At Gonnella Baking, it’s now all systems go following a 58,000-sq-ft addition completed last year at its bakery in Aurora, IL. Today, the plant’s new state-of-the-art bread and bun line increases the throughput of the original operation by more than 60%. Buns seamlessly march out of the new continuous proofer and oven at 800 pieces a minute.

And the bakery is designed to double that capacity within a short period of time.

With the expansion, Gonnella Baking also significantly ramped up its overall hearth bread and roll capabilities by remodeling its existing bakery and reconfiguring the production line to handle baguettes, French, Italian and other specialty breads and rolls.

Overall, the much-anticipated expansion provides ample capacity to meet the demands of its national customers. With the completion of the production project, Schaumburg, IL-based Gonnella is now turning its eyes to the Aurora bakery’s packaging department to better serve its rapidly expanding customer base, according to Michael Lucchesi, Aurora plant operations manager.

At the 107,000-sq-ft facility, both the new panned and reconfigured hearth production lines are supported by a 40,000-sq-ft central packaging department that houses 10 lines, including two bread, three bun, two individually wrapped product lines and three roll lines. Bagged products are shipped in corrugated boxes or bread baskets and trays.

Going forward, some of the solutions are short-term, such as adding additional slicing capabilities to accompany the ramp up in production capacity. In the long run, Mr. Lucchesi pointed out, Gonnella’s ability to quickly respond to customer requests and shifting market demands will affect the future design of the bakery’s packaging department.

 “We have four or five renditions on how to remodel our packaging department,” Mr. Lucchesi said. Gonnella’s customer-driven focus and its parallel initiatives to improve efficiency and yield have been integral to the company’s growth in recent years and its subsequent expansion at the Aurora bakery.

Within the past three years Gonnella prioritized a major initiative to automate handling of individually wrapped (IW) baked goods. Today, buns flow down from spiral coolers and, using a series of aligners and indexers, eventually split into two rows where buns race single file into the Delta IW wrappers and then to a proprietary robotic and case loading system. The end result? “We had 17 people individually wrapping products before,” said to Michael Redick, vice-president, special operations. “We now have two.”

Although Gonnella is exploring ways to reconfigure its packaging department, the company is being careful that its investments provide both greater flexibility and enhanced efficiency for the foreseeable future. That’s sometimes easier said than done.

“We’re looking to replace older equipment with state-of-the-art systems,” Mr. Redick noted. “In the short run, we may have to look at manual solutions until longer term options, such as robotics, become available. It’s a matter of finding the equipment that best meets our needs.”