Achieve the right slice

by Charlotte Atchley
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A sliced loaf of bread is the standard by which all innovation is measured. Despite innovations in technology with computers and cell phones, the phrase “the best thing since sliced bread” sticks in the English language as a common way to describe the latest and greatest. It’s a testament to the importance and convenience of a well-sliced loaf.

A well-sliced bread product requires clean cuts, and to keep up with today’s bakery’s throughputs, automated slicers need a good maintenance and sanitation plan to keep them running efficiently.

“Excessive debris can interfere with slice quality by getting between the product and the blade, blade guide, thickness tray and product transfer fingers,” said Jeff Klein, field service manager, Grote Co., Columbus, OH.

Excessive debris comes from crumbs that are created when slicer blade meets bread. “The crumb is considered as money wasted in the trash bin,” said Jimmy Belval, AMF product manager, AMF Bakery Systems, Richmond, VA. “Every gram of crumb reduction per loaf is an enormous amount of money at the end of the year if the customer is producing more than 1 million loaves a week.”

Not only are these crumbs a waste of product, but they also hinder the slicer from doing its job properly if they aren’t dealt with. “Crumb is the enemy of slicer maintenance,” said Allen Wright, vice-president of sales, Hansaloy, Davenport, IA. “Crumbs get into components of the slicer — lattice, blade guides, etc. — and cause damage to the equipment.” 

Because of the dangers crumbs pose to slicing equipment, minimizing them is critical to keeping the equipment running smoothly. Proper maintenance and the right blades work together to reduce crumb and deliver the efficiently sliced loaf consumers expect.

Subject to fines

Crumb is the bane of the slicer. If not removed, it will hinder it from slicing properly before finally wrecking the blade. These fines can harden on the lattice and bend it, causing irregular slicing. This is unacceptable to consumers. Blade guides and the blades themselves are also susceptible to the wear that comes from crumbs.

“Over time, crumb will get produced, and that crumb can get rock hard and can stick to the blade guides, closing the gap and giving the blade less room to run through,” Mr. Wright said. “There’s less room for the blade to go through, and it can put more heat in the blade.” That heat and friction will eventually break the blade prematurely.

These fines are a fact of slicing bread, and they can’t be completely eliminated, but it is possible to reduce them and their impact on the equipment. Decent elements are keys to keeping crumb to a minimum, the most critical of which is a sharp blade.

“A dull knife, all things being equal, will create more fines,” said Tim O’Brien, vice-president of sales, Urschel Laboratories, Chesterton, IN. “The cleanliness of the slice won’t be as smooth. A dull knife is less efficient at cutting through the bread, so the machine will work harder from a horsepower standpoint and the stresses you’re putting on gearing.”

Blade lubrication can also help, regardless of whether it’s applied with finely controlled application pads or injected directly into the blade guide, Mr. Klein said. Taking care of the blades, not just their sharpness, is important to ensure that the blades stay sharp and can make those slices while creating the least amount of crumb possible.

“Blade lubrication and proper blade tension are the two major key points,” Mr. Belval said. “Even blade tension across the drums, straight and sharp-edged drum scrapers, and proper positioning can help avoid gluten build-up.”

The blade may have the most obvious influence on crumbs, but other parts and part maintenance can also assist in managing crumb. Blade wipers and pushers that position the loaf can help reduce fines, according to Mr. Klein.

Krumbein, represented by Erika Record, Clifton, NJ, uses a two-blade system to keep slices clean and crumb-free. Two blades sit close together and slice the bread, moving in opposite directions. This set-up helps keep fines to a minimum. “The teeth on the blades aren’t as coarse because you don’t need them to be due to the fact that it’s a two-blade system, which doesn’t rip the bread and can cut a lot gentler,” said Craig Kominiak, sales consultant, Erika Record.

Optimized cutting

Keeping knives sharp and lubricated and having the proper elements in place can keep crumb to a minimum, but by matching the machine and blade to the product, slicers become more efficient on top of reducing fines.

“Different baked products will slice differently,” Mr. Klein said. To meet that need, Grote Co. offers a diverse range of blades to suit each product’s needs. “Our blades are interchangeable in that blades with different styles of edges will fit into the same machine,” he continued.

The blade’s edge and pitch influence how well it cuts through the bread. “The right edge and pitch combination optimizes the slice for the product,” Mr. Wright said. “Typically harder crusted breads do better with a finer pitched blade where traditional white breads do better with a wider pitched blade.” To ensure that the blade is correct for the bread being sliced, Hansaloy just needs to know what kinds of bread are being sliced and their makeup.

Correct pitch and edge not only make slices more efficient and clean, but also reduce crumb. According to Mr. Belval, in a specific test done by AMF Bakery Systems, the company found that a smaller pitched blade and increased blade speed actually reduced the crumb loss by at least 50% with that particular bread used in the test. Bakers can work with vendors to get the best slice for their breads.

The machine can also enable bakers to slice better and widen the scope of products. Different tooling on the machines can make cutting more efficient and even. “Bread can be challenging to cut depending on the density of the bread and the stale time,” Mr. O’Brien said. “We have different hold-down devices that facilitate the feeding of the product into the slicing wheel, which has knives capable of cutting a denser, more difficult product.”

Urschel’s ETRS machine enables bakers to cut larger diameter products that may also be denser.

Feeding the slicer can change, depending on product density. “You can go a little faster with softer bread than you can with hard, crusty bread,” Mr. Kominiak said. “There are adjustments on machines that have a bottom drive belt and top drive belt. It doesn’t push the bread but drives it through with a top and bottom belt.” The adjustable drive belts allow bakers to customize the feeding speed to the bread being fed into the slicer.
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