Wafers and Waffles: Thin Sheets

by Shane Whitaker
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A much wider variety of wafer and waffle products are available in Europe than in the US. European manufacturers produce more intricate designs and shapes of wafers and waffles, and many more hollow wafer products are manufactured overseas, according to Bryan Bainbridge of Bainbridge Associates, LLC, Byron Center, MI, which represents Hebenstreit GmbH, Moerfelden-Walldorf, Germany.

This means a lot of opportunity exists in the US for companies that may want to venture into producing wafer products, especially hallow wafers, according to Mr. Bainbridge.

Manufacturers of wafer equipment appear to be influenced in their designs by trends for more complex wafer products that feature multiple elements. Processors want wafer and waffle systems with greater capacity and higher speeds that offer increased automation and flexibility. They also want more efficient lines with less waste that may occur when brittle wafer sheets break.

For a baker that wants to begin making wafers, Franz Haas Waffel- und Keksanlagen–Industrie GmbH, Leobendorf, Austria, introduced the GEKKO wafer line at Interpack 2008. The company is represented in the US by Franz Haas Machinery of America, Richmond, VA. In addition to focusing on this new line, this article will look at a recent waffle line installation by Haas, and it will explore some of the latest trends and products from Hebenstreit.

ENTRY LEVEL.

“The Gekkko wafer oven is finding increasing interest as a cost-efficient and convenient ‘entrance ticket’ to the wafer business,” said Harald Bechmann, Haas’ content manager and senior technical writer. The reason for this interest, he added, is that the oven is part of a whole package of machinery that meets the needs of small producers who want to extent their business as well as those who may be new to industrial production of wafers.

The fully automatic Gekkko lines feature the baking oven, a batter mixer, a wafer sheet cooler, a creme spreader that also builds the wafer books and a wafer bok cooler and cutter. The lines are available in two capacities, producing either 55 lb (120 kg) or 84 lb (185 kg) of cremefilled wafer fingers per hour.

The oven is equipped with either 21 or 32 selfsupported baking plates made of gray cast iron. A variable-frequency-controlled motor drives the baking chain and features an automatic tensioning system to accommodate for different expansions of the chain.

Wafer sheets cool at ambient temperatures, and the cooler is synchronized to the oven speed and actuated by a photocell-controlled motor. “Guiding rods at the dies of the cooler guarantee exact positioning of the wafer sheets in the stainless steel carrier frames,” Mr. Bechmann explained.

The creme spreader uses the contract spread method and produces books with up to 5 creme and 6 wafer layers or wafer books without a top sheet. The books are cooled in a foam-insulated cooling tower until the creme solidifies, and then, the books cut with wires or blades. Cutting frames are easily exchangeable for quick and un- complicated changeover.

“Haas not only supplies and installs the machines but offers technology services to assist customers with raw material selection and recipe development,” Mr. Bechmann added. “Especially among newcomers to the wafer industry, these consulting and training programs are very popular.”

LOCKING TONGS.

Producers of wafer products are always looking to improve efficiency, according to Mr. Bainbridge. Because the US wafer market is very competitive with only a few product types, it is important for these companies to produce at the highest efficiency possible, and to do so, it’s important that the lines run to their full potential, he said.

One of the thing that sets Hebenstreit’s equipment designs apart from the competition, Mr. Bainbridge noted, is its robust baking tongs, which are used to lock its baking plates. “An extreme amount of pressure develops in the plates as the water and moisture is baked out of the batter,” he explained. “So over time you need a robust system to hold those plates for a uniform thickness of the wafers, and that is where Hebenstreit believes the tong system is better because it holds the plates rather than the plates being self supported.”

Adjusting the baking plates is easy with the baking tongs, and the wafer sheet thickness has a tolerance of only ±0.1 mm.

Another area that Hebenstreit has addressed in recent years, according to Mr. Bainbridge, is energy consumption. As energy costs continue to increase, this becomes a bigger issue for manufacturers, he said.

Hebenstreit’s newly designed burners and baking chambers within its ovens reduce the gas consumption by as much as 15 to 20% compared with previous models, Mr. Bainbridge observed. “This system also reduces the carbon monoxide emissions by two-thirds, an important factor as environmental issues continue to be stressed,” Mr. Bainbridge added.

