Crossing the finish line

by Mari Rydings
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The marketplace success of a cake, cookie, cupcake or even artisan bread often depends one subtle but telling detail: its aesthetic appeal. From the smooth surface of a cupcake with its curly-Q string of icing to the shiny sheen of a hamburger bun to the cracked and shimmery surface of artisan bread, bakers use icings, glazes and sprays to impart a sense of decadence and added value, not to mention flavor and eye appeal. The finishing touches are the final steps that push bakers across the finish line.

But creating that eye-catching end product is anything but easy. When working with icings, glazes and sprays, the challenges bakers and their suppliers encounter are multiple and varied. Simply maintaining a level of consistency in the production process requires a race that involves regulating the temperature and viscosity of each material, ensuring a continuous, trouble-free flow rate, minimizing breakage and achieving an accurate application rate.

Any hiccup in the process can lead quickly to out-of-control product waste, interrupted production flow and inconsistent icing or glaze application, which can vaporize any value-added benefits and result in wasted time, money and effort. To compete in today’s market, bakers need flexible finishing equipment that provides optimal flow control, reliable and uniform application and waste-reduction solutions. And they want it with minimal downtime and maximum return on investment.

Hitting the target

As ingredient costs creep higher, bakeries need practical solutions for reducing waste. Accurate dispensing and application is the first line of defense in controlling ingredient costs. “The goal is to have most of the icing or glaze taken away with the product,” said David Moline, sales and marketing manager for Moline Machinery, Duluth, MN, which manufactures systems that serve double-duty as icing and glazing stations.

That’s easier said than done, especially with the 60-in.-wide belts used in high-production facilities. One way to improve accurate application and curtail waste is to adjust the amount of space between products on the conveyor belt. “Minimizing the gap between products on the belt, especially in front-to-back situations, can help bakers avoid giving away product,” suggested Bob Peck, vice-president of engineering at Hauppauge, NY-based ET Oakes, which manufactures string and orbital icers. “In right-to-left applications, we use adjustable accuracy, meaning we loosen the nozzle and shift it so we can better centralize the icing application.”

To provide more consistent product coverage, Amherst, NY-based GOE-Amherst Stainless Fabrication, which manufactures liquid spray systems for the baking industry, found a way to minimize the overlap area that is common with such systems. “There is a natural tendency with spraying systems to have an overlap area, where spray from one component overlaps with another,” explained Norm Searle, a member of GOE’s sales and marketing team. “The wider the belt, the more overlap. We designed a system that comingles two adjoining spray components, which reduces the number of overlaps required.” According to Mr. Searle, excessive spray caused by overlapping can be scraped from the product, returned to the reservoir and reused.

Yet another way bakers can ensure consistent icing, glaze or spray coverage is to closely monitor both product temperature and viscosity. Viscosities run the gamut from ultra-thin, water-like applications to thick, fudge-like applications. Errors during the mixing process can compromise application consistency and adhesive qualities.

“With topcoating, the main goal is to keep the bottom, and sometimes the sides, of the product free of coating,” explained Marion Tanis-Kooistra, marketing and communications manager for Dutch processing equipment supplier Tanis Food Tec, Lelystad, The Netherlands. “The coating needs to be a viscous or semi-viscous product that is temperature-sensitive. This includes coatings such as icings and glazes, chocolate or compound, caramel and jelly.”

Temperature also affects how various materials adhere to the product. Many finishing systems offer temperature control options. “It’s important to keep icings and glazes warm and flowable,” explained Rod Gregg, vice-president of sales, Hinds-Bock Corp., Bothell, WA. “At the same time, they can’t be allowed to coat the icing conveyor and get on the underside of the product as it travels down the production conveyor. Our system has a temperature control feature that allows icing to be applied at the optimal temperature, so it adheres to the bakery product and does not fall off onto the transport conveyor. ”

Consistent output can dramatically reduce waste as well as the amount of time it takes to recapture the equipment investment. “The financial viability of a coating line is greatly influenced by the consistency of the output quality,” noted Ms. Tanis-Kooistra. “With our RotoCoater, product does not need to be flipped. It remains in perfect alignment on the belt while it is coated and stays that way for further processing.” By keeping product in position, bakers can improve application consistency and avoid breakage, both of which bump the bottom line.

According to Stewart MacPherson, vice-president of sales and marketing, Unifiller Systems, Delta, BC, the company’s use of robotics, combined with its depositing technology, can dramatically improve product consistency and eliminate virtually all product waste. “Some of our customers are looking for attractive, fresh-looking products commonly achieved by adding a shiny glaze of either sugar-based white or opaque coating of clear jelly,” he said. “Our main challenge is to apply these glazes automatically targeted at the product with minimal overspray onto the baking pan. We have several solutions to this problem, including using the latest technology and incorporating ‘airless’ spray nozzles.”

Bakers and their equipment suppliers must start thinking about accurate application before the first product batch begins its journey on the conveyor belt. “When designing a system, it’s very important to take accurate measurements across the dispensing and depositing area to ensure even distribution from left to right,” Mr. Searle noted. “Even distribution across the full-width of dispense eliminates overages, shorting and ‘give away.’ ”

Mr. Searle added that selecting the right equipment for the job is also instrumental in controlling product waste and ensuring application uniformity. “You have to select the right pump for the application as well as the right delivery line and conveying speed,” he said. “For example, when working with a fine mist, you will have fast rotation and a specific head. But a heavy coating requires a different pump, a different delivery line and a different rotating head.”

Waste not

Inevitably, product will miss its target and wind up on the conveyor belt. Equipment suppliers offer a few different options for reclaiming, filtering and reworking unused icing, glaze or spray back into the production system with minimal effort.

