Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to micromanage it. That’s especially true when exploring the proper handling of minor and all small amounts of ingredients. Specifically, bakers and snack manufacturers must take into account the degree of automation, number and quantities of ingredients, recipe phases, desired accuracy, material characteristics, allergenic properties, color, and flavor or odor cross-contamination.
“Due to the varied challenges presented when designing an automated minor and micro ingredients system, the system supplier must be able to not only provide an efficient and cost-effective standard solution but have the capability to think outside of the box when customization is required,” said Brian Ivkovich, senior vice-president, Zeppelin Systems USA (formerly known as Reimelt Corp.), Odessa, FL. “It is, of course, necessary to provide a minor and micro ingredients system that is reliable and accurate. Care also must be taken to supply a system that is flexible, cleanable, expandable, easy to maintain and operator-friendly.”
During the past few years, technology originally developed for the pharmaceutical and other industries has found its way into the food manufacturing process to provide an array of food safety controls, noted Bill Kearns, vice-president, engineering, The Fred D. Pfening Co., Columbus, OH. “These include innovative feeders and tote batching systems,” he said. “Some of these are promoted as being suitable for allergen isolation. There is an increasing emphasis on ingredient traceability, recording what ingredient lot went into which lots of products.”
Modularization also plays an important role when handling smaller amounts of ingredients. “For example, a minor/micro ingredient feeder has a certain basic design,” Mr. Ivkovich noted. “The same feeder body can be made with quick-disassembly fittings; swing away, clean-in-place design; various screw diameters, styles and lengths; as well as vibratory, aeration or mechanical agitation discharge assistance.”
Tote-based systems also can provide savings where multiple ingredients can be placed into feeding systems, depending on the recipes, said Tom Leach, national sales director, baking and snack industry, Horizon Systems, Inc., Lawrence, KS. Quick-changeover designs also allow handling of multiple ingredients, therefore minimizing the number of feed points, he said.
In some cases, ingredient handling systems can assist in streamlining changeovers while ensuring accurate dispensing of materials. AZO’s DoSiBox, for example, was developed for ingredients that are not continually involved in the production process, especially those materials that come in bags, totes or drums, said Walter Sonntag, division manager, marketing/documentation, AZO, Inc., Memphis, TN. The transfer of ingredients is carried out with operator guidance and barcode monitoring. Specifically, the bags are transferred into the DoSiBox via a feed hopper with a suction system for dust collection. The raw materials then are simultaneously control-screened, scaled into the DoSiBox and weighed. Moreover, the system relies on barcodes and other controls to identify ingredients in each DoSiBox. Meanwhile, for larger quantities, the system is outfitted with a “big bag” dumping station that allows dust-tight docking and feeding, according to the company.
GET IN CONTROL.
When it comes to minor and micro ingredients, the first challenge often involves determining which ingredients to automate and how to get a handle on them. With bakeries producing a wider variety of products that require a greater number of formulas and changeovers, the number of ingredients used on a typical shift has proliferated, said Dave Osbern, sales engineering manager, Shick USA, Kansas City, MO. Certain minor ingredients such as gluten and specialty flours are natural candidates for automation because they are used in a high percentage of formulas in relatively large amounts. “The next category would probably be those ingredients that are used in a high number of formulas but in smaller quantities,” he said. “Beyond that, customers might look at ingredients that are used in a limited number of high-volume varieties.”
In the baking process, another challenge involves staged additions where certain minor or micro ingredients need to be discharged into the mixer at different times in the mix cycle, according to Mr. Osbern. This method often involves salt and other functional ingredients used in whole-grain formulas. Such staging adds to the number of cycles that the batching system must accomplish during the mixing process, and bakers need to review the overall timing of the system to ensure that ingredients are scaled and delivered prior to mixer call. In some cases, Mr. Osbern said, the ingredient handling process can be further complicated when a specific material needs to be introduced in some formulas but not in others.
From a design vantage, Shick and others employ both gain-in-weight and loss-in-weight approaches. In some instances, the bakery may need a combination of the two systems depending upon application specifics and to provide necessary controls, according to Jim Hibschman, chief controls engineer, Shick USA. “Whenever possible, systems need to be designed with flexibility in mind,” he stressed. “Flexible recipe systems allow end-users to write recipes that include equipment sequencing as well as ingredient setpoints. This allows them to make formulation and process changes in the future without the need for additional software development. These recipe systems will also maintain a virtually unlimited number of ingredients. Different ingredients may be assigned to different locations as necessary to achieve even greater system flexibility. Ingredient inventory, usage and traceability also are key benefits of these types of systems.”
Tight and accurate scheduling of ingredients can lower raw material inventories, resulting in cost reductions. It also helps ensure that an ingredient does not exceed its expiration date, according to Dominique Kull, manager, bakery supply systems, Buhler, Inc., Minneapolis, MN. Mr. Kull indicated that integrated software can provide solutions on different levels. “With an automated system, not only can higher performance be achieved, but production reliability can also be increased,” he said. “On an advanced level, tools are available to trace the product from the loaf of bread back to the truck that delivers the flour. Product safety can be increased due to near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) online measurement or automated sampling on the intake conveying line.”
Not only can recipe batch management programs monitor storage, metering, sifting and conveying of minor ingredients, but the recipes also contain information on the actual ingredients being used, the tolerances allowed, valve requirements needed and the proper modes of sequencing ingredients, Mr. Leach said. “The use of bar coding with handheld scanners can assist the operators in inventory management and improving efficiency,” he added. “New equipment designs make cleaning and verification of the equipment easier.”
Likewise, advances in software can assure bakers that they have the correct parameters established for every ingredient, Mr. Kull said. Such software can be critical in the scaling of all types of raw materials. “The scaling software knows and learns if the product to dose is light or dense,” he said. “Within a couple of batches, the system is adjusted to the new characteristics.”
User-friendly PLCs often incorporate sensors and warnings that not only troubleshoot but avoid problems in the first place, according to Mr. Kearns. “Warnings about vibration levels, pressure drops and other issues can help maintenance target areas needing attention before a major problem arises,” he said.
Automating minor and micro ingredient is normally justified by labor savings and gains in finished product yield or line efficiencies, Mr. Ivkovich said. Zeppelin’s PRISMA System, he noted, can help bakers manage production scheduling, batch logging, inventory control and ingredient usage reports to quantify savings. This modular concept allows future additions of ingredients into the same system by using existing centralized weighing systems and pneumatic conveying systems. “In other words,” Mr. Ivkovich concluded, “start small, but keep an eye on future capacity, ingredients and batching requirements.”
That’s good advice for handling it well.