Automation enables bakers to reach higher throughput rates and more consistent product than ever before. Equipment has continued to advance, but bringing all the components together in one production line creates something truly efficient.

“It’s trying to be in control — not so much of the individual pieces of equipment but every time one piece of equipment comes into contact with another piece of equipment at transfer points,” said Ashley Morris, area sales manager, Kaak Group, represented in the US by Naegele, Inc. “That’s where you need to have the control; that’s the automation.”

With the International Baking Industry Expo (IBIE) around the corner Oct. 8-11, bakers have new equipment and lines on their minds. Bringing together units from different suppliers into one cohesive system requires planning and communication. Designating a point person to handle bakery-vendor relationships can help smoothly facilitate activities and provide a bird’s eye view of the entire project.

“We’re the quarterback on the team, coordinating activities onsite and giving the customer a single person to speak with regardless of the issue,” said Vince Tamborello, president, Benchmark Automation, of the company’s role in production line installation.

Project managers can gather equipment proposals, design the line, coordinate meetings between the baker and suppliers and answer questions from either side of the equation. “That way, you’re not coming to an equipment service technician who doesn’t really have a good feel for the entire scope of the line,” Mr. Tamborello said. “It gives the customer someone they have talked to throughout the process who understands exactly what the customer is saying when they ask a question. This approach doesn’t require them to coordinate activities with people from eight or nine different companies. They can do all of that directly through us. We take care of all those details for them.”

Outside project managers also save bakers from delegating these duties to one of their own employees, which can drain the bakery of that person’s skills. “They’re not going to have to assign the project to one of their employees and take that individual away from their normal responsibilities,” said Jim Diver, Dunbar Systems. Additionally the employee may not be familiar with all of the mechanical or electrical requirements to ensure the line runs smoothly, he continued.

With the improvements automation brings through efficiency and consistency, it would be a shame if the installation wasn’t handled the same.

Improving control and efficiency

An automated line delivers several benefits: decreased labor, reduced waste, increased throughput and more consistent product quality. Many of these benefits are delivered by high speeds, computer controls and line layout.

“Our goal is always to minimize labor and energy sources and maximize throughput efficiency,” said Darren Jackson, COO and vice-president of sales and marketing, The Henry Group. “That is best achieved when designing the line layout. Equipment that is engineered to yield the best quality isn’t always based around new technology. There are basic mechanical differences that may yield better for particular products.”

The Henry Group accomplishes this by factoring in pan rates and flow of resources to improve the line’s overall yield.

The Kaak Group ensures a streamlined, optimized production line by controlling all of the variables. Mr. Morris said that the company aims to build every piece of equipment that comprises a production line and then use a computer program to link those pieces and eliminate transfer points. “The key as we see automation is to take away every single transfer point because it’s one line,” he said. “We now have every machine talking to one another on one system.”

By streamlining every transfer, The Kaak Group eliminates the need for labor at each hand-off to correct product positioning. This approach saves on waste because it automatically adjusts oven and proofer temperatures to accommodate downtime and changeovers. “We can take complete control of the line,” Mr. Morris said. “We take total responsibility for that product from point A to point Z.”

Things to consider upfront

Every new production line is an opportunity for bakers to dream a little. Whether replacing an existing line or creating a process for a brand new product, bakers can literally go back to the drawing board in the planning stage and create something special or improved.

“Allow creativity to play a role,” Mr. Jackson advised. “Ask the questions that begin with ‘what if,’ ‘why,’ ‘how could we’ or ‘if there were no … then what would we do?’  Removing restrictions can allow new ideas especially for unique products that require custom equipment.”

During the planning stage, it’s also helpful to tap into the experience of those who will be working with the equipment all day, every day — the bakery employees.

“Invite production, engineering, maintenance and sanitation to the table in the early phases,” Mr. Jackson said. “A refresher of what you do not like about your existing lines or equipment can help vendors improve functionality and not repeat problems from the past.”

With a little bit of dreaming done and wish lists made, it’s time to delve into the nitty gritty details. Everything from understanding expectations to knowing the seemingly obvious details is critical to ensure a smooth installation.

“Get the details,” Mr. Diver urged. “Nothing is too small for an assumption to be made. If an assumption is being made, address it during a team conversation to ensure it is correct.”

Product dimensions, tolerances and presentation should all be clear going into a proposal. Daily throughput expectations should be defined. All electronic components should be compatible across equipment from different suppliers. Consider the building structure: drains, doors, obstructions, and don’t forget to look up at the ceiling for conduit locations, drain piping and building structures, Mr. Diver said. It’s also important that expectations of the line be clearly defined.

When laying out an automated line, the bakery engineer needs to consider the product-in-process as it is supplied or transferred from one unit operation to the next. “We’re always saying, ‘Tell me exactly what you’re giving me, and I’ll tell you exactly what I’m giving you back,’ and if we don’t have that, it can affect every other single machine on the entire line,” Mr. Tamborello said.

Wish lists and dreams are weighed against the reality of throughput, product needs and floor space restrictions to then create a master layout. “Achieving an efficient layout has more to do with the space available for the line within an existing plant and the selection of equipment needed to produce the product,” Mr. Jackson said. The layout is developed in collaboration between the vendors and baker, and once it’s finalized, installation can begin. 

Talking it out

When it’s time to install the line, bakers need to be clear as to when want production up and running. This allows project managers to coordinate with suppliers and schedule installation of the various pieces of equipment.

“The No. 1 thing that makes an installation go smoother is having an understanding of when a customer expects to have qualified product coming into the system,” Mr. Tamborello explained. “Coordinating installers from eight or nine companies is difficult. Not everyone has the same time window available. When we don’t have that unit on site, there’s very little that these equipment representatives can do other than sit there idly. It’s a huge waste of resources for the companies, and it’s a waste of money for the customer.”

With specific dates in mind, project managers can schedule stages accordingly and get started. It cannot be stressed enough that communication is the key to a successful installation. “Communication with customer and vendor is essential, and nothing is too small not to discuss,” Mr. Diver said. “We have found that face-to-face meetings with the customer prior to installation and start-up build a good trusting relationship. A customer needs a project group to be hands-on and totally involved in their investment.”

Being hands-on and communicative means meetings — a lot of meetings. “During installation, we have daily meetings with all of our suppliers, and during start-up, we have daily wrap-up meetings with all of our suppliers,” Mr. Tamborello said. These meetings provide a space and time to gather feedback on how that day of production went: what went right, what went wrong, challenges that were faced and how to move forward and make corrections. “The daily wrap-up meetings are probably the most important things we do when we’re in the field,” he continued.

Communication is also critical between the suppliers and project manager, who holds the birds-eye view of the entire line. “We coordinate transfer points with all vendors upstream or downstream with which we have to integrate,” Mr. Jackson said. Working from assembly drawings for each piece of equipment, the project manager can ensure transfer points will be streamlined by establishing the proper elevations, end roller diameters of the conveyors, widths or patterns in which the products will be delivered from one piece of the equipment to the next.

With a project manager acting as the point person, gathering all that information, communicating and asking and answering questions, new production lines can be installed as smoothly as possible, and issues that arise can be mitigated efficiently. All of this delivers an automated production line that provides faster throughput, reduced waste and more consistent quality.