Multigrain bread loaves made from a sheet of dough can be fully coated with seeds, cracked grain or other toppings before they go into pans.

Here’s the problem: Americans like, want and demand more individualized baked products, especially if they evoke handmade artisan goods, and they’re looking for a good value, too. Yet producing such items consumes time and labor, hardly the most economical of bakery inputs.

The baking industry today faces new needs to differentiate products in customer-oriented ways, noted Patrick Nagel, technical department, sales, customer service, Fritsch USA. “All this is in a market that is changing faster and faster,” he said. Low-price premium products are a particular challenge requiring the baker to react quickly to new requirements. Such products put demands on equipment. Mr. Nagel described these necessities as a combination of great flexibility, gentle dough treatment and high output per hour.

John Giacoio, national sales director, Rheon USA, summarized the need: “Our whole philosophy is about designing and building equipment to be able to make products that replicate the handmade standard.”

And Jim Cummings, president, Tromp Group Americas, voiced the caveat: “To give the customer the highest quality end result means approaching the product with kid gloves.”

A double chunk sheeting system can create a nearly undamaged, tensionless sheet from highly hydrated doughs.

Get the basics down

Bakers use two fundamentally different methods to turn a large mass of dough into individual items: dividing it into single pieces prior to makeup or rolling it out into a continuous sheet and cutting it during makeup. While pastry production typically depends on sheeting, most bread and buns have been made piece-by-piece … until recently.

Sheeting is “a natural” for a wide range of baked foods from flatbreads and ciabatta to hearth goods and pizza crust, to say nothing about cake and brownie batter. That’s where automation enters the picture in the form of sheeting systems, especially when those machines can deftly handle the wet, sticky, porous, delicate doughs. The fact that such sheeting lines can also produce hearth breads, pizza crusts and more comes as a welcome bonus to a baker wanting maximum flexibility from his investment.

Recent improvements in hygienic design give washdown capability to most lines. Engineering that allows tool-less changeovers simplifies maintenance as well.

And the basics of baking apply, too. “Controlling time and temperature and process is the most important part of processing doughs on a sheeting line to get consistent weights and product shape,” observed Patricia Kennedy, president, WP Bakery Group USA.

Moving sensitive doughs from hopper to belt calls for equally sensitive handling. Reiser looks to its flow dividing technology to make very thin, even sheets across the width of the band, explained John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development. “Some of our customers use our sheeter to sheet pizza dough for calzones and then use finish rollers to get to final thickness. It is a real space saver in a plant,” he said.

Adjustable vacuum levels with Handtmann sheet-forming systems provide consistent flow and even thickness, according to Cesar Zelaya, bakery sales and technology manager, Handtmann, Inc. The extruders and depositors can produce both continuous sheets or be equipped with a cutting system to deliver exact product amounts and dimensions.

Vane cell technology minimizes damage to inclusions in batters and doughs.

Form the sheet

Dough sheeting and its partner technology of lamination optimize benefits associated with artisan products. Mr. Nagel noted these as better crumb structure and desirable porosity, less stress or tension on the dough during processing and an overall better quality. “With dough sheeting, we can handle very sensitive and soft dough types,” he said. “Therefore, we and our customers are able to make products with higher quality and longer shelf life. Also freezing of products will be improved due to the higher water content which can be processed.”

The first step is to get the dough right by finding sheeting technology that yields uniform tension-free bands. For wholesale bakers, this means forming a continuous strip, while the smaller retail baker mostly works with dough spooled up on a rod or rolling pin. The sheet can then be laminated, folded, cut, coiled, filled, topped or treated in many other ways.

Sheeting equipment will affect development, hydration, interior crumb and final product characteristics. These vary by product type. Thus, Rademaker offers a variety of methods for forming the initial dough sheet.

“For highly hydrated doughs, we recently introduced the DSS double-chunk sheeting system,” said Eric Riggle, vice-president, Rademaker USA. The tensionless sheet of dough that results produces desirable open cell structure in artisan breads as well as a noticeable increase in product volume, he noted. It is well suited to making artisan breads and croissants where quality standards demand such results.

