For Wback GmbH, one of Europe’s leading industrial baking companies, the third time was the charm when in 2014 it started up its latest high-speed bun operation at its 60,000-sq-ft facility in Bönen, Germany.

Although the company commissioned the line more than a year ago, Norbert Kugler, chief engineer, recently remembered it as if it happened yesterday. Why wouldn’t he? “The first day on April 13, we ran test doughs,” Mr. Kugler recalled. “On April 14, we were selling product.” He paused for a second, maybe to add a little emphasis, and then uttered just three words: “Just one day,” along with a big grin.

Such a smooth start-up didn’t happen by chance, although any engineer will admit that it takes a little luck — and a lot of coordination — to get such an automated line up and running, especially one that now produces more than 830 buns a minute or 50,000 buns an hour.

According to Mr. Kugler, experience from lessons learned paved the smooth trail. As the company’s brochure states, “Once you’ve learned something, you don’t forget it.”

In 2005, when starting up its first 50,000-buns-an-hour line at the Bönen bakery, where the company is also headquarted, he noted it took two weeks of testing before Wback was able to produce salable buns for the market. Three years later, the company opened up its second bakery — again a similar line with 50,000 buns-an-hour capacity — in the city of Leipheim in southern Germany. “Leipheim also took some time to start up,” Mr. Kugler admitted. “But the new production line here in Bönen was fantastic.”

By the millions

Overall, Wback’s high-performance lines crank out up to 3 million buns a day for QSR chains and private-label retail customers throughout most of Western Europe. Located in the Rhineland about an hour’s drive from Düsseldorf’s airport, the Bönen bakery makes 2 million buns daily primarily for customers in central and northern Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and northern France. Meanwhile, its Leipheim facility — with its single bun line — serves Bavaria and southern Germany as well as Austria, Italy and a portion of France.

Part of what makes Wback so successful is its commitment to consistency and its streamlined product portfolio. It makes just soft buns and rolls — including 4-in., 5-in. and seeded hamburger buns as well as regular and extra-long, 7-in. hot dog buns. “We focus on buns and being the best we can with those,” Mr. Kugler said.

Planning for the new line began in 2013 about six months before breaking ground for the nearly 20,000-sq-ft expansion in Bönen. Mr. Kugler and a cross-functional team at Wback collaborated closely with its vendors, primarily Global Bakery Solutions (GBS), which drew up no less than 30 different layouts during the course of planning for the project. “We had worked with most of our vendors in the past, which made everything easier,” he said.

From the start, Mr. Kugler noted, much of the focus targeted heightening hygiene standards and streamlining sanitation as well as integrating process controls that monitor all aspects on the production line. The bakery is IFS (International Featured Standard) certified as part of the Global Food Safety Initiative for auditing food manufacturers.

Nearly all utilities and electronics, he pointed out, are located on a mezzanine level above the ceiling to reduce the time for sanitation and protect the sensitive systems during cleaning. Only operating panels or touchscreen controls can be found on the production floor. The bakery also relies on a Baro disinfection system to provide purified air through its central ventilation system. In addition to easing sanitation, Mr. Kugler pointed out, the design of the facility enhances food safety and quality control.

Likewise, he observed, Wback worked with vendors to apply the latest standards in sanitary design to its new equipment. When possible, engineers replaced flat or square surfaces with sloped, angled or inclined ones to prevent flour from building up and for easy removal during maintenance and cleaning. Even the new GBS high-speed mixer sits on an angled platform to control vibration and prevent water from seeping between the mixer and the floor.

Not only clean … lean

According to Mr. Kugler, the new bun line is so technologically advanced that it takes only four people — including a shift supervisor — to operate it. An additional 12 employees per shift handle finished buns and rolls in the centralized packaging department, which serves both production lines.

In all, 103 employees — including office personnel — work in the Bönen bakery. Four shifts — two on each line — operate up to 10 days straight before the facility shuts down for cleaning and preventive maintenance. That process typically takes only two shifts before the bakery is up and running again.

