silos to be explosion-proof. These silos have built-in rupture disks in case of an incident, and they meet VDI 3673/ VDI 2263 standards for dust explosion venting. Mr. Marquardt asserted that all of Zeppelin’s equipment is built to conform to NFPA regulations, whether that’s with its explosion-proof silos or suppression and flame quench systems around scale hoppers. The company also offers risk assessments for bakeries.

Maintenance with ease

The key to extending the life of an installation is maintaining it properly. Ingredient handling systems will last a long time if they are so maintained.

“We have systems that run 20, 30, 40 years because the overall steel and construction is sturdy; it’s just a question of dealing with all those moving wear parts,” Mr. Nadicksbernd said. These parts include screens, filters, motors, load cells, safety switches and others that need to be inspected, cleaned and changed regularly simply because of the repetitive nature of their actions.

According to Mr. Nadicksbernd, even though AZO’s filters are built to clean themselves, at some point they reach the end of their life and just need to be changed. The company has made regular maintenance like this easier by engineering the inside of the equipment to be more accessible.

Zeppelin Systems USA keeps maintenance to a minimum with the design of its system components. Lifetime lubrication on bearings, drive units on diverter valves and automatic chain adjusters on rotary feeders keep the system moving along without operator interference.

Just as food and operator safety is connected, maintenance and sanitation also work better when they go hand-in-hand. “Both maintenance and sanitation are involved in keeping up any ingredient system,” Mr. Kearns said. “These functions must work together. If they are working at cross purposes — blaming each other rather than helping each ­other — the system will fail, no matter how good it is to start with.”

Even better than maintenance and sanitation teams working together is when those teams are the same, said Mr. Kearns. “The very best-kept systems, in my experience, are those in which these functions are combined,” he noted. Operators handling both programs can address maintenance issues that can affect sanitation down the road. For example, a worn seal can start leaking dust, causing a cleanliness issue. They can address that problem right away as they will anticipate the sanitation implications if that maintenance issue is left unattended.

Equipment design can also help maintenance and sanitation teams keep systems running by making these processes easier and faster. OEMs continually update equipment throughout the years, and recent changes have significantly improved system reliability. “Virtually all motors, bearings and gearboxes are now permanently sealed and lubricated, which eliminates the possibility of oil or grease leakage and reduces maintenance,” according to Mr. Kearns. “Access for inspection and maintenance has been improved by use of quick-opening latches and more ergonomic design overall.”

Pfening’s Pop-Top dust collector uses top-loading high-efficiency filter cartridges. “The real innovation is that all of the mechanical reverse-pulse cleaning components are located in the cover,” Mr. Kearns said. To access the cartridges for inspection or replacement, operators only need to release two latches and open the cover. Operators can remove filter cartridges through the clean side with no need to enter the dusty side as is typical on a conventional system. They also don’t need to ­enter a confined space.

When it comes to improving safety and maintenance, Mr. Hunter said it all comes down to how strategically a baker wants to think. “Are you going to be proactive and say, ‘I want to make sure my process is as efficient as it can be?’ ” he said. “Or are you going to say, ‘I’m just going to fix it when it breaks down?’ ”

Safety and maintenance enhance productivity, and productivity often results in improved food and operator safety and process maintenance. Bakers just have to decide, when it comes to ingredient handling, if they are ready to make the investment.