Bakers also want to create a greater variety of products, and as they do more flavors, it requires more changeovers. “Hebenstreit has developed a new creaming station that is more friendly toward quicker changeovers and cleaning times with greater flexibility,” he said.

Hebenstreit offers a wide variety of equipment for the production of flat and hollow wafers, including its BAC and WAQ automatic wafer baking ovens. BAC is available with up to 150 baking tongs and is designed for a capacity up to 60 sheets per minute. The WZK spreading machine uses the contact method in which the creme is deposited on the wafer sheet through direct contact with the spreading roller, and its output is approximately 40 to 50 sheets per minute. The WZ spreader can process up to 120 sheets per minute and uses the film method in which a knife the creme from the spreading roller and applies it to the wafer sheet.

Wafer sheet coolers and conditioners, sandwich coolers, cutters and feeders are also all available through Hebenstreit. Mr. Bainbridge said the company is continually making small improvements to its lines to aid with maintenance and sanitation. “It is helping to make the maintenance easier as well as trying to extend the needed maintenance intervals as long as possible,” he added.

STROOPWAFEL LINE.

Haas recently installed a line for the production of stroopwafels, aka syrup waffles, which are round waffle sandwiches that feature a caramel filling that originated in The Netherlands in the late 18th century.

The customized line is approximately 131 ft (40 m) long, excluding packaging, and produces 22,000 lbs per hour. The line’s flexible configuration creates stroopwafels with diameters of 45, 75 and 90 mm.

A double shaft kneader prepares dough, which is fed by pneumatic pump into a hopper of the depositor. Cutting wires divide the dough that are deposited onto the lower baking plates of the baking oven, according to Mr. Bechmann. Haas’ PZO waffle oven is used on the line because its design was suited for the line’s high capacities, he said. The oven features 117 baking plates of special gray cast iron that are mounted on an upper and lower chain.

“Both chains are driven by one motor and synchronized by means of a timing belt,” Mr. Bechmann explained. “As the upper baking plates are freely suspended from the upper chain and rest on the lower plates during baking, there is no undesired shearing effect on the products due to different heat expansions of the two chains. Centering bolts ensure exact positioning of the plates to each other.”

The baking oven features individually adjustable nozzle burners and the company’s sophisticated 2-chamber design that provides optimal conditions for uniform product quality and energy efficiency, according to Mr. Bechmann. A scraper removes the baked waffles from the plates and transfers them to the oven outfeed belt.

After baking, a waffle punching and cutting unit trims them to a round shape, and in the next step, the waffles are sliced into two pieces — a top and bottom.“The decapper/ capper system with the integrated caramel depositing unit is the result of a joint-venture cooperation between Haas-Mondomix, which specializes in aerating and depositing systems, and Houdijk Holland, a specialist for handling systems,” Mr. Bechmann noted.

A servo-driven decapper lifts the top of the waffles and places them beside the bottom pieces on the conveyor. Caramel filling is deposited onto the bottom pieces via a pressurized piston manifold. “This action is monitored by photocells, which interrupt the process in case of missing waffles,” he explained. “The capper lifts the top pieces and re-places them onto the bottom pieces. Top and bottom parts are aligned to each other, and the height of the waffle sandwiches is calibrated. This system is highly dynamic with an operating speed of 75 cycles per minute.”

The stroopwafels are cooled on a spiral conveyor for approximately 20 minutes before being conveyed to packaging.

“In addition to meeting all requirements for high capacity, efficiency, product quality and easy product changeover, this fully automatic production line is characterized by its simple operation via touch-screen control panels and its maintenance-friendly design that facilitates fast and easy cleaning,” Mr. Bechmann added.

By selecting a larger oven from Haas’ PZO series, he said it would be possible to provide lines with an output of up to 30,000 stroopwafels per hour.

For the most part there has not been a great push to introduce new wafer and waffle products in the US; therefore, there could be great opportunities for US companies to introduce new and exciting products to consumers. And a wide variety of automated lines are available for their production.

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