While ingredient handling systems can reduce waste and provide accurate dispensing of materials to provide better front-end controls to the process, many baking and snack companies also want to ensure they are getting reasonable returns on their investments.

In some cases, they may initially opt to automate fewer ingredients to reduce capital cost, but most of these systems are designed so that they can be expanded in the future, according to Scott Fischer, director of sales and marketing, Shick USA, Kansas City, MO. In others, these companies may forego minor ingredient automation upfront, but they will want the bulk flour system designed so that an integrated minor ingredient system can be added in the future. It all depends on the type of operation and where they can invest most strategically to get the biggest bang for the buck.

“We also offer manual weighing systems that allow you to achieve a level of production planning, recipe control, ingredient traceability and reporting without the cost of automated equipment,” Mr. Fischer said. “Operators are stepped through manual operations, which reduces the number or errors and increases quality and efficiency. These systems are incorporated into the same control system as the automated bulk ingredients, which allows us to provide an integrated solution.”

When buying a system, bakers should ask themselves several questions such as how and when to transition from bags and totes to bulk handling of ingredients, noted Stuart Carrico, food process manager, MAC Equipment, Kansas City, MO. For example, what are the company’s transportation costs? How does the business determine ROI? Does the equipment need to comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requirements? How must the system be designed and built to meet today’s sanitation and hygiene demands?

For minor and micro ingredient systems, the challenges are essentially the same, Mr. Carrico added. “It is easier to justify a bulk system than it is minors and micros because the savings from going to bulk are obvious and easily captured,” he explained. “The savings and benefits from automating minors and micros are more complex due to cross-contamination issues, allergen concerns and determining which minors to automate. Automating minors and micros is always more costly than bulk on a per-ingredient basis.”

In fact, depending on the level of accuracy desired, automating minor and micro ingredients is not always an inexpensive proposition, Mr. Carrico added. “There are less expensive system designs available to bakers and manufacturers, but baker beware spending on the cheap,” he cautioned. “They may regret the decision in terms of accessibility, cleanability and reliability, in a few years. If the operators won’t use it, it’s a wasted resource.”

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