Chunkers lead dough handling equipment choices

by Laurie Gorton
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The transition game between mixer and makeup can be tricky. Finding the optimum way to carry the ball, so to speak, via automated methods and deliver doughs in peak condition for downstream processing has changed because of the public’s increasing appetite for variety in baked foods, whether served at restaurants or consumed at home.

“Bakers have had to become more nimble,” said Terry Bartsch, vice-president, sales, Shaffer, a Bundy Baking Solution, Urbana, OH.

New food safety regimens under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are also transforming the engineering of dough distribution systems. FSMA kicks in this September for many commercial wholesale bakers.

Still, the main purpose of dough handling equipment is simple. “All automated approaches — pumps, kibblers, chunkers and sheeters — minimize the mass when moving doughs from mixers to formers,” Mr. Bartsch explained. These machines accept large quantities of dough and either turn them into multiple, smaller, more easily managed pieces or create a continuous flow synced with downstream operations.

Typically, pumps and chunkers move bread and bun doughs, while kibblers handle cookie and cracker doughs. Sheeting systems can manage both. Cake batters generally move to makeup stations through a combination of slurry pumps and aerators.

Engineering in flux

Many factors influence innovation in this category, according to Jerry Barnes, managing director and president, Spooner Vicars Bakery Systems, based at Wigan, UK, with North American offices at Plano, TX. “The converging circles of a highly competitive market, the ever-increasing concern over sanitation and allergens, and an evolving regulatory landscape are the key drivers I see demanding progress in the equipment space,” he said.

When bakers opt for dedicated lines vs. flexible ones — and back again — that choice affects the design and operation of dough handling equipment, explained John Giacoio, national sales manager, Rheon USA, Irvine, CA. “We’ve seen requests seesaw between flexible and dedicated lines. At first, the baker will want a line capable of doing many different products, but as demand grows, the baker will seek a dedicated line with more narrow applications and capabilities.” Flexible-width dough feeding, a new development at Rheon, suits artisan and laminated lines alike.

Improving control of allergenic ingredients prompted Workhorse Automation’s redesign of large, multi-level, automated trough-moving systems that manage bulk dough fermentation, according to Kenneth Mentch, national sales manager, Workhorse Automation, Oxford, PA. “The challenge is actually in the design and execution of a common trough system between allergen and allergen-free lines that guarantees against any cross contamination within a shared system,” he said.

Also, equipment designers are turning to new construction materials to enhance dough distribution systems. To meet increased food safety requirements, Reading Bakery Systems, Robesonia, PA, reevaluated food contact surface choices. “Many of these changes involve new and improved FDA-compliant plastics along with materials that are easier to trace in the product stream,” said Shawn Moye,  vice-president of sales, Americas.

Shaffer altered the treatment given cutter bars on its dough chunkers. “We now use a ceramic coating for ease of dough release,” Mr. Bartsch explained. “This surface is more durable than the Teflon we used before.”

Tromp Group Americas, Dacula, GA, a member of the Markel Bakery Group, did away with coatings altogether. Jim Cummings, president, described the highly polished stainless steel blades and hoppers now used. “This gives great release properties without the worries of redoing the coating after X number of years,” he said.

And at least one vendor, Spooner Vicars Bakery Systems, plans to leverage this year’s International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) with a whole new range of sheeting and forming equipment for production of cookies, crackers and biscuits. “This from-the-ground-up redesign addresses many ongoing and emerging market requirements,” Mr. Barnes said. “These changes are a direct result from actively engaging producers as to their current experiences, pressures and performance needs.”

Always a new challenge

The customer-centric world of bakery equipment design was well-voiced by Mr. Giacoio, who noted, “Bakers always surprise us with their requests.”

Consider how Rheon approached development of its adjustable-width dough feeder. Previous designs for the company’s stress-free gravimetric dough feeders offered a variety of fixed widths based on the size of the unit’s chunker blades, one width per feeder.

“The result was that some products generated excess trim dough. For example, a line with a width suitable for 24-in. baguettes would generate a lot of scrap trim when switched to boule processing,” Mr. Giacoio explained.

Many bakers are concerned about trim, he observed. “You have to work it back into later doughs, and unless the dough is intended to include rework, this scrap addition can reduce the quality of the finished product,” he noted.

The new design changes the width of the dough chunk with the push of a button. Rheon featured a concept machine at IBIE 2103 and started selling it in the US during 2015. The company views it as a natural replacement for stress-free systems first sold in the 1990s.

The ability to handle many different kinds of dough is another challenge for engineers. Mr. Moye described several different dough discharge heads offered by Reading Bakery Systems for its lines. “We also have many different ways of getting the dough into the automated dough handling units either directly from the mixer or multiple styles of dough trough dumps or elevators, which can be custom designed to meet their current or new dough trough designs,” he added.

And then there is also the not-so-subtle matter of floor space — a big concern for bakers trying to ramp up output in existing plants. “The typical Rheon line can be up to 80 ft long,” Mr. Giacoio said, “but we also offer lines with much smaller footprints of 10 ft.”

Chunkers advance

Making news in this equipment category, chunkers now supplant dough pumps in new installations. “Where 10 years ago, bakers would have purchased a pump, today they will buy a chunker,” Mr. Bartsch said. He estimated Shaffer sells six chunkers for every one dough pump.

