Handling of ingredients from the time they are received until they enter the processing line is a critical component of any bakery or snack manufacturing facility. Processors today are more concerned about being able to track lots, and they demand efficiencies and consistencies that automated ingredient handling systems can provide.

Companies are facing increased labor and raw ingredient costs, and ingredient handling systems reduce manpower requirements and ingredient loss, according to Scott Fischer, director of sales and marketing, Shick USA, Kansas City, MO. "These systems offer accurate and consistent recipes and product lot tracking," he said. "Companies may also be in a position to receive some product in larger quantities, equating to lower product costs."

The ability to track ingredients electronically is a major advantage when considering food safety, label verification and allergen concerns, added Mark Ungashick, executive vice-president of Shick. "What I believe sets Shick apart is our innovative system concepts, which are accomplished without being overly complex or above the operating level of today’s workforce," he noted.

The return on investment (ROI) for automated ingredient handling equipment depends on the volume a company is using, according to Kevin Rohwer, vice-president, Contemar Silo Systems, Concord, ON. However, he said the savings are usually significant. "In these uncertain economic times, it has probably never been more important to control food input costs. Using an ingredient automation system allows manufacturers to reduce the purchase costs of their major ingredients by purchasing in bulk rather than in bags," he noted. "Financing and leasing rates have never been lower, and programs can be tailored so that the monthly payment of the equipment is equal to the monthly savings in ingredient costs."

Bulk ingredient handling systems offer many advantages that are often underestimated or overlooked simply because they are more difficult to quantify, according to Mr. Rohwer. "When a manufacturer makes the switch from bagged to bulk ingredients they are completely eliminating the need to handle those ingredients. No one has to unload pallets from trucks and place them in racks. No one has to move the pallets into the production area as they are needed. No one has to prescale the ingredients. No one has to clean up the empty bags and throw them away," he said. "With a bulk ingredient system no one has to touch the ingredients from the time they arrive and are blown into the silos until the time they come out of the mixer in the form of dough. The operator simply has to ask the system for the quantity of each ingredient he or she needs, and the system delivers it."

In November, Contemer installed a complete turnkey, high-volume ingredient system at a large-scale cookie manufacturer in Salt Lake City, UT. When all of these "softer costs" were included, Mr. Rowher pointed out that the ROI for the system was estimated at less than a year.

The Fred D. Pfening Co., Columbus, OH, offers integrated dry and liquid ingredient control systems to reduce labor costs in dough makeup and result in better products at less cost, according to William Kearns, vice-president of engineering at the company. "Oftentimes, even larger bakeries do not really know their costs involved in this area or really know what their ingredient usage is, other than in rough tonnages," he said. "A comprehensive study of what ingredients are used, in which products and how they are handled can be an eye-opener."

One of the fastest growing trends in baking and snack manufacturing is the use of whole wheat and whole grains. "A smaller facility may have white flour silos but none for whole wheat," Mr. Kearns said. "A cost analysis may show that adding a silo and sifter for whole wheat to be quite cost effective. Or if white flour usage has declined and there are multiple silos, one or more might be converted. Usually Pfening recommends dedicated silos and pneumatic lines to avoid cross-contamination issues."

Pfening has a large customer that it does numerous major capital projects for, including one this year. "Typically it is a greenfield plant, and we will incorporate both a bulk and a major-minor system with a number of bulk bag unloaders and bag dumps for the hand-adds," Mr. Kearns said. "They have multiple silos because they like to separate the bread and roll lines, so each line has a completely independent supply system. They feature both whole-wheat and white flour, and sometimes some other kind of flour."

Silos for whole-wheat flour typically are the same size as for white flour, and often, plants will have two silos for white flour and one for whole wheat, he observed.

Although Contemar manufactures outdoor welded metal silos and believes that these silos are beneficial in certain circumstances, it is a big proponent of indoor flexible fabric silos. "Whole-wheat flours tend to mold much quicker than white flour with all of the condensation issues that are commonplace in outdoor steel silos," Mr. Rohwer said.

"Because of the coarse nature of whole-wheat flour, it cannot be finely screened to remove what is often called ‘tailings,’ as is the case with white flour. With our indoor flexible fabric silos all condensation concerns are eliminated, which makes them an idea choice, particularly, for whole-wheat flour applications."

A misconception in the North American market still exists that indoor flexible silos are somehow inferior to metal silos and are only used for smaller scale manufacturers, according to Mr. Rohwer. "The reality is that we have installed these types of silos in the production plants of some of the largest food manufacturers in North America and that the benefits of flexible fabric silos are the same for small and large manufacturers alike," he added.

