Proofed to perfection

by Charlotte Atchley
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Proofers provide the right environment for yeast-raised products to reach just the right volume before being baked. This environment is vital to ensuring desired product characteristics are met.

“It’s important to provide the customer with a product that is consistent all day, every day,” said Frank Achterberg, president, CBF Bakery Systems. While the fundamentals of proofing have largely stayed the same, the ability to control that environment has improved with automated controls.

“Automated proofing requires the correct conditions for each product at the highest production rates,” said Dennis Kauffman, director of baking systems, AMF Bakery Systems. These conditions depend on the heat and humidification systems’ ability to deliver the same temperature and humidity level throughout the entirety of the proofer.

“Therefore, controls and air distribution within the proofer enclosure need to be done right,” Mr. Achterberg said.

With fine-tuned control over temperature and humidity and proofer designs that promote proper air flow, bakers can ensure their products have ideal conditions for the perfect proof.

Environmental controls

Proof boxes are climate-controlled havens for dough as it rises to meet the proper dimensions the baker has set forth. Improved controls for these systems ensure that control never wavers. Without precise temperature and humidity levels, products can exhibit unwanted characteristics and inconsistencies. “Accurate control of temperature, air direction and relative humidity is essential for proofing,” said Brendon Somerfield, product line manager, JBT Corp. “Unstable relative humidity causes unwanted stress in the surface characteristics of the product.”

Accurate controls being so very important to proofing, it’s no wonder that many of the enhancements in proofing technology today are centered on improving these controls.

“With the rapid changes in technology throughout the industry, the controls aspect has seemingly been the area where digital technology vs. analog technology advances have been proportionally the greatest,” said Alex Kuperman, president, ABI.

These advances help bakers maintain precise levels of humidity and temperature and change those preferences based on product. “The automated controls have resulted in even finer control with readouts in tenths of degrees, and the baker can dial in the product exactly then save to the recipe control for daily repeatability,” Mr. Kauffman said. In tests performed with  Scorpion data logger from AMF’s sister company Reading Thermal, the company’s proofers show less than 1°F or 1% RH variance along the product’s travel path, which ensures uniform proofing.

ABI has developed multiple-zone, individually adjustable climate controls. The integration of ductless climate control systems with water humidification prevents rapid temperature increases. “In addition, the use of water mist humidification systems have been instrumental in allowing precise management of temperature increases and the prevention of excessive heat rises,” Mr. Kuperman said.   

Valves regulate delivery of both heat and humidity in the proof box. “It’s important to have modulating valves on the steam and heat controls to keep the heat and humidity within the enclosure as close to a set point as possible,” Mr. Achterberg said. Cooling coils can also help maintain temperatures and prevent proofers from overheating.

The Fred D. Pfening Co. implements solenoid valves to offer control. These valves pulse on and off at controlled intervals. “With an on/off valve, it is either completely open or completely closed,” said Brian Doan, project engineer. “Instead, we break the control into time periods where we pulse the valve for a given percentage of the time.” These offer bakers tighter control with less initial cost.

Monitoring conditions

Keeping a close eye on proofer conditions also helps bakers make quick adjustments to maintain the ideal environment for their products. “Operationally, proofing systems must maintain tight tolerances regardless of overall plant operating conditions,” said Anthony Salsone, sales engineer, G&F Systems. The company maintains these tight tolerances by systematically monitoring the environment and relative humidity conditions through specific control sequences. “This systematic approach reduces energy waste and improves product quality and consistency,” he continued.

JBT Corp. combined its sensor technology with a cooling coil, heating element and vertical air flow. This gives processors tighter control over humidity levels as well as an enhanced process overall. “Our sensor technology is tighter for the temperature and humidity range, our cooling coil offers more precise environment control, and the way we combine water mist and air flow in our GyroCompact self-stacking proofer helps not only with transfer but also with maintaining the quality of the finished product,” Mr. Somerfield said.

The very design of the self-stacking proofer, introduced in the mid-2000s by JBT, keeps proofing variables in check. “Its design and construction allows better control of other factors including temperature, humidity and air flow,” Mr. Somerfield said.

Managing settings

Controls are critical to ensuring the proof box stays at just the right temperature and humidity levels for the dough moving through it; however, bakeries often make many different products that might require different proof box settings. PLCs can store the precise settings for each product the bakery makes.

“The other important feature available with newer and more advanced controls systems is the ability for stored recipe management and SCADA systems that store all the critical control measurements by product type,” Mr. Kuperman said. “This enables easy changeover between products and ensures that the precise adjustments required for each new product are all delivered to the equipment automatically.”

An interactive easy-to-use control system allows the bakery to maintain a precise proofer environment without needing highly skilled technicians to operate the equipment.

Gemini Bakery Equipment Co. prioritized flexibility in its proofing systems to match the diversity of product ranges bakers are producing today. This includes the control systems that are fully automated and menu driven to make desired environmental conditions repeatable from product to product. Ethernet connectivity also provides for greater capture and exchange of proofing data.
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