During Baking & Snack’s tour of the facility earlier this year, Mr. Kugler took time to highlight the similarities and differences of the two lines — specifically noting how they are integrated in the front in ingredient handling and in the back in packaging.

Software from an AZO ingredient handling system controls formulas and metering of wet and dry ingredients prior to mixing. Bulk systems include three 60-tonne flour silos and one 30-tonne salt silo as well as two 30,000-liter tanks — one for liquid sugar and another for soybean oil. Four AZO 30,000-liter cream yeast systems feed the two production lines.

An AZO liquid sour system combines flour, water, yeast, sugar and oil into three tanks to create the sponge. After two hours of fermentation, the 32°C sponge passes through a heat exchanger that reduces its temperature to 5°C. The batch is then transferred to one of two holding tanks. “Those two tanks serve both lines,” Mr. Kugler observed. “As one empties, the other gets ready to continue production.”

Wback relies on GBS high-speed mixers on both lines. Employing the high-speed Chorleywood process, the mixers take only 4 to 5 minutes to create 370-kg batches. “The difference is that we mix to energy, not time,” Mr. Kugler observed. “We check the watts per kilo to determine when the dough is complete.”

For buns, the predetermined target is 10.5 watt hours per kg — or about 3,800 watt hours per batch. The mixer uses chilled water if the incoming flour temperature is too warm. “With this process, we always have the same dough quality,” he added.

It takes 14 batches to produce 50,000 buns an hour. After the mixer discharges the dough, it tumbles into an AMF dough pump. To reduce shear, the new dough pump on Line No. 2 is Teflon-coated while the older model on the original line is stainless steel.

The dough is then pumped into an AMF HBDFlex six-pocket divider with a twin-screw “vector” extrusion system, which consistently feeds the metering manifold. Servo-controlled metering pumps accurately portion the dough pieces. The line relies on a recipe-driven setup to expedite changeovers.

From dividing, the dough pieces travel through rounder bars and a flour duster, then into an intermediate proofer for 2.5 minutes. The bakery typically uses four rounder bars for hot dog buns and six for hamburger buns. To reduce labor, a Burford Orbital Pan Shaker automatically aligns the pieces before the pans travel into a Stewart Systems dual-spiral proofer with the latest control package.

After passing through an optional Burford Smart Seeder or water splitter, the pans enter the Stewart System conveyorized oven with a low-profile, double-loop design to provide what Mr. Kugler described as a seamless bake at a consistent temperature. Buns bake consistently across the pan for 7.5 to 9 minutes at 255°C, with the time depending on the product variety.

Before vacuum depanning, a GBS system provides a burst of air to separate the buns from the pan and minimize rejects and waste. On the new line, the GBS depanner is also enclosed to provide enhanced sanitation.

After a GBS robotic system rotates the pans 90°, they head into a Rexfab pan inverter-cleaner — one of the first in Europe, according to Mr. Kugler. Two pans glide onto a two-sided magnetic inverter that rotates and flips them upside down. With a brush and a blast of air, seeds, buns and other debris fall to a collection area, also called a recycle bin. While that process is happening, two more pans are loaded onto the top of the inverter. As the cleaned pans are rotated, the next set of pans gets cleaned. Afterward, pans travel through a GBS pan cooler for 50 seconds to reduce their temperature before returning to makeup.

For changeovers, a GBS robotic pan stacker and unstacker picks up 12 pans at a time to unload and feed the system and streamline the transition from one bun variety to another. Mr. Kugler pointed out the gentle magnetic system minimizes pan damage.

The buns then travel on Intralox belts, used throughout most of the bakery — including the GBS spiral cooler — for their ease of sanitation. After cooling, a long line of buns heads into the packaging area and travels down to GHD Hartmann slicers and pillow packers. Mettler Toledo X-ray systems then detect not only for metal but also for other foreign matter. The pillow packs are placed in baskets or boxes then stacked or palletized automatically using Transnova RUF robotic systems.

As far as the company’s future, Mr. Kugler suggested that the final chapter hasn’t been written, although he declined to go into details. For Wback, the ultimate goal involves “making good things better.”

As the company notes in its literature, “We want to be the very best. No more and no less.”