Specialists must keep their capabilities well-honed to maintain competitive advantages and support economic growth. That’s why sweet goods manufacturer J.S.B. Industries turned to state-of-the-art technology and built a second bakery when the company found itself pushing production limits. In mid-2011, it moved its Top 5 stock-keeping units (SKUs) out of its busy headquarters bakery at Chelsea, MA, and into a new location 30 miles north at Lawrence, MA.

For the second time in a decade, J.S.B. expanded substantially to meet customer demand for co-packed muffins, snack loaves and sweet goods. Today, the new Lawrence bakery houses one high-speed sweet goods line, capable of producing more than 5,000 lb per hour, and there’s space for two more such lines in the 85,000-sq-ft building set on a 3-acre lot. Ultimately, 30 to 40 product styles may be made here. Total investment was just under $7 million.

Creating the Lawrence outpost marked the right opportunity in the right building with the right technology, all at the right time for the company.

“It was kismet,” said Scott Anderson, J.S.B. Industries; vice-president, operations, “but seriously speaking, Lawrence gives the potential for growth to a company that works hard to make customer requests a reality.”

Brian Anderson, the company’s vice-president of purchasing, added, “The Lawrence bakery makes available capacity for lots of new things for us and our customers.”

“This building is our future: The sky’s the limit here,” Scott said.

Contract baking specialist

In 1978, Jack Anderson found himself baking more and more muffins to supply his growing chain of Boston-area sandwich shops, hence the business’ original name, Muffin Town. Recognizing that other food service operators — especially school systems and institutional feeders — needed consistent quality muffins, Jack turned his commissary into a separate wholesale bakery. He incorporated it as J.S.B. Industries, naming it for his three sons, John, Scott and Brian, who eventually joined the business. Today, J.S.B.’s brands include Muffin Town, Aesop’s Bagels, Smart Choice Whole grain baked goods, Snack’N Loaves and Madeline’s Gourmet Cookies.

School food service gave J.S.B. its business breakthrough and set the stage for growth that took the company into a 100,000-sq-ft plant at Chelsea in 2000 and now into the Lawrence location. The company signed the New York City school system as its first major customer, and the school category accounts for roughly 60% of total volume today. It supplies individually wrapped baked items to schools throughout the country from Washington, DC, to San Diego, CA. The company also has substantial business with nationally branded retail food companies.

“Our main focus is co-packing,” Scott said. “We do a lot of products with other people’s names on them. That’s fine by us. We’ve been working with more marketing companies in the past 10 years. They develop the brand and come to us for the product, asking, ‘Can you make this?’ ” Chelsea houses J.S.B.’s product development activities.

As a family-run business, J.S.B. takes advantage of a lean management structure and the quick decision-making this affords. Jack, the founder, serves as CEO, with John as vice-president of sales, Scott as vice-president of operations and logistics, and Brian as vice president of purchasing and IT. “Much of our responsibilities overlap and intermingle,” Brian explained.

Scott added, “We work well together, and we fill each other’s shoes as needed.”

Customers benefit from the dynamics of this tight-knit group, too. “We spend considerable time with our customers,” Scott said. “With this new facility, we have room for growth, and our state-of-the-art equipment puts us at a different level competitively. Many companies today are struggling and can’t put the dollars into their facilities, but we can and do.”

Opportunity at Lawrence

As demand increased during the 1990s, the Andersons set up the Chelsea facility. Within a few years, that entire site filled up, and the company again faced the need to expand capacity. The management team decided to branch out to another location.

“Word got out,” Scott recalled, and a family friend who held political office in the city of Lawrence soon got in touch. Long an industrial power, the city and its surrounding area experienced a devastating economic downturn in recent years. The city’s people, its readily available manufacturing sites and the access to interstate highways were critical factors in J.S.B.’s decision. Tax incentives and a growth-minded electric utility sweetened the deal. “The city bent over backwards for us,” he said.

Although the company looked at several locations in the area, it chose the first one it visited. The project proceeded quickly, and the timeline was tight. J.S.B. first met with Lawrence officials in spring 2010. It bought the Andover Street location in June and immediately put its equipment needs out to bid. The building once served as a bakery and required little adaptation other than the addition of floor drains and a beefed-up electrical system. The company also installed a 600-ft-long storage freezer along one wall.

By late January 2011, the processing and packaging lines were onsite and being commissioned, and the bakery was up and running in June. “We’ve been in operation about a year,” Scott said, “and have been truly productive for the past six months.”

The Lawrence bakery runs with 35 to 40 people and four administrative staffers. Scott manages the bakery, locating his office there. Andre Andrade, J.S.B.’s corporate production supervisor, oversees both plants.

While the Andersons nicknamed this bakery Muffin Town, J.S.B. only recently added muffins to the Lawrence facility. The new plant started up doing snack loaves, cornbread and muffin tops.

Under the hood

Long before J.S.B. managers decided to add a second bakery, they knew how they wanted to equip it. “My father has been eyeing Auto-Bake technology ever since he first saw it 15 years ago,” Scott said. Jack manages corporate investment projects and made this decision early, but the company did its due diligence by testing the system before committing to the order.

Testing established the need for a dual cooling system. This enables products to be depanned directly into final packaging after traversing the ambient and refrigerated sections of the serpentine cooler. Such flexibility ensures products developed in the future can also be accommodated in this cooling system.

The line’s Wonderware supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) control system running on Ethernet allows Scott to “look in on the system” remotely from his office and even from home. Controls allow monitoring, interrogation and downloading of profiles and data. The real-time access maximizes capabilities and minimizes unnecessary downtime through quick remote response.

