The options for parameter controls might seem endless for ovens — especially when controls can be dialed down zone by zone — and it can be an overwhelming change.

But once all the parameters are set, it’s a worthy investment for repeatable results. “It’s a little bit challenging to initially establish all the necessary parameters in the newer ovens, but once you do that, because you’ve taken it all into consideration, it’s very repeatable,” said Nathan Stockton, sales manager, CH Babb. “Consistent throughput is the key.”

Data storage not only means that recipes are available at the touch of a button, but it also means the parameters are set in stone, so to speak, so that little tweaks don’t have to be made here and there. “Older ovens require operators to make judgement calls as to when to load and where in the oven the product can be placed,” said Bruce Gingrich, vice-president, sales, WP Bakery Group USA. “With controls like WP Oven Control, both the amount of time needed to monitor the product and the skill level needed to achieve the desired baking result are greatly reduced.”

Automating settings certainly eliminates the risk of human error, and it also helps control mistakes that come with opinions. All too often, operators on an incoming shift will make small setting changes with the belief that their adjustments are the “right” ones. Then, the next shift will come in and do the same thing … and so on and so on. To address this, Mecatherm offers certain individuals control over the settings by providing PLC access via fob, rather than a password.

“Passwords are easy to share or give out, but with a fob, you physically keep it with you,” said Franck Ellenbogen, area sales manager, North America, Mecatherm. Each person who has a fob still only has certain levels of access, depending on job function. For instance, an operator can only unlock a few settings, while a supervisor or master baker has more access to tinker with the settings. “We can customize access depending on what the baker is looking for,” he said.

Kevin Knott, technical sales manager, Franz Haas Machinery of America suggested that recipe management is a control that can sometimes be taken for granted. “When you make that SKU five or six weeks from now, you can bring up the settings that were previously successful. Having the ability to store recipes is a big contributor to oven control.”

Additionally, Mr. Gingrich noted, WP Oven Control is equipped with indicators that alert operators when the temperature in the oven chamber falls below the recipe protocol, whether it’s a slight drop or an excessive one.

In the age of technology, data has become a baking parameter all its own. “Middleby is advancing oven control by measuring, logging and mining specific KPIs for real-time artificial intelligence (AI) analysis and autonomous machine control,” said Scott McCally, president, Auto-Bake Serpentine, part of the Middleby Bakery Group. “These KPIs are built around product throughput, quality, system efficiency and reliability. The strength of AI is the speed and precision that predictive, proactive and reactive process changes can be made to optimize oven performance.”

Tromp Group Americas refers to this data era as “Smart Industry,” according to Jim Cummings, president. “All modules and devices are continually collecting data, available for vertical communication,” he said. “This makes us ready for Smart Industry solutions.”

At CH Babb, the latest trends in data collection is installing new PC-controlled operator systems rather than a PLC, according to Mr. Stockton. The PC can be used to establish a more in-depth management system with the capability to store and trend the data, easily email it as necessary and log it with other information such as graphical data.

CH Babb also can equip ovens with cameras for product monitoring and data collection. “The camera can tell you what’s coming out of the oven — size, shape, color — and if the product is outside of those specs, it can sound an alarm and email a photo. It can even make slight adjustments to the oven parameters to keep it within certain specs,” Mr. Stockton said.

Data logging can benefit the baker in a variety of ways ranging from product testing, controls assessments and food safety checks. The SCORPION data logger from Reading Thermal helps achieve many of these goals. “When we install a new oven, we’ll use the SCORPION to map it,” Mr. Moye explained. “We’ll look for the proportion of radiant heat to convection, humidity levels, balance of airflows — left, right and center — and temperature profiles across the band and through the entire bake.”

Additionally, for new oven installations, Reading Bakery Systems technicians will map the old oven with the SCORPION and use that data profile to set up comparable settings for the new machine.

Similarly, Gemini/W&P profiles its tunnel ovens at startup using a MOLE unit from ECD/Bakewatch, which measures oven temperature through the bake. Once necessary adjustments are made, temperature is evened out across the band, and proper fan settings can be established.

In general, baking is a combination of art and science, as well as trial and error. Thanks to technology advances in oven controls, the trial and error can now be executed in real time rather than waiting until the product comes out of the oven to determine the tweaks.

“In the old days, you needed a full-time oven operator for three shifts per day to inspect the product as it exited the oven, maybe making constant tweaks as things changed,” Mr. Stockton said. “It’s a little more work up front now, but it ties in the whole system, and it makes the operation more repeatable, which means the baker is greatly increasing efficiency.”

Setting the S-curve begins with having the right goals in mind and modifying the specificities along the way. As Mr. Johnson advised, “The baking process is a controlled removal of moisture from the raw product … and the key word is ‘controlled.’ ”

With control comes repeatability and a more consistent product. “You want the same thing coming through that oven every time; you want it all consistent and sellable,” Mr. Stockton said. “It might be challenging to get the entire operational line, including the oven, right up front, but once you do, it’s repeatable. And when you become that efficient, those controls will pay for themselves.”