Consumers continue to move away from the traditional three square meals a day, and snacking rises to fill the pit in their tummies as people go about their on-the-go lives. Bars in particular have stepped up as a go-to meal replacer for many Americans. To be worthy of replacing one of the three squares, however, a bar must be packed with nutrition and void of ingredients consumers deem undesirable. That means plenty of nuts, ancient grains, fruits and dark chocolate as well as no artificial ingredients.

As bar producers update their offerings to follow in the footsteps set forth by the KIND bar, they will also find their equipment needs updating, too. “As bakers work to develop the next healthy energy bar by incorporating new and diversified ingredients such as nuts, fruits, grains, whey proteins and other dairy ingredients and non-wheat flours, they are often finding the final dough requires unique handling during the depositing or extruding process,” said Cesar Zelaya, bakery technology manager, Handtmann, Lake Forest, IL.

These ingredients create a viscous dough that can be a bear to run through equipment. Stiff doughs can also be incredibly sticky, creating further challenges as the slab runs through rollers. Also, large inclusions such as nuts can throw off weight accuracies as ­bakers try to maintain inclusion integrity while also balancing weights.

Wrestling stiff doughs

With a cleaner label and heftier ingredients packed in, bar dough is becoming heavier, and that weight strains the equipment. “By adding more proteins or fibers, the mass is generally heavier than in the past,” said Mike Beckert, regional director of sales, Hosokawa Bepex GmbH, Leingarten, Germany. “Therefore, a more solid machine design is required.”

Because these types of bars often are not fat-based doughs, they lack the extensibility of, for example, a cookie dough. “One challenge is that the dough ­becomes very abrasive in processing,” explained Geoff Hawley, sales director, Baker Perkins, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI.

To accommodate these heftier doughs, the equipment also has to be heftier. Many of a machine’s components must be bigger to account for these bars that fight back when processed. “In our design, we utilize thicker side frames, larger motors and thicker feed rolls to reduce any deflection caused by the stiff dough as it moves through our equipment, some so tough it can be like processing concrete,” said Brett Cutler, technical services supervisor, Baker Perkins.

To extrude firmer doughs, Reiser, Canton, MA, increased the power and the vacuum on its Vemag Bar Extruder. The Vemag relies on a positive displacement doublescrew pump, employing a combination of gravity, mechanical forces and a vacuum to extrude bars firmly but gently.

Bar doughs can also change over time as they sit on the floor, so it’s important to process them efficiently. As doughs change, they become even harder to the point of solidity at times, according to Mr. Zelaya. To help process products with greater protein content and large inclusions, Handtmann uses higher-pressure vacuum pumps for accurate dough depositing. 

Whole inclusions also create processing challenges. Chocolate and fruit smear. Nuts and grains crack. As dough moves through the equipment, inclusions must remain intact so consumers also enjoy the bar visually. Handtmann’s Vane Cell Technology and Servo Driven Flow Divider is a low-friction machine that can delicately carry and divide bars without damaging valuable inclusions.

Solving weighty issues

Whole inclusions also are a challenge in cutting. “Bar producers require exact-weight portioning, and they want a superior looking product that maintains its integrity,” said John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development, Reiser.

Portioning equipment must be able to deliver an accurate portion without smeared or crushed inclusions. Reiser’s doublescrew pump delivers accuracy while gently transporting the dough. “Whole nuts remain intact, and the finished product has great eye appeal,” Mr. McIsaac said. “Customers can see and identify the product’s particulates.”

The Vemag’s doublescrew technology controls weight while still maintaining product integrity. A vacuum creates a low-pressure area that allows dough to flow into the screw while gentle mechanical force guides it inside. When the doublescrew is full, the operator knows exactly how much product is delivered with each rotation, ensuring exact weights on a repeatable basis with zero guesswork, according to Mr. McIsaac.

Weight accuracy has always been essential to bar production, but today’s bars feature many value-added ingredients, possibly even organic ones, that are pricier. Without accurate weights, bar producers are nickel-and-diming themselves with each unit they cut and package. “They want to make sure each bar is at the right target weight and not giving any away. Even being just a little off on weight control can really spiral costs out of control,” Mr. Cutler explained.

Weight precision is such a critical element of bar production that it continues to be a driving factor in Baker Perkins’ machine design. The equipment uses a filler block arrangement with tight tolerances, which, according to Mr. Hawley, is both simple to operate and delivers optimum weight control.

