Time and temperature dictate everything in cookie and cracker manufacturing, according to Terry Knabe, president, JMS Associates International, Inc., Fort Myers, FL. A baking industry consultant since 1992, Mr. Knabe has more than 39 years of experience in baking operations management, which he shared with attendees at the 87th annual Biscuit and Cracker Manufacturers' Association (BCMA) Technical Conference, which ran May 20-23 in Atlanta, GA.

Mr. Knabe teamed up with Christopher Deasy, senior solutions analyst, Deasy and Associates, Inc., Avon Lake, OH, for a breakout session on process control. Mr. Knabe presented "Process Control for Fermented and Snack Cracker Products, and Mr. Deasy's background in social anthropology allowed him to present a human-oriented complement with "Anthrotechnical Design and Sustainable Quality Systems or 'How to Implement Sane and Useful Process Control.'"

On the technical side of the process control issue, Mr. Knabe emphasized the idea that companies should "Do it right the first time and do it the same way every time." Consistency in the baking process, of course, yields consistency in the final product.

Many cracker manufacturers operate with a "buffer," rolling about 25% of one batch into the next batch in an attempt to create consistency. Mr. Knabe warned against this technique, saying that by the time the whole buffer is gone, the dough will be very different from where it started, actually creating the fluctuations the company is trying to prevent.

Among Mr. Knabe's favorite excuses for resisting a process control program are, "That will not work here like it does in other companies," and "We have always done it this way." No matter what the situation, he said, process control will work for any company that commits to it.

A big part of that commitment, according to Mr. Deasy, is the behavioral side. "No matter how advanced we get technically, we can never take the people aspect out," he said. In fact, he argued that the more technical the equipment gets, the more a plant will need experienced technicians.

"You can't idiot-proof the process," he said. Instead, you need savvy people to head off problems before they begin. The key is to empower employees with accountability and expectations, and to follow up on those expectations after they're set.

Most plant managers, Mr. Deasy said, get used to looking at the numbers and taking over a machine or process when things go wrong, rather than taking the time to explain the reasons behind the change to people on the floor. Without proper communication and ownership over the process, employees tend to adjust their stations almost randomly when they see inconsistency in the final product, instead of truly analyzing the cause of that inconsistency.

It's easier to focus on the technical side of the process as a manager, fixing problems yourself because it will take less time than trying to explain it to someone. "If you want to make it sustainable, we've got to have that mentoring and training," Mr. Deasy said. He suggested focusing on roles and goals to be able to set up a process control system that will be closer to managing itself.