The dough flow control system unique to Rademaker equipment constantly measures the flow of dough against the speeds of the belt and automatically adjusts line speeds. “This makes sure we are not pulling or pushing dough through the reduction stations, which would result in undesired tension in the dough sheet,” Mr. Riggle explained. This feature is set up as in the PLC recipe management scheme.

AMF Bakery Systems is about to introduce its Unison specialty bread and roll line, a joint project with its sister Markel Bakery Group company, Tromp Group Americas. “This line will do all types of bread products like petit pain, baguettes, ciabatta, swirl breads, hard rolls and much, much more,” Mr. Cummings said. It enables preparation of open-grain breads by employing stress-free dividing.

A Unison line will integrate with AMF’s existing bread and bun systems by using the same mixer, proofer, oven, cooling and packaging equipment. It uses the company’s standard controls and operating system. “Bakers can effectively grow their product portfolios with minimal bakery layout modification,” a statement from AMF noted.

Rheon USA V4 systems replace the continuous weight control (CWC) of earlier models, including extrusion methods, for far better results, Mr. Giacoio explained. “When using a sheeted dough, consistent weights and thicknesses result in quality products,” he said. “The weighing system is an essential part of our zero-stress sheeting method.”

A new dough sheet former, named Infeed, is being added to the Koenig Menes line. This unit provides width adjustment for a homogeneous dough right from the start, according to Richard Breeswine, president and CEO, Koenig Bakery Systems. This feature helps minimize dough waste. The company offers the AWS accurate weight system, an independent machine component that comes with its own electronic controls and drive unit, to enable segmented weighing of the dough sheet across the width of the line.

Fritsch sheeting lines start with a pre-portioning system, equipped with either star rollers for cutting dough portions or a grooved, constantly turning roller pair. The company’s DS and TBP dough sheet formers can be configured as three-roller or five-roller systems, respectively. “Dough sheet formers create a continuous, even dough sheet,” Mr. Nagel said. “This dough sheet will then be further processed to achieve required dough thickness and width.”

The gentle action of this sheeting method and later laminating may allow the baker to cut use of dough additives, Mr. Nagel observed.

ASTec three-roll extruders head up Rondo lamination lines, explained Jerry Murphy, president, Rondo, Inc. The unit has three individually controlled rollers that minimize energy input into the dough during shaping of the sheet. The three-roll system optimizes puff pastry, Danish and croissant production.

Rondo’s Midos dough sheeter fits the needs for sheeting dough with high water content and extended pre-­fermentation times. This line comes with four individually driven, adjustable rollers that produce a dough band very gently. “An undamaged gluten network is essential when manufacturing pre-proofed frozen croissants with a shelf life of up to 12 months,” Rondo noted in a statement.

Batter sheeters can fill pans corner to corner to save time and prevent waste.

Spread the dough out

Dough delivered to the makeup line usually requires spreading to a width appropriate to the product type. A variety of machines accomplish this task.

Koenig developed its Twin Sat system to handle soft doughs with long resting times. “By positioning two satellite roller heads one above the other, it is possible to produce virtually tension-free dough,” Mr. Breeswine said. “While being transported through the machine, the dough is not rolled but formed into size by a patting movement at high speed. After rolling, the dough can be cut, formed and processed without any proofing.”

A quick reducer — described by Mr. Riggle as the workhorse of Rademaker sheeting lines — consists of 12 rollers positioned and rotating above a stainless-steel bottom roller. “These 12 rollers reduce the dough much like a series of rolling pins,” he explained.

A cross-roller is often the next step, but the company tries to minimize use of these systems to avoid unwanted dough tensions that can result in inconsistencies in product makeup, Mr. Riggle said. Two-roll gauging stations adjust the final thickness. “For very dry, hard doughs or doughs sheeted to less than 1 mm thick, we may choose to increase the diameter of our gauging station rollers to 16 in. or even make them solid in order to minimize the deflection of the roller,” he added.

Mr. Cummings provided a different solution. “We have had several customers who have decided to look at two-roll sheeters in place of multirollers,” he explained. “They have noticed very considerable lift properties in laminated and artisan bread products.”

