Sweet goods processing requires a diverse array of equipment to create a diverse selection of treats. The category can cover laminated, curled or filled products, all of which demand care and control. Such a broad market demands equipment that can keep up with changing consumer trends and customer requests. Bakers are constantly on the lookout for lines that can handle any sweet good innovation they can dream up today or tomorrow. On top of the inherent variety in the category, the movement toward miniature items is driving investments in flexible lines.

To keep things moving amid all this flexibility, sweet goods bakers are ready to ramp up production with wider, faster lines. However, bakers aren’t ready to throw dough integrity to the wind in favor of greater capacity. This leaves equipment manufacturers searching for the sweet spot between high output and tender, loving care.

Searching for versatility

Bakers save money on processing equipment when they can run all these Danish, cinnamon rolls, filled pastries and more on a single line with a few adjustments. “The days of multi-day production runs are in past,” said Jim Cummings, president, Tromp Group USA, Dacula, GA. “Lines must be able to change products with minimum to zero changeover time as well as feature equipment that is designed flexibly from the start.”

Quick changeovers are the key to bolstering production efficiencies and protecting a business’ margins. Bakers only make money when the line is in production, and any downtime switching out equipment is money lost. “It’s not very flexible if it takes three hours to change between products,” said Liam Burns, managing director, Fritsch USA, Cranbury, NJ. Modular equipment, quick-release handles and toolless removal all aid in making product changeovers more seamless.

“Historically, sweet good lines and croissant lines have taken up a lot more room,” said Jon Thompson, national sales director, Rheon, Irvine, CA. “If the lines are modular in nature, you can remove options on and off the table, sections in and out. It makes the line a lot more flexible and shorter.” Rheon’s universal conveyor allows bakers to add and remove processing equipment around the conveyor to create any number of sweet goods.

Moline Machinery designed its laminators for portability. “Our laminators are portable so you can unplug the laminator, move it aside, put in a transfer conveyor, and you’ve gone from laminating to not laminating,” said David Moline, sales and marketing manager, Moline Machinery, Duluth, MN.

To improve the changeover process, Rademaker USA, Hudson, OH, designs its tooling to eliminate errors, according to Eric Riggle, Rademaker USA’s vice-president.  With the company’s individual fixed tooling, equipment for croissant production can only be installed in one direction. The components are also numbered. These two characteristics simplify tooling changes.

Quick changes also happen at the controls. To support the added flexibility in the sweet goods line, Fritsch USA offers extended storage programs, so bakers can house more formulations on the system. Moline Machinery updated its controls technology allowing the operator to speed up adjustments in folds, overlaps and recipe settings. Rademaker’s recipe management system alerts operators of automatic changes being made to the line or any manual changes that need to be made by the operator.

According to Jerry Murphy, president of Rondo, Inc., Moonachie, NJ, Rondo tries to speculate what products a customer might not anticipate running on that line in the years to come. One trend sweeping through sweet goods at the moment is portion control. While a baker investing in sweet goods equipment years ago may not have thought to discuss producing mini cinnamon rolls, now that baker needs equipment to adapt to today’s products.

Maintaining dough integrity

In addition to flexibility, bakers constantly try to increase output with higher volumes and speeds. “High volume reduces cost per product and, in turn, passes lower costs on to the consumer,” Mr. Moline said. Running at high volumes, however, can present some challenges for maintaining dough integrity.

Moline Machinery’s high-volume laminator sits at 60 in. wide. To maintain dough integrity on a system that wide, the dough sheet must be supported throughout the entire width of the conveyor belt. If not supported properly, the dough sheet can stretch the cell structure. “Bakers work so hard to gently handle the dough sheet up until that point and wouldn’t want to damage it laminating,” he said.

Protecting that delicate dough structure is imperative when it comes to sweet goods. Bakers want to ensure identifiable layers and flakiness in the finished product, and the wrong processing equipment can destroy those chances. “The challenge has always been to treat the dough and fat as gently as possible to make sure there is layer identification,” Mr. Thompson emphasized. Rheon’s stress-free stretchers create layers by stretching the dough and not compressing or damaging the cell structure.

Gentle processing also comes in handy when the dough is cut. Without gentle handling, the dough can pull back after it’s cut, a process that happens faster and faster. To keep up with high-volume lines, Fritsch USA uses high-speed guillotines that cut and move with the dough sheet, which enable higher throughputs while maintaining the quality of the finished product.

Along with gentle processing, sweet goods makeup equipment can also offer a level of control over the dough as it moves through a system. For laminated doughs, Fritsch offers an optional controlled conveyor belt that moves the dough to the lower conveyor in place of a typical chute system during the folding process. This controls the dough sheet’s movement and can create a wider sheet, which brings the process improvements back to enabling greater capacity and flexibility.

Keeping it clean

The need for easy-to-clean equipment pervades the entire baking industry, and sweet goods processing is no exception. Mr. Murphy said he sees sanitation as a constant theme throughout the plant, including how to adapt operations and equipment to new food-safety requirements.

Rondo met the demand for improved sanitation and food safety with its ASTec line. The company designed these machines to be capable of a complete wet wash and with accessibility in mind. The equipment contains no nooks or crannies for bacteria and debris to hide, and the sealed conveyor belt prevents bacteria from attaching to it.

According to Mr. Thompson, wash-down capabilities have not been a priority for sweet goods processing in the past, but recently bakers have been asking for it from equipment suppliers. Rheon and Rademaker both build their equipment with wash-down capabilities.

The widespread concern over food safety fosters a continuously rising mark for sanitary design when it comes to processing equipment, often led by government regulations. “The Global Food Safety Initiative, Food and Drug Administration, and US Department of Agriculture requirements are increasing the need for better design and documentation,” said Mr. Cummings of Tromp Group USA. The company’s experience designing lines for USDA facilities have prompted the company to adapt that level of sanitary design to its sweet goods equipment.

“We build to wash-down standards including reduced growth niche locations by using standoffs, limited horizontal surfaces, open-frame construction and aseptic motors,” Mr. Cummings explained.

Reducing or eliminating downtime remains the key to padding the bottom line. “Bakers are realizing that these lines make money for them when they are running, not when they’re down, whether that’s due to break down, maintenance or sanitation,” Mr. Riggle said. “They want lines that are easy and quick to clean.” Many of Rademaker’s lines can be maintained, he added, without having to shut down for routine work such as greasing bearings. Reducing the amount of maintenance allows them to run longer with less break down.

Between faster, more flexible lines that treat dough gently and equipment that maintains an impeccable level of cleanliness, sweet goods processors seem to want everything. With the latest developments in laminating, controls and food safety, they may just get it all on one line.