A new line at Oxford, Pa., demonstrates improvements are possible.

THOMASVILLE, GA. — When you’re responsible for the manufacturing operations of a publicly-held company producing fresh packaged bakery foods with annual sales of approximately $3.7 billion, you and your team are always on the lookout for ways to enhance those operations.

“Wrapping is the next area of improvement,” said Robert Benton, senior vice-president and chief manufacturing officer, Flowers Foods, Thomasville.

He spoke recently with Baking & Snack when the magazine’s editors toured the new bread line at the company’s Oxford, Pa., bakery, for a report in the February 2015 issue.

Keeping up with technology is a way of life at Flowers Foods. The manufacturing and operations support team constantly evaluates what’s new, searching for what can be put to work profitably at its bakeries.

“We go to industry shows to gather new ideas,” Mr. Benton said, “and we also sit down frequently with vendors, new and current, to challenge them to present their best ideas. After all, we’re bakers, not design engineers. We need their input and interaction.

“Every project generates new ideas for the next one.”

For the bread line at Oxford, the company chose a new approach to overwrapping oval loaves.

For each of the bakery’s wrapping lines, a longer-than-usual flighted conveyor mounted on wheels connects an AMF bread slicer to an AMF bagger. When running oval loaves, these conveyors are pulled out and replaced with Formost Fuji overwrappers, also mounted on casters, that move into the designated position. Flowers engineers worked with the equipment vendor on a new wrapper design to enable this flexibility.

“Putting the overwrappers in-line with the rest of the packaging equipment minimizes handling of the product and allows a much higher rate of speed and less scrap,” Mr. Benton observed.

The overwrapper sends packaged loaves along to the bread bagger, and they are sealed by a Burford twist tyer and individually dated by a Markem coder, just like the bakery’s pan bread styles: Nature’s Own and Wonder bread.

Bagged bread loaves enter AMF Versaloaders at each wrapping station. These robotic pattern formers are used in a number of Flowers plants to load delivery baskets. The company standardized on basket size some years ago. Each delivery basket waiting to be loaded is first run through an AMF basket washing system, consisting of an unstacker, a trash dump unit and a washer.

The pattern former arranges loaves according to variety and size and inserts the grouped packages into the waiting basket. The system hands the filled basket off to the AMF bottom-up basket stacker, which cycles trays up until reaching the correct number of baskets.

The whole stack moves out onto the Cannon Machinery in-floor conveyor. Because of plant layout, the conveyor runs through the back of the cake room to the shared dock on the other side of the building.

All products — cake and bread — leave the bakery on trailers driven to Flowers’ warehouses.

“These are located where best to serve our various markets,” noted Dan Scott, president, Flowers Baking Co. of Oxford. The warehouses arrange the orders and, generally, independent distributors sell Oxford’s products to customers ranging from small retail grocers to large supermarkets, club stores, convenience stores and the full range of food service operations.