When it comes to bread trends, the latest talk has been about change, broadly ranging from artisan and specialty to even gluten-free items. But a walk down the bread aisle — or past any drive-through menu — will prove that good old-fashioned pan bread and soft bun production is alive and well.

Many bakers see their summer bun production double, triple or even quadruple in volume over other parts of the year. To meet this demand, bakeries need equipment that can ramp up bun production for a few months and then switch over to conventional production after Labor Day, when the peak dies down. Seasonality aside, fast-food is stepping into the breakfast ring, with chains such as Burger King extending select lunch and dinner sandwiches to breakfast menus, which means bun production could be revved up for as long as these customers can surf the breakfast wave.

Regardless of the calendar or trend, bakeries with the capability to increase bread and bun production can seize opportunities for profit on first sight.   

Speed and consistency

When it comes to high-volume bread and bun production, every step of the process affects output and the end product. Time, efficiency and consistency are of the essence and equal importance. Rounding and moulding steps must accept the output of the stages before them, but they can also impact production down the line, all the way to the bag.

“I think consistency is the most important for the fastest producing companies,” said Ken Hagedorn, vice-president of sales and marketing, Naegele Inc. Bakery Systems, Alsip, IL, who represents the Kaak Group in the US. “Packaging is always one of the most expensive parts of process. When you think of it, if you don’t produce a finished product that fits into packaging, there’s going to be a lot of waste. If the size of the product isn’t right, you just shot yourself in the foot. The more consistent you are with your moulding or any other part of product makeup, the limiting factor becomes your packaging. It’s part of the front end controls to the long process.”

But it’s not just about how consistently the product gets to the end of the line; it’s about how quickly it can get there, too. “Increased line speed on an efficient line produces a higher product yield per hour,” said Bruce Campbell, vice-president, AMF Bakery Systems, Richmond, VA. “There is a significant percentage of operating costs that are fixed, such as production labor. So, for example, if you can increase production from 3,000 doz per hour to 3,500 doz per hour, the additional 500 is produced at no increase in your fixed costs, and this efficiency drops directly to your bottom line.”

AMF’s Accupan high-speed bun system reaches output levels of 5,000 doz buns per hour and can be set up with 4, 6 or 8 channels. “We engineered this system with a servo-controlled rotary gate that precisely times dough ball transfers, increasing speed and efficiency,” Mr. Campbell said.

Maximum speeds on bread moulders from Peerless Food Equipment, Sidney, OH, reach 90 to 100 loaves per minute, according to Richard Taylor, vice-president of sales. “The four-piece moulder/panner for bread offers the speed of our straight-a-way moulders and the textural effects in finished white and variety breads as our cross-grain system.”

Yet sometimes, slow and steady can help a baker quickly win the production race.

The Kaak Group brings a European influence to American bread and bun production, meaning wider pans and slower speeds. According to the Kaak Group, while rounding and moulding must keep at a constant speed, the process should slow down for proofing and baking.

But that adds a challenge to the whole process because the width of the line is more crucial than the length and speed of the line. Wider and slower could win the race, Mr. Hagedorn noted. “Europeans tend to run wider but slower to get the capacities they need,” he said. “The Kaak Group found out that if you run a line too fast that’s too narrow, you tend to have more problems. You tend to have fewer problems by not running as fast. When you are running too fast, you run into too many issues.”

Standing out

While putting out as much product as possible — as consistently as possible — is key for high-volume bread and bun production, bakers must also remember to create a point of differentiation in the marketplace. 

Sometimes simply changing the size is all it takes to extend a product line by offering a variety of product shapes or sizes, like slider buns, to accommodate trends such as portability and portion control.

AMF offers various systems that allow quick changeovers between buns, rolls and bread. Different sizes of rounder bars are available to fit the same frame to shape a variety of products. “A bread divider and rounder can be configured to handle dough piece sizes from as low as 4 oz to as high as 52 oz,” Mr. Campbell said. And that’s just the bread rounder. Roll systems are equally versatile, handling piece weights of 7/8 to 5 oz.

