With the vast array of waffle designs and sizes sold today, bakers must keep versatility in mind when it comes to their production lines. Fortunately for waffle producers, moving from one to another can be quite simple.

“It is just a matter of changing the griddle plates, sometimes changing the depositor orientation,” said Kevin Forrest, president and CEO, TSA Griddles, Carrollton, TX. “It’s not difficult to do. It’s just a matter of different moulds.”

Switching out griddle plates has gotten even easier with new plate designs and materials, and waffle producers can order more as new products are developed. Choosing the proper plate, however, requires a balancing act involving several needs.

Waffle formulation can widely impact decisions about which griddle plates and depanning process a baker chooses. Often it requires a coordinated effort between the operations and formulation teams. Sugar content, fillings, inclusions — all these have a direct impact on a waffle producer’s equipment needs. Bakers must take these challenges into consideration as well as the size and pattern on the plate. 

“The synergy between formulation and process is very important,” said Matthijs Sillevis Smitt, sales manager for North and South America, Masdac International, Amsterdam, represented in North America by Naegele, Inc., Orland Park, IL.

For example, while some standard waffles may not need the assistance of non-stick coating or oil to come out of the griddle unscathed, a waffle with inclusions such as blueberries or chocolate chips may need some assistance, either from non-stick coating, oil or both, according to Rick Parrish, director of sales and marketing, Franz Haas Machinery of America, Richmond, VA.

“It’s more recipe dependent,” he said. “We’ve worked with recipes that have excellent release characteristics, and they’re very successful on special plate materials, but on many of the formulations that we see, they require some type of coating and/or release agents.” Bakers must take into account those needs along with changeovers involving differences of size and shape across their product lines.

Whether bakers are developing an innovative product — such as manju, the small bean- or jam-filled Asian-style snack cakes, produced on Masdac’s lines — or if they are just trying to juggle a wide range of waffle products, equipment manufacturers will work closely with them to ensure their formulations are deposited, baked and depanned while still lowering costs and maintaining product integrity.

Reducing cost and impact

While waffle producers may have a lot of needs to consider with their process, as with all food manufacturers, cutting costs is a priority. When TSA Griddles delved into waffle equipment, eliminating a major cost of griddle maintenance — the upkeep of non-stick coatings — was a driving goal.

Industrial griddle plates with non-stick coatings need to be re-coated every two to eight weeks, depending on the type of waffles being produced on them. This process often requires shipping the plates to a facility where the old coating is blasted off and the new one is added. “It creates a lot of costs and downtime, and the environmental footprint is horrendous,” Mr. Forrest said. “We’ve eliminated all of that.” By removing this need, Mr. Forrest estimated that bakers can save a half million dollars a year and experience a two- to three-year return on investment.

To eliminate this process while still maintaining easy depanning, TSA Griddles creates waffle moulds with a naturally slick surface. This plus gravity make the waffles easy to remove without the aid of ongoing oil application or non-stick coating. Mr. Forrest said as an added benefit, the moulds can be aggressively cleaned and scrubbed because operators don’t have to fear chipping the non-stick coating. “We also use brushes to clean the griddle plates as part of our process, whereas with non-stick coating plates, you can’t because it will rip off the coating,” he said.

Bakers can also save money with energy-efficient systems. TSA Griddles insulates its oven to prevent heat loss and has stacked its conveyor to recapture and reuse heat. “Our machine is not a standard two-level conveyor,” Mr. Forrest said. “It has four levels in the machine, so the conveyor goes back and forth through the heat that has already been used once.”

To meet the continual demand for energy savings, Franz Haas is upping the ante. “We’re always trying to make the most energy efficient designs,” Mr. Parrish said. The company’s whirlwind device provides a better blend of air and gas, creating a better flame and more efficient burn. This amounts to a better range of temperature control and energy savings. “We also control the amount of exhaust that comes out of the oven,” he continued. “We can maximize the energy input while maintaining as much heat as possible.”

Even just providing bakers with a highly automated process, equipment suppliers can eliminate unnecessary labor costs. Masdac International’s waffle-like production line for manju cakes is so highly automated it only needs one operator keeping watch over the high-speed process. The nature of the product and its process require a synergistic, precise system that guarantees a homogenous finished product every time. This eliminates the need for much hands-on interference from operators on the production floor.

Eliminating heavy lifting

Switching from one product to another on a waffle line is a straightforward process. However, equipment manufacturers are doing what they can to take some of the burden off the operator with lighter plates, programmable recipe systems and automated plate-feeding systems.

