When a movement takes hold and begins to transform the everyday eating habits of a significant portion of the population, bakers need to change. Sometimes, every part of the process from formulation to packaging of new products has to be adjusted. Sheeting and lamination processes are not excluded.

Many of today’s prevailing consumer trends fit nicely beneath the umbrella of healthier eating. For many, shopping for smaller croissants, pastries and sandwiches made with mini artisan rolls has become a more significant way to attain their health-related goals.

“Smaller portions are a big trend right now,” said Eric Riggle, vice-president of Rademaker, Hudson, OH.

According to a 2014 Mintel report, 48% of consumers seek smaller portions as a road to weight loss and improved health. A Technomic consumer trend report ranked small plates and flexible portions second on a list of major trends for 2015. In its “What’s Hot in Food” survey, the National Restaurant Association called smaller — even half —portions a hot trend, ­listing bite-sized starters as one of the Top Five appetizer trends.

“Being a Japanese company, we’ve seen this for many years, probably at least 20 years. It’s part of the culture to eat a lot of small things,” said John Giacoio, national sales director, Rheon USA, Irvine, CA, a company with international headquarters at Utsunomiya, Japan. “But now we’re seeing it more in the States. People are going to smaller products, and we’re seeing that in pastries and other things you’d make on a lamination or sheeting line.”

Simply, these trends only further emphasize one key area in the installation and operation of sheeting and lamination lines: versatility.

“Products are changing a lot, and you want to follow the movements in the market. Each customer wants to have their own size and structure,” said Paul Rooijmans, sales manager, Tromp Group Americas, Richmond, VA. “Flexibility and efficiency are the most important items for the future.”

Searching for new options

As with most any subject, there are numerous opinions on what a baker can do to up the versatility of sheeting and laminating processes. Kevin Knott, technical sales manager, Franz Haas Machinery of America, Richmond, VA, said flexibility comes from having a wide range of laminating processes and enough gauging stations to handle a good number of dough types.

“Extra gauging stations and stations with larger diameter rolls also give you the ability to run at higher speeds,” Mr. Knott said. “Accurate and repeatable transfer knives with a full range of adjustments can aid in running various dough types, especially with smaller shapes.”

One way Haas helps with versatility is by building lines with a laminator bypass. This gives the baker the ability to run laminated and non-laminated doughs on the same line. For smaller widths of dough, some sections of the operation can be put on wheels and interchanged to suit specific needs.

“Make sure you have the flexibility to make the products you need to make now and in the future,” Mr. Knott said. “And make sure you select the right width for the capacity of the line and that it’s a good match to the oven.”

Higher speeds on the line can contribute to a facility’s ability move from one product to another. If the line is producing at a quicker rate, it can make up for any lost time during changeovers. But faster speeds require some thought.

“To be able to achieve higher speeds, the sheeting process needs to be even more gentle with the dough,” said Nigel Morris, sales and development director for DrieM Dough Sheeting, a part of The Kaak Group, which is represented exclusively in the US by Naegele, Inc., Bakery Systems, Alsip, IL. “But at the same time, the machinery needs to be able to produce to the correct specifications.”

That said, things aren’t always as cut and dried as increasing speed in order to boost versatility. “High speed and flexibility don’t always go hand-in-hand,” Mr. Riggle said. “Many of our clients who are producing at high speeds and large volumes typically prefer to schedule longer, extended production runs without multiple changeovers per shift.”

Executing a clean change

If you want a nimble line that can easily jump from one product to another, especially when moving to smaller products, it will require quick, efficient changeovers.

Changeover times are affected by numerous factors, but as is the goal, they usually remain relatively low. “Depending on the products, it can vary from 30 seconds to, at the longest, three minutes,” Mr. Morris noted. “It’s important to look at how many people you need to change from one product to another. If you have heavy changeover parts, you may need two or more people to lift them. DrieM manufactures its lines so that all of the changeovers can be performed by one person.”

Another factor to consider is the possibility of building for the future with thoughtful additions when installing a line. When pieces are added down the road, it can result in quick changes and more versatility.

“The majority of our equipement can be retrofitted at a future date,” said Matt Zielsdorf, president, Fritsch USA, Inc., Cranbury, NJ. “You’re not going to take a line designed to do baguettes and turn it into a breadstick line, but things can be done by changing pieces or parts, whether it’s adding a calibrating head or a different type of dough sheeter at the beginning.”

Not surprisingly, a well-planned changeover with well-prepared operators typically results in a quicker process.

“Normally, a changeover is planned several hours in advance,” said Jerry Murphy, president of Rondo, Inc., Moonachie, NJ. “Therefore, operators are always well-prepared because they also know the reduction of the down time of a line is important. Rondo equipment is very operator-oriented, and all changeovers can be done without any tools.”

John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development, Reiser, Canton, MA, said his company’s Vemag line of sheeting systems can help quick switches by applying a thin, even sheet very accurately. “We can also spread the fat as narrow or as wide as required,” he said. “An adjustable shutter allows quick changes in thickness, and simple controls allow the Vemag to be tied to the line rate to keep the rate in sync with the dough.”

