Richmond Baking: Oasis in the Desert

by Steve Berne
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For contract manufacturing customers, selecting the right manufacturing partner is like finding an oasis in the desert. And for many seeking help with baked foods, that oasis has a name: Richmond Baking. The efficiency and flexibility of the company’s Alma, GA, plant has proven critical for many customers.

The company has been around since 1855. This year marks its 105th anniversary operating under ownership by the Quigg family. It operates bakeries at its headquarters location, Richmond, IN; McMinnville, OR; and Alma.

To facilitate growth, the company opened what is now Richmond Baking of Georgia, at Alma, in 1980. This plant, which began with 30,000 sq ft, has expanded twice in the past 30 years and added several production lines. The current 95,000-sq-ft facility produces cookies, snack crackers and cracker crumbs as well as specialty gourmet crackers for national distribution.

Reasons to locate in Alma were multifold. The building, a shell structure situated on 10 acres, with utilities in place, has plenty of room to expand to meet potential customer needs, and local and state governments provided tax incentives as well as a great workforce available. "The area was historically textile heavy but very depressed in 1980s," said Bill Quigg, Jim Quigg’s son and current company president. "Richmond’s baking and blending operation was the only industrial food manufacturing in town."

A snack cracker line used mainly for crumb production was added in the late 1980s with two additional bulk blending lines soon after. However, the biggest change to the plant came in 1998 when a cookie/cracker line was added, and the company’s first retail cracker product shipped less than two months later. Prior to that, production was all 50-lb bulk bags.

The line was transferred from another cracker manufacturer in Illinois, and the project to move and set up the line was headed by Jerry Lady, a second-shift supervisor and 8-year veteran of Richmond Baking’s Indiana facility. At the end of the project, he was promoted to plant manager at Alma.

In 2003, the graham cracker line was converted from a bulk-bag operation to a branded cookie line. The original line setup included a T.L. Green 38-in. sheeter ahead of the 120-ft mesh-band oven, and production ran from west to east within the factory. To convert the line for retail cookie production, the company had to reverse production flow because of space constraints. A rotary moulder and wire-cut depositor were installed to add product flexibility, and the oven band was replaced with a solid steel type. About 30 ft was added to the oven run-out as well as a 120-ft glycol cooling tunnel.

"We also added two Bosch vertical form-fill-seal (f/f/s) systems but changed them out within six months to TNA high-speed vertical systems for needed flexibility and also added a Jones Criterion cartoner. Three Campbell Hardage horizontal wrappers added even more package styles to the system." Mr. Lady said. "This gave us the ability to do bag-in-box or flow wrapped products. "

READY FOR PRIME TIME.
Two years ago, the plant remodeled the 150-ft APV Baker cracker line by adding a proofing room capable of holding 60 troughs of sponge dough. This enabled the plant to produce a wide variety of leavened dough crackers, which require a 24-hour fermentation stage. "We also added an in-line laminator," Mr. Lady said, "as well as a preheat section on the oven-band return." This helps heat the band prior to dough sheet depositing. This enables faster baking by activating the leavening and converting water to steam earlier in the baking process.

The higher BTUs and laminations permit operations to produce nearly any type of cracker including light-textured items that require higher temperatures and shorter bake times, in addition to the more dense items such as wheat crackers. On the packaging side, four additional TNA vertical f/f/s systems were installed in 2006. Each bagger is a triple-jaw system allowing smaller-weight and single-serve production. "Throughput is greater for each bagger than the original TNAs that are 2-jaw systems," Mr. Lady said.

"The packaging configurations we implemented add tremendous flexibility by being able to run multiple bag sizes simultaneously off one production run or the same or different bag sizes from both lines using diverter bars on the feed conveyors," he continued. "Or cookies can run on one line while crackers run on the second.

Helping hands. As a contract manufacturer, Richmond’s advantage is flexibility. "While we have large-volume customers, we specialize in mid-size baking companies that might only need a few shifts worth of production a week," said Don Lindeman, vice-president of sales. "It is nothing for us to reconfigure the line to offer whatever capability is needed. Products might be test-market runs for larger companies or a month’s needs for a smaller company. Some companies also introduce a product into food service and, through its success, move distribution to retail. We have the capability to serve customers all the way through."

"While Alma may be a small quaint town, customers see us as an oasis in the desert," Mr. Lindeman said. "We partner with customers, and in some cases, we’re their only hope. We are the size that is perfect for their next growth phase. Then we can grow with them. It is low risk for them, and we offer the packaging flexibility for customers to try new approaches to marketing their items."

MOVING ALONG.
The plant’s seven silos hold its supply of pastry and patent flours. Bagged whole-wheat and graham flour (finely ground whole-grain soft wheat) supplement production needs, and the company recently began experimenting with flax and ancient grains based on customer requests.

Overall, operations run three baking and two dry blending lines. Flexibility in packaging includes four bulk packaging lines, three horizontal wrappers, six vertical baggers and three cartoning systems.

Products include laminated and nonlaminated snack crackers, animal crackers, graham crackers, cheese and vegetable crackers, as well as rotary-moulded and wire-cut cookies. The plant also blends a variety of graham cracker crumbs, breadings, dry batters, spice blends and cracker meal.

