Big advances in cookie and cracker tech

by Charlotte Atchley
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New materials for oven ceilings provide a consistent bake profile to cookies and crackers.
 

For many bakers, the 2016 International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) was almost like Christmas came early. The year leading up to the event was surrounded by an aura of secrecy and anticipation as bakers waited to see all the industry would unveil. IBIE didn’t disappoint. One of the biggest highlights was the Innovation Showcase, which featured the latest advances in technology aimed at meeting commercial bakers’ various needs for improved sanitation, production efficiencies and product quality. But as cookie and cracker producers walked the floor, they saw even more.

“Innovation is being driven by the need for flexibility and hygiene, and the two things are, to a certain extent, interdependent,” said Keith Graham, marketing manager, Baker Perkins, one of the many Innovation Showcase participants. In today’s highly competitive market, cookie and cracker manufacturers need the ability to produce a wide variety of items and make changeovers quickly. “Many are also looking to improve the versatility of their production line, meaning they need to have a baking line that can produce different cookie and cracker products but still maintain quality,” said Lisa Mitchell, marketing manager, Radio Frequency. “This is especially prevalent for co-packers.”

Because they are two categories where allergens and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) come into play, sanitation remains top-of-mind. And not only do changeovers need to be quick, but cleaning must also be fast and thorough.

Accomplishing these requires know-how. “Every project generates experience that has the potential to incrementally improve the next project,” said Ondrej Nikel, director of engineering, Topos Mondial Corp. “The question that oven shoppers need to ask is: ‘What is this supplier doing to grow from their experience?’ ”

All these things factor into making cookie and ­cracker baking more efficient.

Attachments and modules can be quickly changed out to enable bakers to create a wide variety of cookies on one line.
 

Consistently better products

When it comes to cookies and crackers, the oven plays a major role. At IBIE, Reading Bakery Systems featured its PRISM DGF oven with the updated Thermatec High Radiant Steel Ceiling. Instead of the conventional refractory bricks in the crown of its Thomas L. Green DGF ovens, this oven uses anticorrosive steel channels backed with high-temperature mineral board insulation. “Our research indicated that materials other than bricks could be used to effectively deliver radiant heat to the ­product,” said Shawn Moye, vice-president of sales, Reading Bakery Systems. “It ensures a consistent, uniform bake by storing and re-radiating heat to many different products.”

Radio Frequency, meanwhile, brought its Macrowave technology and quality benefits to smaller bakeries with Bantam-Series. The company’s radio frequency heating and drying helps bakers reach a target water activity in their finished cookies and crackers without checking or over-coloring the product. In addition to offering this technology in its Ultra-Series, the Bantam-Series targets operators of lower-volume and seasonal production lines. “The purchase cost and operating costs make the ROI equally attractive to smaller regional bakeries and make it economical to implement a Macrowave system in their production line and gain all the advantages that radio frequency heating and drying provides,” Ms. Mitchell said.

Unifiller adapted to challenges presented by vegan and gluten-free cookie doughs with its feed roller and cutter designs. Because vegan cookie dough uses a different fat, often almond butter or coconut butter, it needs to be handled differently. To do this, Unifiller has developed attachments and tooling that prevents these doughs from sticking to the machine.

Protecting delicate and often expensive inclusions is also a major concern of cookie producers. The double-screw technology at the heart of Reiser’s Vemag equipment gently handles dough and protects inclusions. When working with a baker on developing a new line, the company tailors the equipment to meet the product’s needs.

“The product is the boss,” said John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development, Reiser. “It all starts with what you want to produce; then we have to develop the equipment to produce what you need.”

Attachments, servo motor advancements and double-screw technology make cookie dough depositors more versatile.
 

Fastest changes in the West

Flexibility is a buzzword long thrown around in the baking industry, but defining it is not always easy. “Flexibility can be taken to mean one or more of these: changing quickly between products; making a wide range of different products; and being able to convert the machine to make something different in the future,” Mr. Graham said.

According to Mr. Nikel, bakers define “performance” by flexibility and control. “Any bakers facing such a major capital expenditure will want to know that their oven will not only bake the product they sell today but also have the flexibility to adapt to the variety that may come into demand tomorrow,” he said.

“To deliver this ‘holy grail’ to the customer, J4 marries the newest oven innovations with decades of experience, and builds each individual oven such that the internal heat source configuration and its control elements cover a range of production regimens,” Mr. Nikel added. The latest generation of J4 oven technology includes cyclothermic ovens and are complemented by new direct-fired and air-impingement ovens, as well as hybrid combinations.

Baker Perkins offers versatility with two new features on its TruClean Servo Wirecut launched at IBIE. First, two servo motors control the horizontal and vertical components of the wire path. Previously time-consuming adjustments for different products are now made from the HMI through the automatic recipe management system. “This improves the flexibility of the machine by speeding up changeovers and improving cutting performance by providing infinitely variable control over wire speed, distance and dwell time,” Mr. Graham explained.