Critical temperatures

Temperature, of both the ingredients and the equipment, is crucial in addressing other challenges in processing bars. “Critical temperature control of each individual mass, weight accuracy and forming consistency are probably the most important since their impact tends to multiply with the increased amount of layers in the bar,” said Danila Daniloff, sales engineer, Sollich NA, Seminole, FL.

Controlling ingredient temperatures aids in forming and preventing the bar components from sticking to the equipment. Ingredients such as nougat or caramel must be tempered properly before forming. This becomes even more critical if the bar is multi-layered. Sollich’s Conbar system enables tempering to happen at the same time as forming, making the process more efficient. In certain applications, the company employs cooling tunnels that achieve optimum temperature and viscosity for each layer.

Bar dough, especially stiffer varieties, also tend to be quite sticky because of the clean-label binders bar producers rely on. Controlling the temperature when handling these ingredients and exerting temperature control on the rollers helps minimize the challenges posed by sticky dough. Martin Riis, product manager, Unifiller, Delta, BC, explained that mixing binding and dry ingredients in heated kettles helps keep temperature fluctuations to a minimum. If the warm binders are added to cold or even room-temperature dry ingredients, the binders get colder and colder as the dough mixes. Extreme temperature differences impact how the dough mixes, therefore affecting how it handles downstream.

Proper temperature control of binding ingredients aids in preventing dough from sticking to forming rollers but so can controlling the temperature of the rollers themselves. Unifiller’s three-roll extruded system features large gauge rollers that can be cooled to eliminate sticking. “The binders these bar producers are using — the honey, the agave, the syrups — stick to the surfaces of metal extruders, so by cooling it or heating it you can eliminate that,” Mr. Riis said.

In addition to the heating and cooling elements built into the rollers, Unifiller also employs non-stick coatings in some applications as well as a positive scraping system to keep the roller surfaces clean.

Cleaning up after allergens

A conversation about bar processing would not be complete without discussing sanitation. With nuts  as a base ingredient, sanitation will always be top-of-mind for producers wanting to keep their lines versatile but prevent cross-contamination. Ease-of-cleaning and accessibility is at the forefront of equipment design. 

“Anything we can do in our design to decrease the intervention required to clean effectively is our goal,” Mr. Cutler said. “As much as engineers want to throw all the neatest features and tricks at the machine, we really try to ask ourselves, ‘Does it meet the concept of trying to keep the machine acceptable and cleanable?’ ”

Baker Perkins adopted the sanitation principles laid out by the Grocery Manufacturers Association when it began focusing on sanitation as a design element. “GMA was the first to say the industry will demand significant improvements in hygiene, design and maintenance of equipment,” Mr. Hawley said. “They came up with the design of what equipment should look like.”

Baker Perkins evaluated its equipment with those principles in mind and introduced the TruClean range of equipment. Gone are exposed threads, flat surfaces and continuous welds. Equipment is manufactured from materials that can withstand the fury of a vigorous chemical cleaning, and the machines can easily be disassembled, moved to a cleaning area or cleaned in-place.

Hosokawa took a cue from its customers who asked for more hygienic equipment. “Our reputation as a supplier of state-of-the-art hygienic equipment is based on our motto to listen to our customers and discuss with them their needs and problems they are facing in their everyday business,” Mr. Beckert said. The result is equipment that delivers acceptable performance, flexibility and safety while being easier to clean.

Sanitary design comes with some basic must-haves: sloping angles for easy drainage, no crevices or edges that can harbor bacteria and ease-of-­disassembly. “All components in the product zone are constructed with stainless steel or other hygienic materials that can be easily ­dismounted mostly without tools for easy cleaning, inspection and maintenance,” Mr. Daniloff said of Sollich NA’s latest developments in equipment design.

Accessibility is another no-brainer. Sanitors must be able to get to the product contact surfaces quickly in order to clean them effectively. The Vemag Bar Extruder features such accessibility. “With our machines, each part of the product path is easy to access for cleaning and inspection,” Mr. McIsaac said.

Capabilities that help sanitation teams clean equipment quickly are vital to a bakery that won’t be making any money during any downtime. According to Mr. Zelaya, Handtmann offers easy-to-follow standard procedures for simple disassembly, sanitation and reassembly of its equipment. This process takes less than 30 minutes to complete.

Sollich NA’s Conbar formers’ completely open design enables full washdown cleaning. The hygienic hopper is the only piece that must be cleaned separately, and it can be taken apart in seconds, according to Mr. Daniloff.

The bar industry continues to boom in this brave new food world, and as the category evolves, the equipment rises to meet its needs in dough handling, accurate weights and hygienic design.