Variation in packaging ranges from ½- to 16-oz bags; 100-Cal packs; multipack cartons; bag-in-box; 1-, 2- or 3-count horizontal wrapped cookies; overwrapped trays; 100- to 300-count food service packs; 10- to 50-lb bulk bags; and super sacks. The original line at the plant produces cracker crumbs for dry batters and breadings for further processors, food service operators and restaurants. Dough is mixed in either a Peerless horizontal mixer or a T.L. Green vertical spindle mixer, depending on product requirements. After sheeting, docked dough bakes in a T.L. Green 120-ft 3-zone direct-gas-fired oven for 5 minutes before transferring to a Proctor & Schwartz dryer fed by an oscillating belt and reverse-rotating fingers to ensure even width and height distribution. Drying reduces cracker moisture from 25% to less than 10%. The crackers, which are docked using an oyster cracker roller die, easily break apart and are coarse-ground. Urschel equipment and Rotex sifters are used for customers requiring finer grinds. These allow very tight tolerances for finished grind size.

The cracker meal, crushed saltine crackers and bread crumbs are typically sold to seafood, chicken, beef and vegetable processors throughout the Southeast and southern half of the US. The plant produces more than 60 varieties of breadings, 60% of which are custom blends for customers.

FLEX LINES.
Line No. 2 prepares cookie dough using a Peerless mixer. This feeds either a Weidenmiller rotary moulder, employing rotating fingers to kibble the dough that helps maintain even distribution across the hopper, or an APV Baker wire-cut machine with an oscillating wire and dynamic band raise. A Werner Lehara 120-ft indirect-gas-fired recirculating oven bakes the cookies. Ambient cooling is sufficient in winter, but assisted cooling through an APV Baker liquid-glycol cooling tunnel is required in the summer to combat the Georgia heat and humidity.

This line is isolated from the rest of production by solid walls and used to produce gluten-free items. "The isolation eliminates dust and potential cross contamination from the other lines and allows more complete washdown of dough makeup components," Mr. Lady said.

Cookies have numerous options for packaging. The first three options include any or all of the six TNA high-speed vertical f/f/s machines for bagging products. Lane diverters direct bags to cartoning into either a single bag-in-box format using a Jones Criterion cartoner, a multipack (100-Cal style) carton using a Jones CMV cartoner or individual bags bulk packed in food service shipping cases.

Other options have the cookies travel to horizontal wrapping systems to be packaged by three Campbell Hardage flow wrappers with either a touchless feeding system for soft cookies or shingle-stacked and fed into a Campbell Hardage shuttle feed system for rotary moulded cookies.

VERSATILE LINE.
Laminated crackers such as Hard Wheat Cheddar with Sesame are produced on line No. 3. Dough is mixed in either a Peerless horizontal single-sigma mixer or a T.L. Green vertical spindle mixer. Dough proofs in the temperature- and humidity-controlled room before being fed to the sheeter. An optional FPA in-line lamination system precedes the sheeter, which uses three reducing stations to attain appropriate sheet thickness prior to docking. The lamination step can be bypassed depending on product requirements.

An APV Baker direct-gas-fired 150-ft, 3-zone oven includes an optional preheat system to expedite the cooking process. After baking for three to eight minutes, crackers can be oil sprayed, if desired, in a top and bottom oil spray machine. An 8-ft ambient cooling section with vacuum stack draws off hot air after baking and reduces product temperature by 150 F° before products move to packaging.

Packaging scenarios include tray packing and overwrapping, or the crackers can travel to the TNA vertical f/f/s systems for bagging and optional cartoning. All products are checked using Heat and Control checkweighers and Safeline metal detectors.

At the baggers, products from line No. 2 move along a Heat and Control FastBack conveyor system to any of the six baggers. Two baggers use Ishida 14-head weighscales feeding the 2-jaw TNA baggers. These baggers can optionally be diverted off the laning system to a Jones Criterion cartoner with capacity of 150 cartons per minute.

The other four TNA baggers feature Yamato 14-head scales coming off a TNA Roflo conveyor system. This gateless system uses servo motors to precisely control product flow to the weigh scales. These baggers are triple jaw systems that allow faster throughput and smaller weights.

Finished bags can be cartoned in either a single bag per carton or multipacked for 100-Cal style cartons. Bags can alternatively be packed in a mutipack food service case using Benchmark Automation bag counters. Gable-top cartons are also an option.

The weighscale and bagging area is isolated by floor-to-ceiling clear plastic lining, and the interior space is air-conditioned. "This creates positive air pressure within the enclosure, enhancing dust control and allowing gluten-free packaging," Mr. Lady said.

BACK-BENDING.
Flexibility is a key innovative aspect of Richmond Baking South. That flexibility is evident throughout the company and its mission. "The size of the facility is large enough to offer a wide variety of state-of-the-art equipment and technology yet small enough to have an incredibly fast response time and flexible scheduling/capacity," Mr. Lindeman said.

Currently, the plant runs at about 70% capacity, topping off at 80% during its peak summer season. That gives plenty of flexibility for future needs and to meet customers’ schedule demands, according to Mr. Quigg.

 

END

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Baking & Snack, April 1, 2009, starting on Page 37. Click
here to search that archive. 

 

 

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