When Turano Baking wanted to replace an aging baguette and demi roll line in its Knead Dough bakery in Bolingbrook, IL, the family-owned company turned to a French-based baking equipment firm that it had worked closely with for nearly two decades.

“Mecatherm has been a great partner with our company in informing us of the emerging trends and product developments in the world of baking,” noted Joe Turano, president of the Berwyn, IL, company, which operates four bakeries throughout the Midwest and the South. “Mecatherm has been a leader and innovator in automating artisan products and European baguettes for years.”

However, the two companies faced several hurdles in developing the new operation. Turano Baking wanted a highly versatile line that could produce frozen par-baked and fully baked baguettes, demi rolls, boules and other signature, artisan products. The line needed to produce high-quality artisan products directly baked on the hearth as well as more conventional products baked in pans.

Specifically, the new line needed to handle both conventional straight doughs as well as highly fermented ones. Additionally, the bakery wanted a high-capacity operation that could produce up to 2,800 24- or 27-in. baguettes per hour, but it faced serious space constraints. “Mecatherm has perhaps the most unique compartmentalized system that would fit the space we had available and provide us with the output that we needed for this product,” Mr. Turano said.

In its collaborative effort, Mecatherm engineers sat down at the drawing board with Joe Turano, Tony Turano, chairman, Frank Biernacki, the company’s director of engineering and Ed Janulis, plant general manager for the Turano-Knead Dough bakery. “It took more than a few renderings,” noted Cyril Munsch, Mecatherm’s director of sales. “They kept telling us to make it shorter. Make it fit, essentially. Fortunately, the building had height to spare, a nice benefit to have, but it didn’t have maximum length or width.”

Vertically challenged

Earlier this year, the bakery started up the new production line that’s the first of its kind in North America. According to Mr. Turano, the line’s centerpiece is a ­30-ft, four-deck oven — a first by Mecatherm — with the capacity to bake the same amount of product as a tunnel oven twice its physical size. Going vertical with the oven and many of the line’s others systems allowed the bakery to add more capabilities to the front of the operation.

The initial key to the line’s versatility are two dividers that feed a highly adaptive makeup system. For more conventionally hydrated doughs, the line relies on Mecatherm’s H1 single-pocket divider that can create 200- to 900-g (7- to 31.75-oz) dough pieces. During its first six months in operation, Mr. Turano said, the divider is experiencing less than 1% variance in accuracy on a number of breads and rolls.

Mecatherm’s TraDivider 24-pocket system can make up to 38 cuts per minute for artisan baguettes and handles sticky, almost liquid, high-moisture doughs. “It actually produces better with a higher absorption dough than not,” Mr. Turano said. That’s because the TraDivider relies on gravity — or the natural flow of dough into the pockets — to produce pieces ranging from 250 g to 1 kg (8.8 to 32.5 oz).

From the dividers, dough pieces enter an enclosed, integrated flour dusting and reclamation system, which not only provides sanitation benefits but also applies a light mist of flour that coats the entire piece. “We’re using less flour, and it moulds very well because we’re not over-flouring the product,” Mr. Turano observed. “And the finished product doesn’t have a dry crust to it, so there’s a multiple benefit.”

For baguettes, dough pieces travel up Mecatherm’s Bloc RT 2 makeup system, initially to an intermediate proofer. The line also has a planetary rounder for boules and country round loaves, which will automatically be deposited onto the peel boards.

Unlike Mecatherm’s previous designs, where dough pieces rested in pockets for several minutes, they now ride along seven belts and gently flip over as they cascade down between the proofer’s belts to prevent sticking. “The transfer is very smooth even with the higher absorption dough pieces,” Mr. Turano said.

For baguettes and rolls, a centering device, guided by two sensors, aligns the pieces through the laminator, curling chains, multiple moulding boards and a mechanical stretcher, which act like human fingers to gently elongate the pieces. Turano worked with Mecatherm to integrate a proprietary enrober for applying cheese or seeds to baguettes and other value-added products.

Pick and choose

The line also accommodates peel boards or pans, which are automatically handled via Mecatherm’s vertical storage system. An aligner accurately places dough pieces on pans or peel boards to avoid doubles and to precisely line them up for automatic scoring after proofing.

The lightweight peel boards are made by Mecatherm using a food-safety-friendly composite plastic. They feature a honeycomb interior that cuts their weight and provides durability. Steel rims on the boards protect them as they twist and turn down the line’s conveyors. The boards are reversible so if one side is scratched, the bakery just needs to flip it over. “This is the only manufacturer that we work with who has integrated all the way back to the peel boards,” Mr. Turano said.

