Bakers tailor slicing equipment to what they are slicing. Matching the product to the proper blade and motion ensures baked goods are sliced to the right specifications with minimal damage. Without these specifications, bread can tear and cakes can smear.

Irregular products can be sliced in every direction. However, with the right equipment and the proper blade, cuts are clean, and fines and crumbs can become a faint annoyance instead of a major production problem. The latest technology in slicing helps bakers maintain product integrity, whether it’s uniform pan bread, hand-shaped artisan rolls or complex cakes.

Cutting through challenges

Automation runs best on uniformity. “Automated systems love consistency in the products they have to handle,” said John Keane, executive product manager, packaging and automation, AMF Bakery Systems, Richmond, VA. This works well with uniform pan breads, ­brownies, cookies or cakes. Once a baker ventures into the artisan products consumers love so much these days, however, the irregular shapes and sizes change the rules.

“Handling products that are inconsistent in size, shape and weight is much easier said than done,” Mr. Keane continued. “It challenges equipment designers to create designs that can handle products of varying dimensions.” AMF sees the challenge in predicting where an irregularly shaped product will be on the slicer.

LeMatic, Inc., Jackson, MI, took a different approach by developing slicers specifically to handle products such as artisan rolls and croissants that vary in size and shape and have a crusty texture.

When it comes to frozen bread products, Andy Schneider, sales manager, Americas, for J.E. Grote Co., Columbus, OH, noted that he saw a gap in slicing equipment that needed to be filled, one the Grote Co. plans to address at the 2013 International Baking Industry Expo in Las Vegas this fall. 

“We’ve seen a real need in the baking industry for machines that can cut frozen bread products,” he said, describing problems encountered by the company’s ­customers who run automated sandwich ­assembly lines, particularly breakfast sandwiches. Grote’s customers receive frozen biscuits from bakeries to use in breakfast sandwiches but must slack the baked foods for six to eight hours before being able to slice them for sandwich assembly.

“Those frozen breakfast biscuits are hockey pucks,” Mr. Schneider said. “They are rock hard, and traditional bread-slicing equipment isn’t designed to cut products that hard.” Designing a slicer capable of cutting through frozen biscuits has been the company’s focus this year.

Beyond the bread aisle, cakes provide a different challenge. It’s ­difficult to slice through layers made up of different flavors and textures without damaging them. Any crushing, shredding or breaking will be immediately obvious to the ­consumer. Without a pristine cut, multi-flavored cheesecakes, strawberry shortcakes or Neapolitan cakes will leave behind crumbs and smears, the evidence of a sloppy slice. Typically, bakers solve this problem by refrigerating or freezing the product before slicing, but eliminating this step could save time and money.

Krumbein slicing equipment, exclusively distributed by Erika Record Baking Equipment, Clifton, NJ, cleanly slices through layers differing in texture. “An operator can program it to go through each layer of strawberry shortcake, whether it’s going through whipped cream or strawberries, so it doesn’t damage it,” said Craig Kominiak, sales representative and consultant on bakeries for Erika Record. For cheesecakes, the system cleans cake residue off the knife between every slice to keep the next as clean as the first.

To prevent messes and damaged product, Matiss Food Cutting, Saint-Georges, QC, uses ultrasonic technology on its guillotine and ­slitting blades. Ultrasonic blades can eliminate shattering on brittle products and buildup on blades when cutting through icings and frosting, according to Mike Philip, industrial bakery equipment sales, Naegele, Inc., Alsip, IL, which represents Matiss.

Slicing challenges aren’t ­limited to complex cakes. Pound cake’s high sugar and fat content also causes issues with the blades. To ­address these challenges, Bettendorf Stanford, Salem, IL, made its slice thickness changeover faster and simplified the mechanical slicing motion, giving the machine smooth action at high speeds. “We have also been able to take a similar mechanical motion and modify it to slice pre-iced cakes in half at room temperature. This eliminates the need to freeze or refrigerate iced cakes before they are sliced,” said Matt Stanford, vice-president of Bettendorf Stanford.

Maintaining a clean cut

Overcoming challenges in slicing, however, isn’t limited to innovating new methods or blades. To minimize waste, Tim O’Brien, vice-­president of sales, Urschel Laboratories, Valparaiso, IN, said bakers need to maintain machines in good mechanical operating condition and ensure blades are sharp. Keeping the equipment and blades clean and operating smoothly can often be a baker’s best defense against product rejects.

According to Mr. Keane at AMF, streamlining maintenance includes replacing outdated equipment designs with current technology and reviewing up-to-date maintenance procedures to discover any complexities that can be made more ­efficient. Newer equipment designs can reduce the number of moving parts, which results in less maintenance.

Simplicity of design is something Bettendorf Stanford also strives to incorporate into its machines, ­according to Mr. Stanford. The company adds numeric encoders, tool-less changeovers and open framing designs to simplify changeovers and maintenance.

When the Grote Co. tinkers with the functionality of its standard slicing equipment, it strives to improve sanitation as well as maintenance. This includes trading nickel-plated bearings for stainless steel and re­designing parts that need to be cleaned every day and can be removed without the use of tools.

LeMatic’s machines allow operators to change out blades without the use of tools. The company also added two slicing heads on some of its equipment, so production can still run on one slicing head while the other undergoes maintenance.

For products cut from continuous bands or slabs, Mr. Philip said Matiss has practically eliminated changeover delays. Without rotary cutters or spreading tables, bakers can change cutting patterns, shape sizes and lane counts without stopping the slab or reconfiguring the belts. The equipment is also ­designed to be cleaned in place, making sanitation easier.

Strong, sharp blades are key to maintaining slice quality, but they don’t remain strong and sharp on their own. Bakers should change blades often to reduce costly waste and produce optimum results. “The baker really has to take care of the machine and change the blades more often than they do,” Mr. Kominiak said. “Some people just wait until their bread starts to rip before they start changing blades.”

Customers often ask how long the blades last, to which he responds it depends on the product. “If it’s pan bread that’s very soft, they could have an extra two or three months compared with hard crusty artisan bread,” Mr. Kominiak added.

To lengthen blade life, Urschel Laboratories makes blades out of durable materials.

To reduce maintenance, Hansaloy, Davenport, IA, is introducing blade technology that increases the blade strength while maintaining its edge. This new technology will increase the blades’ lifetime, reducing changeovers and maintenance. 

Creating high-volume, a high-speed sliced product with minimal maintenance is the end goal of ­every baker producing sliced breads or desserts. Stronger, sharper blades matched to the proper application keep automated lines free from fines, and tool-less changeovers and removals enable quick and easy cleaning and maintenance.

Innovations in slicing equipment make it possible to provide a consistent cut on an irregular product and slice complex cakes without smudging distinct layers, providing a pristine product for the consumer.