The second innovation is a bolt-on module that produces encapsulated cookies, expanding the Servo Wirecut’s product range. Operators attach an additional hopper and feed tubes for fillings as well as a different filler block and a set of iris cutters onto the machine. “All the parts for the fillings are easily removed for cleaning, and none of the modifications alter in any way the ability of the machine to also make standard cookies and bars and filled bars,” Mr. Graham said. The module can also be added to almost any existing Baker Perkins wirecut machine.

At IBIE, Handtmann, Inc. demonstrated its SE-442 multifunctional cutting unit with the ability to handle a wide range of cookie shapes and sizes. The unit manages product changeovers quickly and can accommodate small runs of different products or flavors within in the same production shift. “Handtmann offers equipment solutions that can help bakers efficiently expand their cookie product line incorporating new and innovative ingredients and fillings that traditionally represented a processing challenge for the equipment,” said Cesar Zelaya, bakery sales and technology manager, Handtmann.

Unifiller demonstrated its new cookie extruder, which not only achieves 50% more capacity from its previous model but also features quick-change tooling plates. “Once they get into a machine, the tooling cost is not overwhelming if they do a lot of different products and sizes,” said Martin Riis, sales manager, Unifiller.

Attachments can be a baker’s best friend when it comes to increasing the versatility on its cookie dough depositors. Reiser’s Vemag Cookie Dough Depositor attachment can be quickly and easily swapped out for other Reiser-designed attachments to produce a variety of products ranging from cookies to bars to dough balls to brownie sheets. The Vemag also features new servo motor technology for higher production speeds and portioning accuracy.

Reading Bakery Systems offers conveyors on both its cookie and cracker lines that feature endless belt arrangements to allow bakers to quickly change these, by moving a few key rollers.

Variable-speed drive and software makes Tonelli’s Planetary Batch Mixer capable of producing everything from soft batters to frozen cookie dough. The new technology allows operators to fine-tune process steps and ingredient feeding to create multistage mix.

“I believe what large-scale cookie manufacturers want and need besides high-quality dependable equipment are also mixers that are very flexible and have the ability to create a wide variety of new and innovative products and bring them to market quicker to meet consumer demands,” said Kevin Wilkinson, Tonelli.

Marrying new technology with experience helps bakers produce a wide variety of cookie and cracker products.
 

Improved safety and sanitation

A common refrain heard from bakers is that they need equipment that is easier and faster to clean. Without efficient sanitation processes, the entire production can come to a halt. “Fast changeovers between products does not mean much if sanitation procedures take too long,” Mr. Graham said. “This makes hygienic design important for both food safety and productivity.”

In addition to the usual concerns about allergens and pathogens, FSMA has the entire industry on its toes making sure equipment is up to the latest standards. “Our customers are very focused on FSMA,” Mr. Moye said. At IBIE, Reading Bakery Systems featured equipment designs that meet BISSC certification and follow industry standard guidelines ANSI/ASB/Z50.2-2013 as well as the most recent 2015 version of the Z50.2 standard. “We are using third-party inspectors to review our equipment for safety and sanitation to ensure our designs follow these recommended guidelines,” Mr. Moye said.

With FSMA, Ms. Mitchell said, more bakers are becoming concerned with water activity in their finished product. Water activity is a measurement of the product’s potential for microbial growth. Radio Frequency’s Macrowave systems reduce water activity in the finished baked good while also being designed with GMP for food safety.

Ease of sanitation often means streamlined design that minimizes places where debris and bacteria can form as well as easy-to-remove pieces, making sanitation faster. By replacing the standard motor and mechanical linkages with a servo motors on its TruClean Servo Wirecut equipment, Baker Perkins’ designers were able to minimize the size and number of guards on the machine. This reduced the number of places where debris could accumulate as well as the number of things that needed to be removed. The company also modified its sheet forming and cutting line for improved hygiene features. For example, the side plates between the three rolls of the sheeter can be completely removed for routine cleaning.

Food safety is more than just cleaning equipment, however. “Better product quality, plant personnel safety, ease of maintenance tasks and process tracking abilities are always at the forefront of development,” said Brendon Somerfield, product line manager, JBT Food Corp. In an effort to pursue these goals, JBT recently acquired the Novus X-ray, a provider of X-ray food inspection equipment. By now offering Novus X-ray equipment, also displayed this year at IBIE, JBT offers bakers end of the line food safety solutions.

As the cookie and cracker industries continue to branch out and diversify, bakers need production lines that can handle a wide variety of products and deliver consistent finished goods. Flexibility and food safety continue to stick in the forefront of bakers’ minds, and at this year’s IBIE, cookie and cracker equipment manufacturers were ready to delivered solutions with the latest in cookie and cracker ­technology innovations.

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