Jim Kline: Fancy Footwork

by Jim Kline
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Few outside of the baking industry appreciate what is involved with consistently producing quality breads, baguettes, rolls, sweet and savory snacks, or decadent desserts. Beyond ingredients’ natural variations, for which bakers have to diligently adjust formulations to produce a seemingly endless variety of products, the production lines, supporting systems and facility design all influence the efficiency and operation of today’s bakeries. The relationship of process, support systems and the building establishes the overall effectiveness of the production lines and the people who run and maintain them.

A few years back (OK, quite a few) when I entered the baking industry, I had a mentor who had 39 years with the company. He sketched for me the forerunner of the bakery where I had just begun to work. It was a one-square-block, multi-story building in Long Island City, NY.

Workers loaded flour sacks, which were kept in the basement storeroom along with the other ingredients, onto carts and took them by elevator to the fourth-floor mixing room. They then dumped the finished doughs into chutes that fed the dough divider. Workers hand-placed divided dough pieces onto pans and loaded them onto racks for proofing.

Then they rolled the proofed product onto the elevator, took it down to the baking floor, baked it and, after an initial cooling on the baking floor, transferred it to the ground level for final cooling, bagging and staging for distribution. Imagine trying to coordinate a high-speed operation, minimize labor or optimize efficiency in those circumstances. Imagine trying to maintain the equipment or clean such a building.

It sounds remote, but is it? How many existing bakeries have lines installed to optimize flow? Do they maximize production or labor efficiency? Are they built to meet today’s good manufacturing practices (GMPs)? How much extra labor and resources go into operating and maintaining bakeries that would not be wasted if designed differently?


In the last issue of Baking & Snack, we read about factors to consider when selecting a site. I suggest adding a few more considerations to the list. First, develop the idealized process flow from ingredient receiving to shipping. Determine how you want traffic to flow on the property, and find a site that supports it.

Consider whether you plan to run 24/7 or want the flexibility to do so in the future. Don’t forget to check if the zoning ordinances will permit it to run around the clock. Sound too basic? Trust me; there are bakers who wish they had checked.

Check if the municipality will welcome a bakery. Not long ago, I met with the mayor’s aide in a mid-size city. Not only would the city not offer any incentives to bring 150 jobs to the community, but the local government would openly oppose a bakery being built there. It turned out another industry in the city already produced so many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that the region was under a federal mandate to reduce them.

Stick with the previously designed optimized process flow, and don’t compromise along the way. I was in a modern bakery overseas that compromised. Its efficiencies are 10 percentage points off the target, and the company now faces redundant spending to correct the problems created by the compromises.

How about a flat ceiling in the bakery free of bar joists, crevices and a sea of conduits and piping? It can be done and, with some homework, cost-effectively. Think about the cost of running three conductors of 500-MCM wire overhead in a conventional pattern (straight out and then a 90-degree bend down the line) vs. on a diagonal properly buried under the floor. How much is an extra 5,000 ft of conduit and 15,000 ft of cable (as I write, cable costs $10.70 per ft)? The same tips apply to flooring. Explore your options with concrete rather than fancy finishes — many of which, in baking processes, become troublesome over time.

Minimize drains, water hoses and wet washing. Develop operating procedures and sanitation methods that maximize material recovery and minimize waste. Reduce the need and reliance on copious amounts of water. Some very effective cleaning aids such as high-quality vacuums and high-pressure, low-volume steam generators can help you along this path.

Consider ventilation. Is it appropriate for the processes the plant will be running? So many times, good money is spent on refrigerated mixing equipment or cooled divider beds, yet the dough rests 15 minutes in an uninsulated hopper in 92°F ambient temperature while waiting to be divided. Many cost-effective ventilation systems can be designed for process consistency, but first, you must consider the need.

Processors challenge equipment manufacturers to deliver machines that produce faster with greater reliability and reduced cost of operation, that are easy to clean and that maximize process efficiency. But improving a plant’s overall efficiency takes more than having state-of-the-art equipment; it takes an appropriately designed facility as well. Just a few thoughts to keep in mind as you select that site and plan your bakery’s layout.                      
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