Belt scrapers with recirculation systems are one viable option. “Our system has belt scrapers to aid in keeping the conveyor belt clean and excess product scraped into the holding hopper,” Mr. Gregg said. The belt scrapers feed unused icings or glazes into a recirculation system where it is reheated and reworked back into the system for reapplication. “When it’s being recirculated, the icing passes through a unique filtration system that ensures the icing stays free of large crumbs that could plug up the icing head on the machine. Clogged icing heads can cause too much icing to be applied in one location and result in rejected product and waste.”

Automated reclaim systems, such as the ones manufactured by Moline Machinery, capture excess coating in drip trays beneath the conveyor and turn it back to the storage tanks, where an agitator works it back into existing product before it is pumped back into the manifold for reapplication.

In GOE’s  systems, a spray hood channels the excess liquid out to the sides and then into return troughs. “The spray hood also eliminates drips onto products,” Mr. Searle noted. “It returns all overspray back to the reservoir to be reused, similar to how we reclaim excessive overlap spray.”

Extreme machines

Industry-changing innovation in this area doesn’t happen often. Instead, bakers expect suppliers to improve upon the services and features they already offer. This means systems that can efficiently handle today’s product changeovers, pattern alterations and coverage needs as well as those envisioned for tomorrow. In addition to flexible equipment, achieving a quick ROI from equipment purchases also tops their lists of requirements. “Bakers are looking for the shortest possible ROI,” Mr. Searle said. “Typically, they want it less than 1.5 years.”

“As always, bakers are looking for extreme flexibility with these machines,” Mr. Gregg added. “They must be able to handle a wide variety of shapes and sizes of bakery products, and they must be versatile in their ability to apply the icing. To meet these demands, our icers/glazers feature all variable speed controls with respect to speed of icing flow, temperature conveyor speed and icing head speed.”

ET Oakes offers a number of ¬≠interchangeable nozzles that can apply a variety of string icing designs, ranging from squiggles to zig-zags. “Our equipment can also extrude continuous sheets or strips of icing across the width of the belt,” Mr. Peck added. 

The robotic technology used by Unifiller Systems allows bakers to write, drizzle, swirl and apply rosettes on to cakes and cupcakes with quick nozzle changeovers. “Our technology can identify bakery products randomly placed on a moving conveyor,” Mr. MacPherson explained. “Using video camera vision systems, robotics and pumps, we can apply warm icings, ganache or caramel to the individual cakes or pastries. We simulate exact hand movement, and using our robotics, we can achieve a hand-finished appearance.”

The automated decorating equipment manufactured by Woody Associates, York, PA, lets operators make simple adjustments to the speed, width and thickness of the selected decoration. To ensure consistent operation, each stringer is equipped with a motor-driven strainer that cleans the chocolate before it reaches the nozzle tube. Bakers can boost their creativity by selecting from a variety of attachments. The company’s stringers can also be configured to produce random patterns that mimic hand decorating.

Beyond interchangeable applicators that can dispense a variety of icings and glazes and create endless designs, Mr. Searle has noticed greater demand for systems that can apply icings, glazes and sprays that incorporate inclusions.

“Our customers are starting to request the addition of inclusions into their spray,” he said. “We’ve had requests to add garlic and parsley to a butter spray for garlic toast products. Customers want to keep it in a solution and spray it with the butter.” 

Mr. Searle said new formulations that reduce or eliminate trans-fatty acid or use environmentally friendly ingredients are also trending. Finding strategies for handling these different products creates a new set of challenges for equipment manufacturers. “Our R&D people constantly tackle new ideas and try to find ways to perfect our systems,” Mr. Searle said.

In addition to flexibility, bakers also demand quicker and easier changeovers simply because they minimize downtime, which means more product can get out the door faster. According to Ms. Tanis-Kooista, Tanis Food Tec’s RotoCoater, which coats products with strips to create patterns, was designed with fast and easy changeover in mind. It allows bakers to switch from one type of coating to another with minimal downtime.

Moline Machinery’s systems bring efficiency to the line because of their capability to tackle both icing and glazing tasks on one machine with simple conveyor changeouts. “We design our equipment to be as versatile as possible,” Mr. Moline said. “For example, we might design a system that uses multiple storage tanks with piping that can be disconnected quickly, pulled away from the line and replaced easily when a baker needs to switch out product.”

Automated glazing equipment from Belshaw-Adamatic Bakery Group, Auburn, WA, features a glaze and pump section that can be rolled out from under the glazer for easy filling, emptying and cleaning. Adjustable glaze flow, applicator height and leg height allows customers to make changes to meet their needs.  The company’s HI-18 and HI-24 icers are mobile floor models that require a small footprint while delivering uniform icing application. Flavor changes can be made quickly by changing out the icing pans.

Systems that transport icings, glazes and sprays as fluidly as possible also can minimize downtime. Uninterrupted flow from the holding tank through application is essential. Product build-up creates clogs and messes that take time to resolve and that could ­ultimately damage the icing line and compromise the quality of the end product. Non-clogging equipment features, automatic cleaning systems and CIP or full wet-wash systems help keep downtime to a minimum.

According to Mr. Searle, GOE has made a substantial investment in R&D to improve access to its equipment for sanitation, address issues caused by difficult materials and collaborate with customers to address their concerns and future needs. “We’ve added a number of access doors to our equipment so operators can manually clean or inspect the system,” he explained. “We also added pneumatic cylinders at the inlet and outlet that can be lifted for quick inspection. As the systems become more complex to meet changing requirements, the challenge is to design sanitary, reliable, universal and maintainable equipment.”

Today’s solutions in icing, glazing and spraying equipment are poised to help bakers keep product waste low and eye-catching creativity high, putting them in the position to earn first place in the consumer shopping cart.

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