Designing a flexible facility

by Charlotte Atchley
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For bakeries to grow their business, it’s imperative that their production lines are as flexible as possible. That means quick changeovers and plenty of room for modular equipment. Design aspects of a bakery can encourage flexibility.

“Bakery equipment and processes need to be flexible enough to cope with a variety of modes of operation that match a continually changing marketplace, reducing energy usage, minimizing waste and conforming to the appropriate regulatory requirements,” Mr. Salazar said. Investments in technology, automation and infrastructure can ensure all aspects of the process are optimized, including flexibility.

Fast changeovers are the critical component of flexible production lines. This can be as simple as changing a die on a divider or a setting on a sheeter, or changeovers can mean removing an entire modular piece of equipment and replacing it with something else. Lines with breathing room, or plenty of surrounding clear space, make this process easier. “Don’t underestimate the periphery areas around the conveyor and equipment, even if it means making the building a little bigger,” Mr. Koury said. By making space between each production line, bakers ensure enough space for operators to work and make adjustments for equipment to move in and out of the line quickly.

This accessibility also helps with utilities. Straight-line production lines with plenty of space make switching utilities between equipment simpler. “As [operators] make changes, they can just reach up overhead and tap into the utility lines and connect to all the new equipment as they want,” Mr. Carr said. He also suggested a walkable ceiling for utilities work to improve safety and flexibility. “You can do a lot of overhead work without interfering with anything on the floor,” he said.

A bakery’s ultimate goal is always growth, but eventually growth means new lines. There are a few things a baker can do during initial facility design to make expansion easier for the future.

Preparation is a little difficult without a plan, so Mr. Allsup encouraged bakers to develop a one-, three- and five-year plan for their business. “That can be a road map so with that mindset, you can be forward-thinking,” he said. “With future thinking today, it can make that realization a lot easier as we lead down a path to success.”

The obvious point is choosing a site and designing enough space so that when it’s time to expand, the square footage is already there to handle it. It’s also important to anticipate when that expansion will happen so space doesn’t waste money. “Not allowing or designing enough room for expansion will be a costly mistake, especially if your expansion will require additional equipment, human resources, larger utilities and upgrades,” Mr. Salazar said. “When adding too much too fast in the designing stage and if not planned or timed correctly, someone will be held paying for the unused space in heating and cooling, resulting in a costly lack of planning.”

Another benefit of straight-line production is easier expansions. “Designing a linear bakery makes the future expansion easily doable because you’re just replicating what you built the first time,” Mr. Jernigan said.

When it comes to space available, Mr. Carr warned against forgetting the outside of the bakery as well. Employee parking, added trucks and receiving space all come into play with an expansion.

Utilities are another aspect bakers need to consider when designing a bakery for future expansion. The best thing for utilities is to be oversized. Limiting the bakery to its current energy needs means more costs later to boost the utilities during the expansion. Bakers can save time and money by oversizing the utilities at the start. “It doesn’t cost much to oversize at the beginning,” Mr. Carr said. “It’s certainly less expensive than going back and running lines later on.”

Good planning and design upfront can take a new bakery from rough waters to smooth sailing. The hallmarks of a streamlined operation — flexibility, efficiency, safety and growing room — can all be built into the facility at the outset with a good team of facility engineers and a willingness to plan ahead. With these principles in place, bakers can set their new bakeries up for success.
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