Tromp offers two-, three- and four-roll devices. Mr. Cummings reported that dough bands are e­lectronically monitored at three stages and change feed speeds as needed. He cautioned that such control is needed to prevent hour-glassing, the tendency of a dough to shrink in away from the sides of the belt.

DrieM, the dough sheeting technology arm of the Kaak Group, developed a unique two-roll spreading/cross roller system, explained Ken Hagedorn, vice-­president, sales, and partner, Naegele, Inc., which represents Kaak. “The DrieM Cross Controller gently pulls the dough from both sides across the belt.”

The system employs two large-diameter rollers, one with a smooth surface above the conveyor belt and dough sheet and the other with a profile that gently undulates in both directions from the center point. It is positioned below the belt. As the dough sheet passes above, the bottom roller’s action gently pulls the dough from both sides, Mr. Hagedorn explained.

This method cuts the need for extra dusting flour, eliminates cross-rollers and reduces the amount of work imparted to the dough. Mr. Hagedorn noted that once a line exceeds certain belt speeds, traditional cross-rollers can’t keep up. While this system is not appropriate for laminated doughs, it works well for pizza crust, flatbreads, artisan breads, baguettes and hearth breads and rolls.

WP Bakery Group uses a patented S-shaped roller on its Kemper Pane line. “This is a very gentle, even dough-band forming process using 10 rollers, an infrared sensor for fine adjustments and our new DSC dough stress control technology,” Ms. Kennedy said. “We also have a new Kemper guillotine that employs rocking knife motion allowing it to handle very wet doughs so they won’t stick to the guillotine.”

A gauging station at the beginning of this lamination line sets the dough sheet at proper depth and width.

Be sanitary and safe

Washdown capability has become a strong focus for users of sheeting systems, according to equipment manufacturers. One reported that all orders from “the big companies” now mandate such design.

Future sheeters and laminators will require a higher level of hygiene along with more precision, according to Reiser in a statement. It also noted the importance of equipment designs favoring quick-change, easy-to-clean components like the Vemag’s double screw.

Makeup lines, an equipment category that includes sheeting systems, are where the greatest amount of washdown occurs, according to Mr. Riggle. “Customers apply sticky fruit fillings here and apply nuts and other allergens, so these areas need to be able to be cleaned thoroughly and quickly,” he said. Rademaker engineers apply the less-is-more principle to such lines. Conveyors are more open in design to allow water to flow through. Stand-offs of mounted components and sloped surfaces move dirt and water away to the floor.

Moline has turned its attention to developing full washdown sheeting systems. “Proper sanitary design is more critical today than ever before with heightened sensitivity to food safety, both from a regulatory and PR standpoint,” said David Moline, sales and marketing manager, Moline Machinery, LLC.

“DrieM only builds washdown lines,” Mr. Hagedorn emphasized. Additionally, they are built without chains or sprockets, and they use common sizes of bearings and motors to hold down spare parts inventory needs.

The matter of quick changeovers without special tools — or indeed, any tools — is increasingly important to many companies. “Another feature is the changeover cart to manage heavier components such as guillotine cutters or blade rollers,” Mr. Hagedorn said. Rails allow the operator to slide the device out of the line onto the cart, which also keeps components organized when not in use.

Mr. Riggle reported that the company’s new Universal makeup line is easy to reconfigure when changeovers must bring in various components. “Our tooling design has been made lighter to be relocated in various positions,” he said. “The goal here is to minimize the time for product changeover so our customers can get back in the business of producing the highest quality and quantity of product in the least amount of time.”

The decision to adopt sheeting for preparation of bread specialties requires all the care of ensuring return on investment (ROI) that any other capital project does. “Justifying ROI is what ‘green lights’ most upgrade projects,” Mr. Moline noted. “So identifying areas of inefficiency or loss will be the first step. From there, equipment can be identified that help increase output capacity while minimizing the inefficiencies of older equipment.”

Mr. Giacoio laid down another important factor. “Be true to your product,” he said. “Don’t compromise just to run a given piece of equipment or at a particular output rate.”