Irresistible aloha spirit

by Laurie Gorton and Dan Malovany
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Few companies leverage their corporate cultures as well as King’s Hawaiian. It lives “the aloha spirit” every day, not only in products and personnel relations but also in its forward-looking approach to strategic planning, which its new Oakwood, GA, bakery demonstrates well.

Among the many meanings of aloha is “hello” — hello to sharing and compassion, hello to friendship, hello to new opportunities. Why else would a company offering traditional products rooted in far-off Hawaii and successfully producing them in California look all the way across the country to Georgia to satisfy growth needs and set sail for the future?

“As far as production, it was being able to make all of the SKUs that we do in California out in Georgia so that we can supply the East Coast through that plant, and we have been able to do that,” explained CEO Mark Taira. “We have accomplished the goals that we set initially.”

At 120,000 sq ft, Oakwood’s initial objective and primary driver involved greater capacity, but the recent expansion with a second line and, soon, another adjacent 120,000 sq ft bakery also meant “being able to integrate more into the community there,” he added.

An opening in Georgia

When King’s Hawaiian built its Torrance bakery in 2003, the operation boosted output by more than five times the company’s previous capacity. “The thinking was that we would then have enough capacity for a long, long time,” said John Linehan, executive vice-president, strategy and business development, King’s Hawaiian Holding Co., Torrance, CA.

By 2007, however, two factors became absolutely clear. First, as the family-owned-and-operated company expanded nationally, the management team realized the need to add capacity sooner than they thought. Second, distribution costs emerged as a looming issue as customer demand continued to increase. By 2009, the company narrowed its site search to a handful of states in the Southeast. In 2010, it purchased 20 acres north of Atlanta.

Geography wasn’t the only factor. Availability of Georgia’s superior educational support and Hall County’s adaptable labor pool also guided the company’s decision (see Baking & Snack of September 2014, Page 18).

In 2011, as a part of its strategic plan, King’s Hawaiian set up a project management team to implement the ­single-line bakery. “It took 31 months to build the Torrance facility, yet this one was put up in 7½ months,” Mr. Linehan said. “That gives you a benchmark on how we improved.”

At that time, managers thought the company wouldn’t need to add a second Oakwood line until 2015. Fortunately, history repeated itself. “The business grew faster than we thought in 2012 and much faster in 2013,” Mr. Linehan said. The company began installing a second line at the Oakwood bakery in December 2013 and got it up and operating by April 2014.

A decision on capacity

So it would not get caught short on capacity again, King’s Hawaiian decided to move up plans to add another 120,000-sq-ft facility at Oakwood adjacent to the existing one. This second building will eventually house two more production lines. The first line in that newest bakery should be up and running by December 2014, according to Mr. Linehan, four years ahead of its original 2018 timing.

Mr. Taira noted that the company took the opportunity to double up its order of equipment, simultaneously cutting purchase orders for line No. 2 in the existing Oakwood bakery and line No. 1 for the second facility. Besides providing economies of scale, the decision meant King’s Hawaiian could finally ensure that it had enough capacity to keep up with demand.

“Engineering thought we were sort of crazy,” Mr. Taira said, “but we realized in early 2013 that putting in a second line wasn’t going to be enough to meet demand for 2014 and 2015.”

Currently, 300 people work at the Georgia operation. By the time the newest bakery is fully operational, 600 will be employed there. That number will include not only production workers but also employees from several other departments currently housed in Torrance.

“We’re not going to move the company headquarters or the California bakery,” Mr. Linehan said. “Torrance is a landlocked facility; however, we have plenty of room to grow in Georgia.”

A peek under the hood

Oakwood’s generously proportioned facility isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. “These are big lines installed here,” Mr. Linehan said. “They are about one-third larger than those in Torrance.” And they are far more automated.

King’s Hawaiian approached equipping the bakery as carefully as it evaluated site locations. The company formed a team directed by Curtis Taira, vice-president of engineering. They visited bakery equipment manufacturers in the US and Europe and researched other bakery locations to see various systems in action. “They spent a great deal of time working with our current vendors,” Mark Taira observed, to meet the company’s specialization and automation requirements.

From the start, the company saw Oakwood as a connected enterprise that links the production floor into a seamless system. Working with Bachelor Controls, a Rockwell Automation Solution Partner, King’s Hawaiian standardized on Allen-Bradley components to run processing equipment supplied by 11 different OEMs. Data collected from operations is easily pulled into display screens and summarized on spreadsheets for review on-site or remotely. The control system includes closed-circuit cameras giving California managers an eye on Georgia operations.

“To open and run a facility across the country from here, we needed the ability to manage our recipe — something we’ve protected all of these years — and maintain control,” Mark Taira said. “That forced us to look at technology in a way we could use it to run the new plant but also control the proprietary knowledge that we have.”

Curtis Taira added, “The computer technology makes it so much simpler to operate the bakery and for us to actually see what’s going on. I sleep a lot better.”