“Bakers don’t want to work the dough in the transfer process as much today,” he continued. “You can’t put premium chicken rolls through a pump; it would destroy that dough.”

Foodservice drives the preference for chunking instead of pumping. “Ten or 15 years ago, buns were fairly standard,” Mr. Bartsch noted, “but bakers have to put out premium rolls because every foodservice operator fights for the attention of the customer. Bun styles matter, and they have proliferated.

“The tide has changed, even for slacker products like bun doughs,” Mr. Bartsch continued. “Some bakers specify only chunkers.” If the baker wants more development during dough handling, a dough texturizer can be installed at the divider, but the job of working the dough — kneading and developing it — is now being done mostly by downstream makeup systems.

The choice of chunker, pump, kibbler or sheeter depends on the dough, Mr. Moye noted. “By that, I mean what type of dough is running through the machine,” he added.

But it’s also a matter of layout in the baker and how much room is available for the equipment. “If space is tight, you may have to shorten the layout by using an elevator to dump dough,” Mr. Moye said. “If there’s enough room, you can output the dough on an inclined belt leading to the makeup line’s hopper. You could even use a lift elevator or a pinch-belt-style vertical belt conveyor to get the dough to the hopper quickly.”

More sanitation attention

A broad-based rethinking of sanitary equipment design also influences the dough distribution equipment now offered to bakers

“Our dough handling equipment is designed for complete washdown and easy access to the dough belts, hopper side walls and dough discharge devices,” Mr. Moye said about recent changes in construction and engineering of these machines.

Mr. Cummings also called attention to sanitary design. “While many dough delivery systems are not sanitation-friendly, we have made our units so that the hopper opens for ease of cleaning as does the double incline conveyor. As much as possible, all wiring is through the stainless steel frame so you don’t have cabling hanging all over the place. Belts have quick releases, and open-frame construction under the belt is available so the belt does not drag on the stainless steel when wet.”

Conveyors are on the mind of equipment designers as never before. “Recently, we have spent a lot of time on conveyors, and it’s all about sanitation,” Mr. Bartsch observed.

Chunkers and kibblers require a belt moving below the hopper to carry dough downstream. Shaffer, Tromp and other manufacturers selected positive-drive belting because it tracks accurately without needing high tension on the belt. The undersides of these belts come with moulded teeth or belt-wide ribs that the drive motor engages. In the stand-off position, the belts hang slack, and the machine can be cleaned on every surface. Additionally, the bottom-center placement of the drive means that it is not over the product zone.

Automatic trough wash stations are now included in Workhorse systems. “They thoroughly sanitize each trough before every use,” Mr. Mentch noted.

Entering the FSMA era

Although FSMA’s new and complicated food safety regulations are steadily advancing on the baking industry, sanitation and hygienic design have long been on the minds of bakery equipment engineers.

“We started hearing about sanitation long before FSMA,” Mr. Moye said. “Because the bakery has to clean lines completely between allergen and non-allergen runs, there’s reason for the high interest in cleanability. When working only with troughs, you could dedicate them to allergen and non-allergen products, but when you automate dough handling, system cleanability is key.”

These worries take form as demands for enhanced cleaning access and washdown capability. Reading Bakery Systems answers such concerns with hopper mounts that allow fast changeovers and hopper inserts that can be readily switched out and removed for separate sanitation. Because kibblers and chunkers employ “live” bottom belts to feed doughs forward, access to these belts makes a big difference to line sanitation.

Mr. Giacoio observed that the many requests his company now fields for washdown capability on its equipment is something bakers wouldn’t have routinely asked for in the past. About FSMA, he noted that the company has the benefit of running a working wholesale bakery. “After all, Orange Bakery is a part of Rheon and must comply with these regulations,” he said. “We deal with this subject from the same standpoint as our customers.”

Access for cleaning equipment is another design aspect that food safety regulations will impact. “Everything has to go higher, including mixers, their trough systems and dough feeders,” Mr. Bartsch said. “This is not only because of FSMA but also to meet the demands of Safe Quality Food (SQF) and other food safety inspection protocols.” He reported installations of kibblers with as much as 16 in. floor clearance, although 4 or 5 in. is more common for chunkers.

Access in and around equipment must be designed in from the first, according to Mr. Barnes. “By considering safety, services and hygiene at the outset, Spooner Vicars is able to reduce or eliminate closed-in or inaccessible areas that otherwise promote harborage,” he said. “Box covers, chain drives, wire bundles, bulky side frames, hidden areas and so forth are key points of focus as we streamline the design and focus on cleanability.”

He continued, “The top messages that we are getting revolve around the need for dramatically better hygienic design features, particularly to facilitate easier and quicker cleaning of the equipment.”

Designing and running production lines must allow dough to make a smooth transition from mixer to makeup. Of course, it’s the dough type that most affects the choice of dough distribution equipment. With foodservice and retail markets now demanding more variety than ever before, bakers need to accommodate a proliferation in dough styles, which impose new considerations in equipment selection. And, there’s the pending change in food safety regulations that impact equipment design and sanitation practices.

Many factors, many choices.
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