J.S.B. brought its formulations to a test bakery operated by Dunbar Systems, Lemont, IL, Auto-Bake’s US representative. “Using this facility allows a production team to test-drive the system, creating confidence that is reflected by ease of use after installation,” explained Amanda Hicks, co-CEO, Auto-Bake Pty. Ltd., Hornsby, Australia. “Establishing bake profiles at the test facility significantly reduced the time required during startup.”

Real-time monitoring of zone temperature ensures total energy control. “Auto-Bake’s in-house baker worked alongside the Muffin Town expert to optimize individual bake profiles of the different products,” Ms. Hicks explained. “Once set, these bake profiles are maintained, ensuring absolute repeatability for all product types.”

Dunbar Systems’ Mark Dunbar, executive vice-president, and Jim Diver, vice-president, operations, assisted in laying out and integrating the processing line as well as facilitating installation. The new line occupies about one-third of the Lawrence building and sits adjacent to ingredient receiving and storage areas to simplify processing operations. A 3-tier freezer contains frozen fruit ingredients.

The building’s large exterior doors allowed J.S.B. to bring in equipment on flatbed trucks and offload it indoors, protected from the weather. Vendors met project schedules, according to Scott. “It was satisfying to us that the main pieces, which came from overseas, made it here on their timelines,” he said.

J.S.B. deliberately sought equipment at the leading edge of technology, according to Scott and Brian, starting with the Auto-Bake Serpentine integrated oven, cooler and pan washer. The need for exact paper cup positioning prompted selection of the Veropack system, while accuracy in batter portioning that avoids spillage or tailing led to the choice of the Hinds-Bock depositor. A Mallet & Co. targeted spray system handles pan release oils. The high-tech approach continued with the choice of an ABB robotic product removal system. The end result is a minimal number of personnel in the baking area.

High volume, high speed

“This building is intended to do long runs and mass production while Chelsea is better at handling frequent changeovers,” Scott explained. “Anything we can make here, we can still make at Chelsea, but our efficiencies and labor costs are more favorable at Lawrence. The new line has been everything we expected and more.”

J.S.B. sets its SKU threshold at 2,000 cases and schedules production at the new bakery for 1,500 to 2,000 cases per 8-hour shift.

The bakery receives its eggs and vegetable oils in bulk tank totes that automatically dispense on call to the E.T. Oakes slurry mixer. The line operator adds Winona patent flour from Bay State Milling and Pillsbury bases as required. After mixing, the system pumps the batter to holding tanks that feed the depositor.

At 155 ft long and 6 ft, 4 in. wide, the Auto-Bake line carries 505 pans, with 124 in the oven at any given time. Hourly output ranges from 24,000 muffin tops (3,250 lb) to 38,000 snack loaves (5,120 lb). Baking time is 16 to 30 minutes, depending on product type and size. The control system synchronizes the ancillary release oil sprayer, paper cup inserter and batter depositor. The operator needs only to push the start button.

Pans filled with batter travel a serpentine path, back and forth, rising a level with each one-way pass, as they proceed through the oven. They briefly emerge to cool under ambient conditions before entering the refrigerated section that brings the products to the proper internal temperature. The cooler, set above the line’s washer and dryer, sends pans along another serpentine path that descends to eye-level height for depanning.

A proprietary “clipless” pan-carrying method eases pan changeovers because it does not require clips to hold the pans in place, even when inverted through the washer and dryer. The fixed pan system retains pans throughout transport, minimizing pan wear.

J.S.B. chose thermal oil heating for the oven chamber and the coil in the washer/dryer. Auto-Bake reports that recent tests of the system’s recycling of heated air plus its compact ratio of baking surface to exterior surface together save 25 to 33% in energy costs, compared with older technologies.

The pan washer is integrated with the oven and cooler and operates as part of the pans’ return path. This design reduces water consumption, enhances cleaning and saves space by eliminating labor-intensive off-line washing or space-wasting parallel systems.

Pack, freeze and ship

Depanned by a dual-head robot, finished products move along a Delta distribution belt to the packaging area. The robot’s interchangeable end effectors can handle different pan configurations and provide capacity for future needs.

The conveyor carrying finished items passes through an opening in the wall that separates baking from packaging operations. All school food service items are individually wrapped and placed into master cases. The Delta Systems line distributes products to two horizontal form/fill/seal wrappers that operate at 200 to 400 pieces per minute. A third line provides the option of bulk packaging, with operators who load pieces into plastic trays. The climate-controlled packaging room preserves the integrity of the finished product.

An ADCO Manufacturing tray and case erector feeds delivery cartons to the packaging lines. Cases receive a tape closure from the Little David machine and go through a Lock Inspection Systems metal detector before a packaging operator stacks filled cases onto pallets. Plastic trays, film and corrugated case blanks are stored in the shipping bay, convenient to their point of use in the packaging room.

“Everything we make here leaves the bakery frozen,” Scott explained. The loaded pallets get 24 to 48 hours of freezer storage before shipping.

Going places fast

Both of J.S.B.’s manufacturing sites are certified at Safe Quality Food (SQF) 2000 Level 3. SQF is a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP)-based supplier assurance code for food manufacturers and is recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). The Lawrence bakery underwent SQF Level 3 qualification in May.

“This certification sets us up to sell to so many more companies,” Scott said. “It’s a progressive move on our part and one that satisfies mandates from many customers. And it recognizes the hard work and dedication of the staff.”

Despite today’s lean economic times, J.S.B.’s business is growing and growing fast. “We’re quite fortunate to have a good base of customers and strong management,” Scott said. “The future is very bright, and we’re going places fast.”

What differentiates J.S.B. from other bakers is its ability to adjust and change, according to Brian. “We want to say yes, to do things that are different in processes and products, things that other companies can’t do,” he said.