Failure to communicate can critically compromise the best laid plans when adding a production line to an existing baking facility. Often, it’s not technology, but the human element that ultimately determines whether a startup is successful.

That’s why Mike Pierce, president, The Austin Co., recommends a specific process that ensure that everyone is working toward a common goal.

“If your contractor practices lean construction, ask the contractor to conduct a pull-plan with the architect, engineers, equipment vendors, key subcontractors and your team,” he said. “It defines the interdependency of everyone’s tasks and accountabilities to the success of the project. This is an immensely valuable exercise to get everyone on the same page and collaborate on solving the problems and challenges that arise in a complex environment.”

Jeff Dearduff, president and c.e.o., Gold Standard Baking, always includes key operators, maintenance and sanitation personnel from the beginning.

“When equipment is coming in the back door and being bolted together, make sure your people are joined at the hip with vendors,” he advised. “It’s one thing to read manuals and look at videos, but it’s another thing to be side-by-side with somebody who has done it and can say, ‘Never mind what that manual says. Here’s what you’ve really got to do.’ Nothing beats shoulder-to-shoulder shadowing during the assembly of that equipment. It’s one thing to learn how to build and care for the machine, and it’s another to know how to run it.”

Test wiring and input/output (I/O) connections on the equipment. Verify that all sensors work and communications paths are properly set. And yes, examine each moving part.

“Right in there, parallel with bumping motors and I/O checks, would be confirming that the assembly was done correctly,” Mr. Dearduff pointed out. “That could be everything from shafts being straight, belts being aligned properly, packaging machines being set up correctly. All of those physical aspects of the line sometimes get missed because people focus on the control side of it. It’s still an old-fashioned bakery when you look at it. Nuts and bolts.”

Mike Timani, president and c.e.o. of Fancy Pokket, Moncton, N.B., stressed that bakers should keep a close eye on where products move between different equipment from various suppliers.

“Transfers are usually the killer from one conveyor to another or from a conveyor to an oven,” he said. “These are the areas that really need to be well thought out when you are purchasing the equipment to minimize additional labor on the line after it begins running. It’s one of the biggest problems that we manufacturers have.”

Like everyday production, focus first on front-end controls.

“From a processing standpoint, first make sure all your metering and scale hoppers are correct, and make sure everything is ‘food safe’ as well,” Mr. Dearduff noted. “If you don’t have that right, it doesn’t matter if you can package it or not.”

He added that the entire start-up can take days, weeks or months, depending on the scope of a project.

“In a typical well-planned scenario on a highly automated line, you’re looking at Week 3 where you might start drawing some flour and begin running your pans through the system to check things out,” he said.

Jim Kline, president of The EnSol Group and Baking & Snack contributing editor, added that a nicely prepared start-up on a standard line should take about 30 to 45 days while a specialty line might take 60 to 90 days at the most.

During these timeframes, work in stages when it comes to ramping up to salable products. That’s one way to avoid a “crash,” Mr. Dearduff said.

“The best approach is to bring the speed up in small increments over a week’s period,” he said. “If you’re 50% up to speed on Monday, then go to 60% on Tuesday, and work your way up over a week or two.”

Once the line is operating, bakers need to focus on training to maximize line efficiencies and enhance yield as part of its overall continuous improvement program. “Continuous” is the key word after production begins," said Ahmad Hamade, c.e.o. and co-founder, CraftMark Bakery, which is expanding its state-of-the-art facility in Indianapolis.

This article is an excerpt from the May 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on start-ups, click here.