A continuous laytime conveyor with chunker helps reduce sanitation and labor and improve process controls.

At first glance, getting from point A to point B seems quite simple. Besides, how difficult can it be to transfer dough from the mixer to the hopper of the divider, sheeter or makeup line? In reality, dough handling can get quite complicated, depending the process and the myriad options that start with a bunch of different ­alphabetical letters.

Consider C as in chunkers, K for kibblers, P as in pumps and BTH for bowl or trough hoists, just to name a few. Each offers distinct advantages. In most cases, however, the choice isn’t totally determined by the baker.

“The challenge is that there are a lot of dough characteristics from firm to soft and sticky to everything in between, including gluten-free, organic and clean label with a number of different properties,” noted Damian Morabito, president, Topos Mondial. “We’re being asked, ‘How do you get those sticky doughs to the cookie, ­cracker or bar processing lines?’ In some cases, they may be transferring 20-lb pieces by hand. You have to get ­pretty creative to develop systems to automate many of these processes.”

Evolving the technology

Historically for bread and bun bakers, dough pumps provided a popular option for high-volume operations partly because they work and degas the dough to create tight-grained products. They also level out the aging of highly liquid English muffin dough between batches, according to Terry Bartsch, vice-president of sales for Shaffer, a Bundy Baking Solution.

Today, those mainstays of the bread aisle face fierce competition from a bevy of artisan breads, which are often merchandised within in-store bakeries, or brioche, pretzel and artisan-style rolls that are making inroads in the foodservice arena and its quick-service restaurant segment.

As a result, chunkers have emerged as the system of choice, partly because they gently portion and transfer a wide variety of slack to stiff doughs. “Some people use dough pumps for white pan breads, but we’re seeing their use narrowing, even for English muffins,” Mr. Bartsch observed.
“We’re seeing a lot fewer requests for dough pumps these days.”

Overall, it’s a matter of weighing the pros and cons of each system, noted Alain Lemieux, director of engineering, dough systems, AMF Bakery Systems. Because pumps work the dough, the torque and friction cause its temperature to rise. On the other hand, he pointed out, chunkers require more intensive, proper cleaning because so many different moving parts come in contact with the dough.

Moreover, pumps and chunkers tend to be used with straight doughs. For longer-fermentation products, bakers often opt for trough or bowl handling systems. That’s especially true for sponge-and-dough sandwich breads or Old World artisan breads, rolls, pastries and other baked goods that require substantial rest time after mixing to develop a fuller-bodied taste and texture. Automating trough handling saves labor, but it also can be more expensive and difficult to maintain than other alternatives, according to Mr. Lemieux.
The strategic use of conveyors can be yet another solution. For many bakeries seeking to automate in existing plants, going up in space is the final frontier.

“A vertical, sandwich-style dough elevator conveyor is the most efficient way to raise dough up to the next processing elevation,” Mr. Lemieux said. “Such conveyors move dough from floor level to 10- to 12-ft high yet take up only a few square feet of floor space. They are far more compact than long, gentle slope-inclined conveyors.”

ABI Ltd. integrates vertical conveyors with overhead lines to run above the primary processing equipment in-plant so that they do not interfere with the working areas below.

“This has proven to be a particularly effective method because production facilities tend to have high clearance, even when floor space is limited,” noted Aaron Burke, sales representative, ABI Ltd. “Moving the product up first allows the bakery to use all the empty height in the plant, essentially adding another floor to the operation the same way a mezzanine or catwalk would.”

That virtual analogy actually is not too far from reality.

“We have had some strange requests such as taking dough from the mixer on the first story all the way up to feed a processing line on a second story or mezzanine with a vertical belt elevator, which we did ultimately supply, and it was successful,” Mr. Morabito explained.

Reiser relies on Z- or C-style vertical conveyors that fit into a baker’s existing setup and transfer the dough quickly and gently at rates of up to 40,000 lb an hour.

“The standard Z-configured systems transport dough away from the mixer onto the overhead transport conveyor,” said John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development, Reiser. “C-style systems deliver dough to a conveyor running back toward the mixer. It allows us to fit in very tight spots.”

Reiser’s sandwich conveyor hugs close to the chunker for minimal floor space but swings away when it’s time to clean up. “Trough systems travel the floor, taking up space and limiting where you can place your divider,” Mr. McIsaac said. “With a chunker and our wide, belt conveying systems, your divider and mixer locations are very flexible. The plant can be laid out for highest efficiency.”

In some cases, the options can get overwhelming and need careful consideration, suggested Jeff McLean, sales manager, North America, Spooner Vicars Bakery Systems.

“Doughs used for crackers are much softer, have a fair amount of elasticity and can be handled with a wide variety of systems,” he said.

These range from laytime conveyors taking dough directly from inclined conveyor dough-feed or sandwich conveyors. Other options include dough trough elevators or low-level dough trough tippers with dough feeders and inclined conveyors.

He added that rotary-moulded and wirecut doughs take on other issues as they are drier or crumbly and wet doughs that cannot be used with sandwich-style dough handling systems.

Continue reading to learn more about how to get the best out of your dough systems.