POWER Engineers

As a fourth-generation baker with more than 45 years of experience in bakery production, operations and bakery ingredient sales management, Bill Zimmerman has seen it all. Well, almost. As president of The Long Co., Chicago, IL, Mr. Zimmerman works with a veteran staff of manufacturing, engineering, food safety, sanitation, human resources, quality control, purchasing and financial experts who consult with bakeries of all types and sizes.

The co-op offers services on all facets of a bakery’s operation, including eliminating downtime, minimizing changeovers, buying equipment and more. Baking & Snack asked Mr. Zimmerman to check with his veteran consultants and offer sound suggestions on tackling some of the everyday challenges that bakers face. For more information on The Long Co., visit www.thelongco.com.

Baking & Snack: How does The Long Co. work with bakeries to improve their operations?

Bill Zimmerman: First, The Long Co.’s only focus is bakeries. We concentrate specifically on all aspects of the baking process. We work to identify all issues that relate to the efficient operation of the members bakery.

Second, we have an extremely knowledgeable staff, which is comprehensive in all areas of the industry. We not only assist the plants in finding the issues that affect the bottom line but also assist our members in solving these issues in a cost-effective manner by working directly with personnel, training, conducting inspections and following up.

Third, we are a nonprofit co-op. We work not just for our members but with our members. Our managing board of directors is made up of active members within the co-op.

What is the lowest-hanging fruit for improving plant efficiencies?

Good housekeeping responsibilities, according to Mike Hull, director of food safety and sanitation services. Each employee in the plant should have defined housekeeping responsibilities. If done correctly and consistently, this allows the sanitation staff the necessary time to do their required in-depth cleaning. Good housekeeping does not cost the plant monetarily; however if not done correctly, it can impact the efficiency of the overall food safety and sanitation program. By identifying the small basic issues and taking care of them on a timely schedule, the larger issues should take care of themselves.

What areas are most difficult to improve a bakery’s operations?

Two areas stand out. The first is communication with employees. A better-informed employee is a more productive employee. Sometimes, we do not give employees enough information about their tasks but expect them to do the job according to our expectations. Supervision’s follow-up with employees will help the overall operations of the plant.

Second is setting standards and seeing that the standards are met. It is difficult to agree on posted standards, and it is even harder to ensure that they are being followed across the board according to your company’s specifications. If the plant is going to produce a standard product, everyone in the organization must follow the same procedures.

What suggestions do you give bakers when they explore capital expenditures?

Make sure you evaluate the expenditures from each department’s needs. Do your research. Time spent up front will be returned in the end. Return on investment, equipment layout, ease of operation, cleaning and maintenance are all vital for proper operation.

In addition, make sure to determine all the costs of purchase, installation, spare parts, plant modifications, etc. It would be costly to purchase a piece of equipment, spend your capital and then determine that the cost for reinforcement of the floor or electrical work was not included in the capital dollar value.

Don’t wait until the very last minute of the installation to start training plant personnel. Get them to take ownership of the equipment as soon as possible.

The latest and greatest equipment might not be what’s best for your organization. Look at the equipment’s function, not its novelty.

Do a post-installation report and review it to ensure the process meets the goals set for the project.

What key questions should they ask before buying a piece of equipment?

Here are a few good ones from Gary Swymeler, vice-president of operations consulting services: Can I see this equipment in operation? What is the availability and cost of spare parts, and which spare parts are recommended to have on hand daily in the engineering parts room?

Based on cost, what is the payback time for the plant in labor, energy and other savings? How difficult is it to maintain and clean? Are these parts compatible with company standards?

What does the warranty cover? Are all parts only available through the OEM? What is the lead time of the typical parts delivery from the OEM?

Editor's note: Stay tuned for Part 2 in the Nov. 13 issue of Operations Update.

This story is sponsored by POWER Engineers, which has one of the most comprehensive teams of engineers and specialists serving the baking and snack industry. As an extension of its clients' engineering teams, the company provides program management, integrated solutions and full facility design for the baking and snack industry. Learn more at www.powereng.com/food.