Design today, handle tomorrow

by Joanie Spencer
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Bakers must consider day-to-day operations of their new ingredient handling systems, including needs specific to certain ingredients that will be used.
 

Baking is a science. It’s a numbers game, and throwing off even one variable in the slightest can affect the final product. This is why ingredient handling systems play such an important role. These systems are designed to accurately scale, dose and transfer ingredients to ensure safe and consistent baked goods down the line.

In essence, an ingredient handling system holds the future in its hands.

All too often, though, bakers forget just how far into the future — and how early in the process — to look. And when that happens, a system’s design and implementation process can suffer from “scope creep,” or adding on to the original design plan, once the project is already a go.

“Scope creep, in a busy world, is quite easy to be a part of,” said John Hunter, sales account manager, bakery and ingredient handling, Buhler, Inc.

We live in a rushed society. Bakers constantly search for ways to feed consumers who hurry along from one commitment to the next, even as all the while perhaps they themselves rush from one meeting, proposal or plant floor emergency to another.

This age of immediacy can lend itself to too many factors, especially for something as complex as an ingredient handling system. Taking an abundance of data, adding in a number of decision-makers and removing the luxury of time is a recipe for a rushed project scope … and one that’s ripe for creeping.

If a baker gets well into the design or implementation process and then identifies a need that went unaddressed, it could throw off the whole project. “When it comes to mission creep and adding something, sometimes it can mean holding up the project,” said Chuck Kerwin, general manager, AZO. “What appears to be somewhat simple could in fact be quite complicated.”

Sometimes, to keep a project moving along quickly, bakers and suppliers need to slow things down a bit. Taking time to ask the right questions — of each other and of themselves — can address issues that hadn’t yet been considered, be they in the short term or down the road.

First things first

The easiest way to avoid a tendency to sneak outside of a project’s parameters is to set the scope clearly and ­early, especially to avoid requesting a change order, which means more money spent.

Think of scope as the “ingredient handling system” for the project; measuring everything accurately and sticking to the formula will ensure a final product that is made efficiently and up to spec.

“Assumptions are big contributors to scope creep,” Mr. Hunter said, “as is not having a free and frank discussion about what’s required. Everyone on both sides of the table should be responsible for making sure all the right questions are asked.”

Ingredient handling is a highly customized area of the bakery, mainly because the automated system is meant to take care of another very important investment — the ingredients. Each product comes from its own unique formulation, and the ingredient handling system must be able to conform to the specs of each formula and process. This all starts with the design of the system.

“When the project is fully engaged on all sides from the beginning, there’s a clear understanding of what the requirements are,” Mr. Hunter said. “Then there’s a clear project objective, defined by the baker. The constraints might be money, delivery, or having to fit into a certain space or height. When we make sure the constraints are clearly defined and they fit with the project from the get-go, the scope will easily tie into the project’s objective.”

To address this, suppliers must know all the details of what a bakery needs from its ingredient handling system. “The best thing our customers can do is ask as many questions up front as possible,” said James Toole, product manager, bulk handling systems, Gemini/KB Systems. “KB has a broad knowledge base, and we share as much as we can, but we cannot answer questions that aren’t asked or understand constraints that are hidden.”

Mr. Toole also pointed out that Gemini/KB includes options in its proposals that often help bakers think about needs they might’ve not yet considered, such as approaches to reducing maintenance or improving inventory control.

Additionally, Zeppelin Systems USA keeps communication in mind when proposing an ingredient handling solution and works to avoid miscommunication that could lead to scope creep. “A primary reason for scope creep is a client’s lack of process definition or a lack of understanding as to what the supplier proposed,” said Nathaniel Davis, applications engineering supervisor for Zeppelin. “It is our job as the supplier to educate bakers on what is available and what will best suit their needs.”

Before a supplier knows what questions to answer, though, bakers have to make the first move and define what they are looking for in the system. “What is the problem you are trying to solve?” Mr. Kerwin asked. “AZO sells custom-designed equipment, and we love to talk about functionality,” he said, noting that without a baker identifying very specific needs, a supplier can easily “layer up” an ingredient handling system and inadvertently oversell.

The trick is to keep a narrow focus to avoid buying into more than what is needed while also avoiding adding functionality via change orders made later during implementation.

Read on to learn the art of future-proofing.

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