Shick has been involved with the installation of automated ingredient systems at several major bakeries in the past couple of years, including a major bread and bun plant in Winnipeg, MB; two new facilities for a baking company that is building new plants in Georgia and Florida; as well as the new Tasty Baking Co. facility in Philadelphia, PA.

The Florida and Georgia plants have similar yet different processes, according to Mr. Fischer. One features bread and hearth lines, while the other has bun and hearth processing. Both plants automated two bulk dry ingredients, two bulk liquid ingredients and six to 12 minor ingredients. The projects also included liquid-sponge systems, water blending and CIP systems, as well as hand addition of multiple dry ingredients. Shick worked with the baking company to take advantage of project synergies, standard engineered components and continuity of project teams to deliver an efficient, cost-effective solution to both projects, according to Mr. Fisher. "Shick also worked closely with the other vendors to ensure the project schedule stayed on track," he said.

In January 2008, Shick was awarded the Tasty Baking project, and because Tasty had not built a new plant in many decades, it needed to draw from the experience of the vendors selected. "It needed flexibility because of the many different products it produces, and it needed sanitary systems because of the ingredients such as liquid eggs that it handles," Mr. Fischer explained.

The project included two 12-by-36-ft silos for pie flour, two 12-by-66-ft cake flour silos and two 12-by-66-ft silos for granulated sugar. Shick designed the ingredient system so that it takes some of the granulated sugar and puts it through a fine-grinding mill to make powdered sugar. Another challenge the supplier faced was cooling the freshly ground powdered sugar without using cryogenic gas. Tasty did not want to use cryogenic gas because it didn’t have these systems onsite, according to Mr. Fischer. Therefore, Shick designed a system to cool the powdered sugar using chilled water and fluidized hoppers above the icing mixers.

Mr. Fischer said that this was a unique project in the fact that the ingredient handling equipment was installed prior to other systems such as the mixers and the ovens. "This was the first project I have been involved with where they installed all the material handling equipment ahead of time," he pointed out. "It was advantageous to us because typically a company orders a mixer and puts it in place, and we only have so much room above that we have to figure out how we are going to get that product into the mixer. It also made it easier for us to install our systems not having other equipment in there."

While Shick has virtually completed its installations at the plant, it will be working with the bakery to ensure smooth startups as the new lines go into operation later this year and early next year, according to Mr. Fischer.

One of the qualities Shick brings to projects such as those above is out-of-the-box thinking, Mr. Fischer said. "Customers want to produce more batches and have flexibility for different products," he explained. "They have limited space available and want to minimize manpower. Our customers have short implementation windows and want to automate as many ingredients as possible. As a result, we have brought different system designs to the industry to support our customers’ focuses. This means a departure from a more straightforward approach to a complex design to accomplish all the process needs."

In addition, the ingredient handling company has expanded its process controls to accommodate bakeries, according to Mr. Fischer. "Recipe management, lot tracking and batch scheduling are all areas that have expanded to support a customer’s process requirements," he said. "Interfacing with other vendors’ equipment, existing or new, is an area that must be considered."

Overall, the baking industry is working toward standards concerning equipment design, and Shick has incorporated many of these into its components. These standards include sanitary designs that are easy to access and clean, according to Mr. Fischer. "Housekeeping and dust control are a key focus area for our customers, so equipment design must incorporate these considerations," he added

Another concern is energy efficiency. Shick is careful to not oversize blowers and airlocks. It also looks for more cost-effective solutions. In the past, it designed systems where all products were conveyed pneumatically, but now it builds ingredient handling equipment that uses pneumatic and mechanical conveying. "Mechanical conveying typically uses a lot less energy," he said. "It has its downfalls because you can’t go as far. But we have had to look at doing a combination in many instances."

Compressed air is another big energy cost in these systems, and the company studies not only the designs but also the set up of its systems to determine how it can reduce energy costs. For example, Shick uses compressed air to back pulse its filters to clean them and now it is looking at not pulsing the filers as often if it is not needed so that processors do not have to use as much compressed air. "We find ourselves doing much more due diligence in each individual component to make sure we don’t need as much airflow," Mr. Fischer added.

Another strategy employed by the supplier is to make sure it has enough capacity to meet a customer’s requirements but does not have overkill on a system. If a mixer needs product every 10 minutes yet the ingredient system is able to deliver them in five minutes but then sits idle for five minutes, Shick believes it would be better served using smaller horsepower blowers to convey over eight minutes so it is not wasting a lot of energy. "It is more about adjusting a time approach than anything else," Mr. Fischer explained.

Whether a plant decides to automate its handling of bulk, major or minor ingredients, these systems can offer many advantages to processors and often have quick paybacks because of the savings a company can realize by purchasing in bulk.



This article can also be found in the digital edition of Baking & Snack, June 1, 2009, starting on Page 75. Click
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