Such capabilities enable King’s Hawaiian to improve continually, according to Mark Taira. “We made great strides with the Oakwood facility to get real-time data,” he said. “We use [the collected data] as a tool to understand our manufacturing process.” More real-time data allow better productivity. “Everything today is about using data and technology to monitor production, and that will give us the consistency and quality we’re looking for,” he added.

In the bakery, operators and quality assurance staff check the HMI terminals to monitor specs and record results. “The idea is to get all the clipboards and paper off the plant floor,” said Torrey Nelson, director of baking science, King’s Hawaiian Holding Co. “Quality drives the plant floor. We plan to do even more inspection with online systems that plug directly into the computer control system.”

Mark Taira put into context the integration of quality with the control system. “We have a brand promise to our consumers to deliver irresistible goods at a high level of quality with a lowest sales price,” he said. “Everyone is ensuring that only the best product possible is getting out of our facility, and it’s all about the quality of product.”

A walk through operations

The Georgia bakery operates 24/7 with 12-hour shifts. Line No. 1 produces the company’s signature round loaves and 12-pack dinner rolls around the clock. Line No. 2 makes hamburger and hot dog buns and mini sub rolls. It currently runs one shift, but as training for its operators advances, it will soon come up to two shifts a day. Each line is served separately by its own makeup, proofing, baking, cooling and packaging systems.

For example, during Baking & Snack’s visit, the second line was working with a new product, mini sub rolls. “Yesterday we had a nice four-hour run, and today we went up 20% and are running well,” Mr. Nelson said. “With new products, we typically run two doughs, evaluate the results and talk about improvement feedback for the operators. At the end of the run, we’ll discuss results and look at various quality parameters. As these are resolved, we go up in speed again.”

The bakery does a complete sensory evaluation of all styles of products made that day. The full production team scores appearance, color, texture, grain and taste. “We want the first product out the door to be irresistibly delicious just like all the rest of the day’s production,” Mr. Nelson said.

Production schedules allow a down window for preventive maintenance and food safety work once a week, but the mixing area goes through a thorough cleaning every other day. Signs in the plant encourage attention to product quality. A whiteboard near the dividers reads, “100% irresistible product is our goal.” And a sign about commitment to Safe Quality Food (SQF) hangs from the ceiling of the packaging room.

The bakery is currently certified at SQF Level 2. “We plan to go to Level 3 soon,” Mr. Nelson noted.

One way King’s Hawaiian maintains control over food safety is by using its own blower system to transfer bulk ingredient deliveries from trucks. The AZO automated ingredient system comprises five bulk silos — three 110,000-lb units for flour and two, ranging in size from 75,000 to 100,000 lb, for granulated sugar. These are installed indoors. “By keeping temperature and humidity constant, we get the proper baking qualities and avoid dispensing and conveying problems,” Mr. Nelson said.

Minor and micro ingredients — dried egg, nonfat dry milk, yeast and so forth — are received on skids, many in bulk totes. These are transferred via two dump stations, equipped with screening and sifting capabilities. Recorded for traceability, the lot codes for ingredients direct their routing through a pipe-and-blower system to reach the correct holding bin. AZO Componenter technology manages more than a dozen bulk, minor and micro ingredients for scaling and dispensing.

As part of the facilities’ integrated controls, the ingredient system divides the day’s production requirements, termed a “campaign” by King’s Hawaiian, into batches, which run into the hundreds a day. It scales individual materials and delivers them to a preblend stage at flow rates up to 8,000 lb per hour. Liquids are delivered to the mixers separately.

A look at mixing, makeup

For this bakery, King’s Hawaiian improved its mixing operations, making a big change in technology. “Mixing methods are still proprietary for the company,” Mr. Nelson noted. To ensure consistency between Torrance and Oakwood, the company brought in instruments that test flour consistency and dough rheology. This is a first.

“By finding the right tools to measure quality, we can be proactive about quality,” he said. “We are moving from art to science. We need to do this as we expand, and these instruments help us make the same product here as in Torrance. They also help when adding new products because we can develop the specs to keep products on target.”

This was particularly important at Oakwood because of the new approach to mixing and fermentation. “Test instruments let us use numbers so we know if we hit our goals,” Mr. Nelson said.

From the mixing battery, dough moves down an AMF conveyor to the AMF Accupan dividers, equipped with K-head dividers. On line No. 2, two six-across makeup lines serve one oven. Line No. 1 uses a Kaak Group bread makeup system for the company’s signature round breads, which bake in foil pans. The 12-pack dinner rolls are baked in paperboard trays that double as the consumer packaging.

Line No. 2 operates with permanent pans. The Capway Robocap pan system manages six sets of pans from American Pan, a Bundy Baking Solution. For the mini sub rolls, each pan is configured to hold clusters of six dough pieces each. The pan stacking, unstacking and storage system features a dual-level configuration to save space, and the robotic gantry pickup arm is capable of transferring two rows of pans at once, thus helping the line keep up with production rates.

