A new bakery has many things to consider in the planning: capacity, flexibility, future expansions, maintenance and sanitation, transfer points. Proper planning can help ensure a bakery fulfills all these needs.

Bakers strive to make their production lines as efficient and flexible as possible. Efficient and flexible production lines mean more capacity, a variety of products and more opportunity for growth. And growth means expansion will eventually be necessary. To accommodate these needs, bakers need facility design that can cultivate those goals, all while saving money, of course.

“They’re always looking at cost,” said Greg Carr, director of project planning for baking and snack, The Austin Co. “They’re looking at trying to maximize or optimize the production of the facility. They want to look at the aspects of the design that will help optimize the throughput while considering the lowest cost.”

Incorporating automation often hits all of these points. “Our consensus is when possible, moving toward automation to reduce cost and increase efficiencies is the first step,” said Todd Allsup, vice-president, Stellar.

Working with facility design engineers, bakers can make the most of their automated or semi-automated lines for streamlined and efficient production, built-in flexibility, and prepped for future expansions.

First things first, a project charter provides bakers and their engineering team with a clear overhead picture of the facility, its needs and its future.

“You’re taking an integrated view of the overall project,” Mr. Allsup said. “Project charter is the specific objective the project, and it would be supported by a manufacturing strategy.” Without a project charter, bakers can miss key information such as the downstream and upstream impacts of particular equipment. “It also opens potential for misaligned line speeds and throughputs and bottlenecks,” he said. These are the enemies of efficient bakeries.  

Avoiding bottlenecks is key to improving efficiencies, and employing facility engineers can help. “When you get a little bit further, it’s important you look at your mass balance equations for your SKUs, understand the process diagrams, and understand the flow of people through a plant,” Mr. Allsup said. “If they aren’t considered, they can create bottlenecks.”

Preventing backups from happening in the first place would be ideal, and the layout of the building and production floor is a key way to do that. “Straight line flow is the best way for eliminating bottlenecks,” Mr. Carr said. “When you have flow in existing buildings or non-linear flow, they end up creating U-shape or L-shape flows, and bottlenecks happen. The straighter you can keep it, the fewer bottlenecks you can have.”

Linear production lines also have other benefits such as improved maintenance, flexibility and worker safety. “Bakers like lines of sight so they can see down the lines because the newer bakeries are so automated that there are very few people that need to be there,” said Stuart Jernigan, director of pre-construction, AM King.

Sometimes bottlenecks can’t be prevented; however, once they happen, it’s important to identify them and truly understand the issues before a baker can determine the best course of action to correct them. “Questions need to be asked in reference to space for replacing the piece of equipment or what size footprint you have to work with,” said Mike Salazar, chief engineer, Epstein. “This is when a good design of your process is important, allowing you enough room for expanding or replacing or updating equipment. When ‘boxing’ your equipment in a limited space, it must be understood that instances like this will eventually happen.”

Certain areas of the bakery just seem made for bottlenecks, the packaging department for instance. “If it’s a bakery doing multiple types of products, packaging is going to be complicated,” Mr. Jernigan said.

With this area’s proclivity for changeovers and breakdowns, bottlenecks are a serious challenge. AM King has found that adding redundancy in this department helps alleviate them. By adding an extra set of equipment, breakdowns no longer cause much of a problem, as the equipment can be swapped to keep production moving while repairs are made.  

Also, simple storage can be done more efficiently to streamline packaging. This is an area that also experiences a lot of changeovers between materials for different products. “A lot of times in these plants, everything is on the floor and low racks,” said John Koury, architect, consultant for AM King. “Packaging materials themselves end up being stored inefficiently. If they are being organized and stored, then you’re just dealing with the machines and the feet on the ground.” This idea of efficient storage applies to every aspect of the bakery.

Addressing transitions and the materials needed at each point in production is key to ensuring that a line runs smoothly. For example, something as simple as storing bagged ingredients so they are easily accessible to the scaling station improves efficiency. Looking for ways to improve at each transition helps the whole line.