The pans or boards then enter the Mecatherm space-saving step proofer, equipped with plastic chain and carrier, which makes it a maintenance-free proofer. The system has limited transfers and few movements where the products ride up one module and down another.

Mecatherm supplied the line with an independent steam generator for the proofer and oven. Instead of relying on a boiler that delivers high-pressure steam to multiple lines, the generator is dedicated to one line. The advantage? The generator provides a wetter steam that allows the proofer to operate at lower temperatures and still create a moist skin that adds a better moisture content to the final product.

“We chose this system because of the quality of the product and the enhanced steam conditions in the proofer and oven,” Mr. Turano said. “That was the overriding factor for the additional investment.”

After proofing, the baguette pieces receive automatic scoring. The blades dip in water to prevent the dough from drying between cuts and to minimize rejects. Turano Baking is exploring installation of Mecatherm’s water-jet cutter, which emulates a knife and can even provide circular or decorative scoring to products. The cutter not only would eliminate the need for replacing blades but also any direct contact between metal and the dough pieces — a potential food safety concern.

“We’ve been water-scoring round rolls and sub rolls for years, but these current systems don’t provide the shred to the score like this Mecatherm water jet can,” Mr. Turano said.

Baking the right way

In addition to saving space, the Mecatherm’s FTM three-zone deck oven provides steam in the first stage, to allow the product to develop to its final volume, heat to bake the product in the second and crust and color control in the third, according to Mr. Munsch. Every zone comes with its own burner, steam inlet and steam outlet. Various baking curves can be achieved.

An independent loading system cleanly picks and places everything from dinner rolls to boules into the decks, starting at the bottom one and sequentially rising to the top. The oven is equipped with a dual loading system, one to load the pans into the oven when baking on pans and one to load the products from the peel boards when baking products on the hearth. If one belt needs to be changed, the line operator simply needs to wind or unwind the belt to get a new loading section.

The oven relies on a patented Bottom Bake Booster (BBB) to provide heat through a fine, stainless-steel mesh belt with  turbulence limited to the bottom of the products, specifically about a half an inch. Radiant heat comes from the top, and baking happens in a very quiet atmosphere with no turbulence. Such a system allows a differential bake for a variety of products. “We bake the way bakers should with this oven,” Mr. Turano said. “We proof to about 75% of the volume for a product, and we let the oven take care of the rest of the volume.”

This BBB system also controls the thickness of the bottom crust of the product when baking on the hearth and makes it possible to work with pans in the same oven by really controlling the amount of heat to the bottom.

Such a process, he added, yields a thin and crunchy, but delicate crust. “When the consumer eats a sandwich or table bread, it is a very pleasant eating experience with this more tender, yet crispy crust,” he said.

Additionally, Mr. Munsch noted, the oven’s temperature in each zone can be adjusted quickly not only to minimize times between product changeovers but also to bake multiple products with different baking profiles, and perfectly control the thickness of the crust and the color of the product

After baking, the vacuum depanner picks and places all of the products from a pan. When baking on hearth, products come out at a different level and will join the same discharge conveyor used by the products deposited by the suction depanner when baking on pans. Accurate spacing between products is achieved by a belt device prior to the spiral cooler and freezer, Mr. Turano said, and is critical for proper cooling and freezing, as well as for optimizing the product spacing on the belt. To reduce changeover time, the depanner’s suction-cup cartridges are designed to each product’s specifications and can be changed by simply sliding them in and out.

Products are cooled down on a Mecatherm spiral cooler for about 35 minutes before reaching the spiral freezer for a 45-minute freeze.

Because Turano-Knead Dough bakery produces primarily frozen baked goods, each highly automated line turns out just a handful of products to maximize the efficiencies from long production runs. Because the newest Mecatherm line is so versatile, Mr. Turano expects the line to eventually produce more than 10 different varieties of breads and rolls.

Currently, the line operates 24 hours a day, five days a week, but the bakery will eventually ramp that up to six days with one day for maintenance and sanitation. Asked about return on investment (ROI), Mr. Turano noted the new line already produces in three days what the old line made in five. “When we planned the line,” he said, “the ROI on this line was really a quick decision.”

For more on this line and The Mecatherm Group, go towww.mecatherm.fr.