The makeup system sheets and moulds the individual dough pieces and deposits them into waiting pans. When making hamburger buns, a pan shaker seats the pieces properly within the pan’s cups.

A study of proofing

On line No. 2, pans carry products through a Tecnopool proof box, a twin to the one serving line No. 1, for approximately one hour of proofing under controlled heat and humidity conditions. Pans then feed into a grouping system and the three-zone, 120-ft, indirect-fired oven, both supplied by the Henry Group. On line No. 1, proofed products are put into a Gemini indirect-fired tunnel oven by an ABI loader. Both ovens are equipped with catalytic oxidizers, a King’s Hawaiian standard.

After baking, products move along to cooling. Line No. 1 items go directly into a Tecnopool twin spiral system. Buns baked on line No. 2 cool briefly on the outfeed conveyor before they reach the Capway depanner. They then travel to a G&F twin spiral system equipped with low-tension drive technology and Intralox belting.

Now empty, the hot pans go through a Rexfab inline cleaner that inverts them to dump out any lingering crumbs or debris. Still inverted, pans move into a Capway cooling tunnel that brings them down from 200°F to 80°F before they return to makeup or are pulled off for storage.

King’s Hawaiian put another technology new to the company to work at the oven exit: Konica Minolta handheld instant-read colorimeters. “We want our products to have an attractive, golden-brown crust,” Mr. Nelson said. “Baking is a matter of achieving the correct internal temperature, taken by digital thermometer, and proper external color, measured by the colorimeter.

“When training the oven operators, we talk about temperature, yeast kill, starch gelatinization,” he continued. He trained at the American Institute of Baking and does a lot of teaching as part of his job. “I love teaching our people the science of baking. A lot of what our company is about is learning and empowerment. If you don’t have that, you don’t have the product.”

An exam of packaging

While items baked on line No. 1 are conveyed directly to Formost Fuji horizontal form/fill/seal stations using heat-sealed film, those from line No. 2 travel a different path. A Shuttleworth conveyor splits the flow of these products into two lanes. One sends buns through a LeMatic slicer equipped with horizontal slab and vertical split cutters. The other lane bypasses the slicer. A Capway diverter divides Line No. 2 buns into three lanes that feed the four Formost Fuji paddle-bagging stations.

“We use trays for packaging our mini sub rolls, too, because they are so soft that they need the extra protection during distribution,” Mr. Nelson explained. Rolls are synchronized with shallow pre-formed trays by an ABI system before they enter the bagger. The company recently redesigned these trays for in-plant preparation, and the Kliklok Woodman Genesis tray formers are already in place to enable King’s Hawaiian to switch from preforms to more economical flats. This is the same style used by dinner rolls made on line No. 1.

Each package is lot-coded by a Linx imprinter. Kwik Lok tab closures seal the paddle-bagged items.

Although all product passes through metal detectors before they are packaged, the round loaves’ foil pans require X-ray inspection. King’s Hawaiian installed Mettler Toledo X-ray equipment on both lines. “These also catch a lot of other things, such as wood and plastic contaminants,” Mr. Nelson noted.

All packages are manually loaded into shipping cartons. The engineering team is looking at automating this activity, “but our product is exceptionally soft,” Mr. Nelson observed. “It requires use of inserts to support and stabilize products during shipping. Also, we use

this step as another quality control point.”

All King’s Hawaiian products are shipped fresh. They have a 14-day shelf life, which is sufficient to get them to consumers in fresh condition. Each case carries a bar code, allowing the company to track products by lot and item number as well as quantity.

Filled cases ride a conveyor to the shipping department. At present, cases are manually palletized, but the company plans to put in robotic palletizers once the second bakery is up and running. Finished product leaves the bakery in tractor-trailer rigs or railcars. All packaging supplies are warehoused in an area adjacent to the packaging room, in the shipping room set between the two buildings.

A preview of the future

“The second building is a true mirror image of the first one,” said Terry Spicer, production manager, King’s Hawaiian Bakery Southeast, Inc., Oakwood.

The company laid out the Georgia site to merge output from the first and second bakeries in a central bay where the two facilities join. The equipment roster duplicates that of the second line installed in the bakery, along with a bread and dinner roll system like that of line No. 1.

Mark Taira described the second bakery’s layout, noting that it contains components of both lines in the first building. “On the second line, we have more capabilities than the first line,” he said. “In the new facility, we’re really trying to add to that versatility.”

By mid-summer, King’s Hawaiian had most of the ingredient system installed and was testing the silos and holding bins. Already staged on-site were the mixers, waiting for their pads to be installed.

Mr. Linehan reflected on the last eight years since he first started working with Mark and Curtis Taira.

“We often joke as we look over our shoulders at the progress we made; we feel really good about it,” he said. “When we turn around and look at the road in front of us, sheer panic sets in, and we find ourselves putting our foot down on the accelerator because we have so much further to go.”

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