CLEVELAND — At the 2019 International Baking Industry Exposition, which will run from Sept. 7-11 in Las Vegas, bakers and snack manufacturers will encounter a world of opportunity to take their operations to the next level. In the months following the show, however, they’ll need a detailed game plan to make sure that their best-laid plans come to fruition.

As the saying goes, preparation increases the odds for success. That’s especially true when installing a new production line or even when building a new bakery.

Mike Pierce, president of The Austin Co., has been advising manufacturers on the successful execution of projects for years. Mr. Pierce is a member of the American Society of Baking, BEMA and the American Bakers Association. He regularly speaks and moderates at numerous industry events on engineering, construction, sales and marketing.

Greg Carr, Austin’s senior director of project planning, has 20 years of involvement in the planning, design and construction of production facilities for fresh and frozen bread products, cakes, cookies and snacks.

Baking & Snack magazine recently asked Mr. Pierce and Mr. Carr to provide bakers with practical advice as the industry ramps up its preparations for the upcoming trade show.

Baking & Snack: What preliminary research should bakers do prior to commissioning the project?

Mike Pierce: The first critical issue to solve is location. You need a site that will accommodate the uniqueness of your bakery operation. Don’t make the mistake of making your operation conform to the site characteristics — you will be in this plant for the long term. The site must work for you. Make sure you will not be affected by other industries in the area that may emit an odor that may get picked up in your product. You certainly need to think about staffing and employment types in the area, and don’t just listen to the local economic developers. Do research. A labor market that is accustomed to Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedules may not readily supply the proper workforce willing to work bakers’ hours and weekends.

Additionally, logistics are important; pay attention to details. One food company was considering a site in Florida right near the turnpike. By locating it 20 miles west, they were closer to the freeway, saving them tens of thousands of dollars per year in tolls.

Greg Carr: Determine the right location. Labor availability is a critical aspect for a new plant. Decide the measures they are prepared to take to attract and retain employees. This affects many aspects of the design. Decide what allergens they may be dealing with now or in the future to ensure segregation planning is incorporated. Decide on future expansion opportunities — build now or easy expansion later. Consider levels of automation now and in the future, with particular consideration to labor availability.

How should bakers best establish a pre-execution timetable for a project? How do you schedule in, or avoid delays?

Mr. Pierce: Bring all parties to the table to work out a master schedule. Determine the long lead items and when those items need to be established. A lot can happen around the design and even construction before equipment decisions are finalized, but it is critical for designers and contractors to know what is still not yet finalized and when it will be finalized. Work-arounds can be planned, but the longer the wait, the more expensive a solution is likely to be. With timely and prompt decision making, a good design-builder, proactive equipment planning and committed supplies, delays can be avoided. This is an important decision — be selective in your teams.

Mr. Carr: Ascertain times for permits. This can vary widely by location. Talk to major equipment suppliers for lead times. Confer to a design-build company to get a preliminary sense of the time it will take to build and be ready for equipment.

How should bakers research the equipment and determine vendors for the new line?

Mr. Pierce: There is an art and science to this. What equipment vendors are you most comfortable with? Who provides great service and has attention to safety, training and parts? Be definitive about what you want and use them for advice. Always ask them, “What am I missing? What else should I be asking or thinking about?” They are doing this work every day and they want to be your partner.

Mr. Carr: Prepare a detailed list of products, ingredients, production rates and packaging formats. Decide required levels of automation. Select well-known suppliers for major sections of the process such as ingredient handling, makeup, proofing, baking and packaging. Consider paying a nominal sum to get preliminary layouts and budgets. Have one of the vendors include integration.

How do you coordinate equipment installation with the construction or renovation of the facility?

Mr. Pierce: It goes back to bringing everyone to the table and planning the schedule. A great tool is a pull plan. If your contractor practices lean construction, ask them to conduct a pull plan with the architect, engineers, equipment vendors, key subcontractors and your team. 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.

Mr. Carr: Full-service design builders can provide the most reliable coordination plan. Discuss with the design builder and the equipment suppliers what the optimum time to begin installation based on cleanliness of the facility and completion of building and utility work in the production areas.

What advice do you have for vetting the factory acceptance test (F.A.T.) process? What is often missed at this stage of the process?

Mr. Carr: This is a critical aspect of equipment supply that shouldn’t be short-changed to save money. Senior staff from QA/QC and maintenance should be present. Don’t do the F.A.T. before the equipment is truly ready. Everything should be checked.

What are some tips for successful equipment installation and system integration?

Mr. Carr: Equipment suppliers need to have adequate on-site supervision included so there can be no responsibility placed on the millwright for errors due to lack of supervision. Individually test each unit operation. Have supervision on-site when the integrated system is first started and have each sign off stating they are satisfied with the installation work. Important that maintenance and operations staff participate in all aspects of start-up. Ensure vendors have spare parts on-site or readily available during start-up. Have all spare parts on-site before start-up and allow vendors to “borrow” them if needed but ensure prompt replacement.

What are some best practices for training during the start-up?

Mr. Carr: Make sure there is vendor training before start-up and a video of adjustment procedures.

After the initial start-up, what are the best ways to maximize efficiency going forward?

Mr. Carr: Set up and follow preventive maintenance programs. Engage a specialist consultant thoroughly familiar with bakery operations to set up procedures. If contract maintenance is to be used, engage them ahead of start-up.