GANDIA, SPAIN — For Rafael Juan, chief executive officer of Dulcesol Group, one of Spain’s largest baking businesses, the key to success involves running a flat organization.

“Only the strategic decisions are done by the top management group,” he explained. “We want to improve our personnel to engage them in the work and get the talent to take ownership in the process.”

As the company diversifies, it relies on technology to streamline a complex process.

“We try to be versatile and efficient at the same time,” Mr. Juan said. “It’s difficult, but we have to add some of the industry’s newest technology on our lines to be more flexible.”

That means investing not only in new lines but also in structure, such as in how raw materials flow directly to mixers to automating the packaging and then adding robotics for palletizing to streamline shipping.

Headquartered in the city of Gandia in Valencia, Spain, Dulcesol Group has more than 2,200 employees, annual sales of nearly €325 million ($375 million) and distribution in nearly 50 countries. The company operates three bakeries — one in Gandia and nearby Villalonga in Valencia, and another in Algeria — that house 38 production lines with an annual capacity of 160,000 tonnes (350 million lbs).

The 300,000-square-foot plant in Gandia houses 15 production lines where 800 people work, mostly on three shifts from five to seven days a week. To feed the sweet goods lines, the bakery relies on more than 25 silos and liquid tanks. The Zeppelin ingredient handling system includes nine flour silos and four sugar silos each ranging from 50 to 75 tonnes (110,000 to 165,000 lbs). Liquid ingredients are held in six shortening, four chocolate and four egg tanks varying from 40 to 50 tonnes (88,000 to 110,000 lbs). Antonio Ferragud, industrial engineer of Dulcesol, said more than 100 holding tanks and batching systems are strategically located throughout the facility. The bakery also has a Zeppelin micro ingredient handling system.

Overall, the bakery cranks out 30 different segments of sweet goods and hundreds more s.k.u.s (stock-keeping units). According to Antonio Ferragud, industrial engineer, a classic example includes the puff pastry line, which was producing chocolate Napolitanas during Baking & Snack’s visit.

After mixing dough in a Diosna spiral mixer, the bowl is automatically lifted to the hopper of a Trivi dual laminating line, which sheets the dough and folds it with shortening as it passes through two reduction stations. The line makes a U-turn where roller cutters slice it into strips that are filled with chocolate, folded into tubes and guillotined into individual pieces.

Next, the dough pieces travel in a zig-zag proofer.

“We can have up to six hours of proofing on some of our pastries,” Mr. Ferragud said. “I’m not a baker, but I’ve been told by them that the more time you proof a product, the less yeast you use and the better it is.”

The Napolitanas bake in a six-zone hybrid oven that features indirect- and direct-fired options as well as radiant and convection heat capabilities.

“After the oven, nobody touches the product until we manually case pack it,” Mr. Ferragud noted.

The next part of the process reflects Dulcesol’s ongoing investment in automating packaging to improve operational efficiency over the years. The snacks then pass through a Trivi vertical tray cooler for up to one hour before the robotic depanning of 16 snacks at a time to a single-lane finger conveyor leading to the Ilapak horizontal flow wrapper. A robot picks and places five individually wrapped products that enter a flowwrapped bag that eventually sells for €1. In the end, the manually case-packed products are robotically palletized.

A bright new investment

To add a new bun production line, Dulcesol Group expanded the bakery replete with walls of windows that let the sun shine in. Currently, one section of the plant houses the high-speed line, but there’s room to add a second one, according to Mr. Ferragud.

A dedicated Zeppelin ingredient handling system features three large liquid sponge systems. It also has a brine system that’s common in Europe to supply a complete saturated salt solution to the mixer.

The VMI batch mixing system includes two 375-kg (825-lb) horizontal mixers that turn out 4.5 tonnes (9,920 lbs) of dough an hour. The mixers feature vacuum mixing, triple jacket bowls for cooling, automatic dough discharging and spray nozzles for CIP cleaning.

Next, the dough travels up a VMI bowl lift to an AMF Bakery Systems eight-pocket divider, which operates at approximately 120 strokes to produce about 4,800 dozen dough pieces an hour. The pieces pass through rounder bars, then receive flour dusting followed by a 1-minute intermediate proof.

The panned pieces then head into a Stewart Systems conveyorized proofer with universal track supports, a dual-tower ductless conditional and a precision, high-pressure humidity system. They then pass through a combination Burford water sprayer, water splitter, flour duster and Smart Seeder that allow the line to create a variety of buns.

The buns bake in a Stewart conveyorized oven that comes with a greater capacity convection system with larger internal convection tubes in the straight parts of the oven and the corners. This feature provides a more uniform bake throughout the four baking zones and reduces energy consumption by more than 10% by recirculating heated air. For preventive maintenance, the oven is outfitted with a new monitoring system that continuously checks for and detects worn bearings that can be removed immediately without visual detection.

After depanning, the buns travel up to a Tecnopool enclosed spiral cooler for 60 minutes. In winter, the system pipes in filtered cool air from the outside while in summer it pipes in air-conditioned filtered air that can be adjusted for temperature and humidity. The cooler comes with an automatic belt washer that removes crumbs, sesame seeds and other debris that may have fallen off the buns. Meanwhile the line also has a Colussi Ermes pan washer and dryer.

The buns then pass through an EyePro vision system to ensure quality and consistency as well as to eliminate defects. After metal detection, a rapid stream of buns is diverted to four Ilapak flowwrappers for retail products or to two systems, which can slice and pillow-pack 24, 5-inch — or 30, 4-inch — buns for food service accounts.

Providing a shining example

Food safety has been one of Dulcesol Group’s primary objectives from the outset. In fact, quality control programs comply with the ISO 9001, the 2000 Quality Management Standard and global food safety protocols such as IFS and BRC.

The company has been also awarded the ISO 14001 for environmental management, which includes initiatives to limit waste and reduce energy and water consumption.

For Mr. Juan, running a family business like Dulcesol goes beyond numbers. It’s about how the company operates under the broader philosophy of giving back and paying it forward.

“Our objective is to do things as best we can, in order to give back to society what it has given us," he said.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s what living the sweet life — one of Dulcesol’s core tenets — is all about.

“I’m most proud of our team,” Mr. Juan said. “I’m also proud of my father and my family because they worked hard for many years and laid the foundation of the company. That’s the reason that we’re here, and that’s why our employees are committed to what our company does.”