The BM series of moulders from the Gemini Bakery Equipment Co., Philadelphia, comes with an independent variable-speed drive for each set of rollers. “This allows a baker to adjust the shape and thickness of the dough in a very precise manner prior to curling and moulding,” said Mark Rosenberg, Gemini CEO. “Bread loaves can vary dramatically in shape and diameter, and the BM series can be programmed to accommodate variations and reduce human error,” he added. Dough piece weight capacity in the BM series ranges from 7 to 38.8 oz.

Dusting sparingly

To keep dough from sticking to equipment, dusting flour has been the baker’s go-to choice. It doesn’t come without its side-effects, though, because it can undermine product quality if not used properly. Ideally, bakers should not use dusting flour at more than 1% of the dough weight post-divider.

Too much dusting flour can dry out the dough or can cause streaking or uneven crumb color, not to mention creating waste by adding cleanup time. It’s also wasteful of ingredient resources, not to mention the flour dust that can go airborne from a high-speed rounder.

“When dusting flour is flying off of a rounder, the ­operators are breathing it in for an entire shift,” said Damian Morabito, president, Topos Mondial Corp., Pottstown, PA. “That’s an unpleasant thing to have to do at work all day.”

Oshikiri Corp. helps bakers control flour by installing an interlock on the flour duster of its divider-rounder systems, which means the duster only operates if a dough piece is present.

Topos Mondial has the capability of adding an aftermarket Lexan shield. “When we remanufacture older conical rounders, we can add the Lexan shield to keep flour dust from flying all over the makeup area,” Mr. Morabito said. “This way, a baker can apply dusting flour to the rounding surface, and the shield will contain it to stay within the rounder trough.”

AMF recently improved its conical dough rounder with easily removable Lexan sliding panels to contain flour dust. “Equipment designs that provide flour dust reduction, containment and collection in the bakery are a high priority for AMF and our bakery customers for both improved sanitation and health concerns,” Mr. Campbell noted.

Some bakeries prefer to eliminate the dusting flour altogether, as is typically done in European operations. However, the protein level in flour used in the US brings more moisture to the surface of the dough during sheeting, thus requiring a bit of help from the equipment to dry out that surface. Peerless meets this need with its straight-a-way bread moulder. “It can be equipped with air jets across the sheeting rollers for flourless operation,” Mr. Taylor said. On loaf moulders, air-skinning is offered as an option to play across the sheeting rollers; no dusting flour is required.

For smaller operations, Topos Mondial uses a European-style rounder that blows warm air on the rounding cone to prevent buildup on the surfaces. 

Smaller footprint

Ramping up production — or extending a product line — rarely means expanded space for a bakery. It’s more about maximizing output in a minimal amount of space. “From the layout side, people are looking for ways to use the space of their facility more efficiently,” Mr. Hagedorn said. “Most companies don’t have the luxury of running a line straight down the floor; many have to use 90-degree turns or retracting to get their lines into the space they have.”

For bakers seeking maximum flexibility in minimum space, the Combo-Mat bread and bun makeup system from AMF Bakery Systems will handle buns, soft rolls and pan breads in a compact space. Equipped with an extrusion divider, the line’s PLC recipe management system enables quick changeovers and can be configured for 4- or 6-piece bread production. Configured for bun or roll output, it handles 7/8- to 5-oz pieces at the rate of 80 to 600 per minute; for pan bread, it accepts 7- to 36-oz pieces to output 20 to 100 loaves per minute.

Some systems, such as horizontal drum rounders from Gemini sit right below dividers with both aspects combined in one piece of equipment, saving valued real estate on the production floor.

Straight-line bread moulders don’t occupy the same amount of floor space as the cross-grain systems, and in the case of bread, straight lines actually save room … and increase capacity. In fact, when Turano Baking Co., Berwyn, IL, laid out its foodservice specialist bakery at Villa Rica, GA, it chose AMF straight-line sheeter-moulder-­panner systems for preparation of pan breads. The two systems sit side by side, and the two streams of filled 6-strap pans converge to feed the high-volume oven.

Bakers need to focus on each step of the bread making process to ensure speed, efficiency and consistency in order to produce the best product to meet their customers’ high-volume demands. Honing in on a specific aspect such as rounding and moulding can help ramp up bread and bun production to meet those demands.