“We make the baking plates so they’re easily exchangeable for different designs and patterns,” Mr. Parrish said of Franz Haas’ griddle offerings. Plate removal is a completely tool-less process, and the company reduced the plates’ weight so that they can be easily handled by one operator. Not only are the plates thinner, but also Franz Haas separated the plate, hinge and opening roller components so operators only have to replace the plate portion. “In the prior design, the hinge and opening roller were part of the plate assembly,” Mr. Parrish explained. “What we did was make the engraved part of the plate thinner. Instead of having the whole hinge and plate in one cast, we have the plate separate.”

Masdac International automated plate changeovers with an ejection and feeding system. The system will remove the previous plate and automatically feed the new mould onto the line. This cuts down on human error, according to Mr. Sillevis Smitt. “All the moulds are being deposited on the line so they are all straight and lined up,” he said.

When it comes to depanning finished products at the end of the line, Franz Haas improved on traditional systems with needle inserts and a needle-equipped removal drum. When using needles to depan waffles, it’s imperative that the needles actually pierce the finished waffle. Different product sizes and mould patterns can make this difficult. The needle removal drum and inserts reduce downtime because they can remove waffles of all shapes and sizes.

For even more versatility, Franz Haas developed a vacuum removal system. While only certain formulations are suitable for such a process, eliminating contact with the product means that no adjustments are necessary for different varieties.

To keep track of all these diverse product ranges, Franz Haas equips its line with HMI recipe storage. This program keeps track of different formulations and their bake times and profiles. “As long as we know all the products anticipated at the time of order, we actually incorporate them into the line design. Whether it’s a blueberry depositor or filling, we integrate that into the design for easy changeover from one product to the next,” Mr. Parrish said.

Unblemished waffles

It’s great if a line can produce waffles at high speeds and capacity, but not if it comes at the expense of product integrity. Any build-up of carbon and debris on the griddles can transfer to the next batch of waffles making them unappetizing to consumers. It’s imperative that the equipment executes a clean release of the waffle from the griddle so that no product is left behind. Finding the right plates and removal system can ensure that products stay intact and unblemished.

Several options now offered on plates encourage waffles to let go when it comes to the end of the line. Bakers can choose plates with non-stick coating, spray them with oil, use a combination of non-stick coating and oil, or none of the above. Vacuums, needles or gravity can all coax a finished waffle out of its plate. Which method a baker chooses depends largely on the formulation of the product.

According to Mr. Parrish, when it comes to vacuum removal, Franz Haas has had the most luck with standard, homestyle and buttermilk waffles. Unlike needles, vacuums don’t leave any marks on the finished product. However, if a baker is using a high-sugar formulation or inclusions, Mr. Parrish recommended using needle removal in lieu of vacuums.

To keep its griddle plates clean, TSA Griddles employs stainless steel brushes to clean the plates between each cycle. While such rough brushing would scratch non-stick coating off standard plates, TSA Griddles’ plates don’t carry such coatings, allowing vigorous cleaning. This also keeps the plates free from carbon and build-up.

The slick surface of TSA Griddles’ plates makes it possible to run with minimal oil while still maintaining ease of product removal at the end of the line. “We use oil on the startup only to prime the griddle so there is no ongoing [need for release] oil,” Mr. Forrest said.

Instead of needles, which if misaligned can scratch the surface of the plate or damage the waffle, Mr. Forrest said the system relies on gravity to remove the finished product. “With our process, we have a non-contact method for getting the waffles off; therefore, we don’t damage every waffle coming off because we’re not even touching it to get it out,” he said.

Maintaining product integrity is the No. 1 priority of Masdac International. Detailed moulds create an intricate character shape, and they demand perfect extraction of the finished product every time.

When working with small bear-shaped snack cakes that are very detailed with a nose and eyes and a mouth, a very clean depanning is critical because otherwise you will have some bears without ears or noses, said Mr. Sillevis Smitt. To ensure that every bear keeps all its appendages, the company developed a pre-depanning process. Before the pins remove the finished product, the pre-depanning steps loosen the item inside the mould, enabling a clean getaway.

When it comes to producing these small filled cakes, filling the mould requires a precise method because, like a waffle plate, these moulds feature hinges that close like a book. The depositor fills both sides of the mould with cake batter and then adds the filling. To avoid making a mess and keep the filling in the center of the cake, Masdac International’s line features a motorized system that closes the mould. The system controls the acceleration and deceleration of a swinging motion that keeps everything in place and ensures a homogenous product every time.

And that is the ultimate goal, making the perfect waffle every time at high capacity. If equipment manufacturers can bring down costs and bring up versatility, even better.