Implementation of modular design in a sheeting or laminating system can be an effective way to create a more adaptable operation. By breaking up the line into smaller, easily movable modules, swapping products takes place more quickly and with greater ease.

“You can build removable conveyors into your makeup section,” said David Moline, sales and marketing manager, Moline Machinery LLC, Duluth, MN. “For example, if you have a product that needs to be spread before it is panned versus a product that does not, all you have to do is swap out a conveyor in your makeup section, and you are off and running. If you don’t have a line that is equipped with that kind of modularity, you can’t do all those product varieties.”

But going modular can come at a cost, the most notable of which is floor space. Those auxiliary components for different products need to be stored somewhere when they’re not in use.

“We do build modular components such as depositors for fillings and dry materials that can easily be moved over the line or taken off the line,” Mr. Riggle said. “However, modular means storage space for the modular components, and many bakeries use their square footage to the point where there is not a lot of space for storing mobile units.”

To combat that, Rademaker tries to minimize changeover time with simple, unique-fit tooling that allows an operator to switch out components quickly. Also, the operator interface functions off a recipe management structure so all line settings by product are saved and, therefore, repeatable.

Mr. Moline acknowledged the extra space needs of a modular setup but said more thought must go into the process than just adding more square footage.

“If you’re able to claim the floor space for modular, you can really have a line that changes over quickly,” he said. “And it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of space. It just needs up-front planning. If a line is purpose-built for one product, it makes it more difficult later to change products on the line. For example, if you’re locked into a single rotary-cut station, that’s fine; you can swap out rotary cutters. But you don’t have the ability to make square products or guillotine-cut products as quickly.”

Another way to accomplish flexibility, Mr. Giacoio pointed out, can be to mount circular cutters and other auxiliary systems on easily removable, cantilevered stands that can roll in and roll out.

Testing, testing

In the push to become more adaptable, bakers will find themselves shopping around for new components or completely new lines. Vendors consulted for this article were nearly unanimous in saying that testing of potential purchases is of extraordinary importance.

“You have to validate the offerings of your supplier with testing,” Mr. Rooijmans said. “There are a wide variety of options and methods to sheeting, and you want to make sure you get the solution that produces the highest quality product in the most efficient, automated and consistent way.”

Mr. Moline echoed those sentiments, pointing out the individuality of formulations and the unique ways they react to different methods and machinery. “The biggest favor you can do yourself is to spend time up front and put in the effort to run your dough,  and then you can figure your proper equipment configuration,” he said. “Then you know that you’re not just guessing when you’re buying your equipment. We see all kinds of different things. The only way to be certain that you’re going to get what you want is to test up front.”

Mr. Giacoio said one of the most critical questions a baker can ask when considering a sheeting or laminating purchase is, “Where can I see and test the equipment?” For that reason, Rheon has test facilities on both coasts and operates four bakeries that make laminated baked goods and can be used by bakers for testing.

“They started as test facilities and are now actually functioning bakeries, making mostly croissants and Danish,” he said. “They’re open to customers looking to test. Bakers can test in a full-scale bakery that we just close down for a day or so. They can come in and run their product and formulation on our equipment.”

Sizing down

With all that said, what does it have to do with sheeting and laminating of smaller products? Everything, actually. Focusing on quick, efficient changeovers and potentially purchasing new equipment can be essential when adding to a bakery’s menu of hand-held, grab-and-go goods.

“We are developing special programs for producing unique mini products,” Mr. Rooijmans said. “In the case of mini pizzas, if you produce them on trays, then many things can be done the same way as normal size pizza products.”

Mr. Morris noted that DrieM has experienced demand for systems that make smaller items from customers who supply restaurants with bread. “We are indeed seeing that mini bread products are becoming more popular, for instance, small ciabattas weighing as little as 1 oz and pretzel buns weighing not much more.”

Mr. Knott, meanwhile, identified trends involving a stalwart in the snack cracker area: small, bite-size cheese crackers. Always consistent sellers, these small crackers now are being considered for alternate ingredients and as prime candidates for gluten-free possibilities.

Mr. Zielsdorf noted that the trend is also taking off in Europe and that Fritsch’s Multitwist has been able to produce “all kinds of twisted products, not just pretzels.

“It fits into the on-the-go trend and the rising health awareness,” he continued. “It’s a combination of health and flavorful ingredients.”

Churning out these tiny treats can present their own challenges, a familiar progression for seasoned bakers and snack manufacturers.

“We have a lot of experience with small items, and they’re all unique,” Mr. Moline said. “For example, an artisan bread bite is going to have a much thicker dough with higher hydration. Thick doughs tend to stick to the cutters and belting, and with smaller products, that becomes a problem.”

Not surprisingly, the production of smaller, more intricate pieces can benefit from close attention to detail.

“You’re dealing with a higher number of pieces, and they’re smaller, so these products must be handled differently,” Mr. Giacoio said. “You have to be more precise with any folding or rolling. It doesn’t necessarily give you more of a challenge, but we have to pay more attention to the particulars. It requires more details because you see the imperfections more.”