When it comes to reeling in profits, don’t let the big one get away by ignoring the depanning system. While the operation typically runs swimmingly, just one snag will create a school of problems not only upstream in the production process but also downstream all the way through packaging, warehousing and even to shipping later in the day.

That’s especially the case with high-speed bread and bun lines where this vital bridge between the oven and cooler keeps the operation flowing even on the busiest of days.

With the classic vacuum depanner, failure to properly maintain this critical juncture will open up a can of worms, including production jams, damaged products and even potential allergen and food safety issues.

“Depanners should be on a regular cleaning schedule and inspected for damage,” said Clint Adams, product sales specialist, AMF Bakery Systems. “Vacuum cups should be replaced if they are damaged, hardened or deformed in any way. With a needle or pin depanner, the bakers should look for bent or damaged needles as these contact points are critical.”

Capway Automation’s vacuum depanner comes with a cleanable and replaceable filter located just prior to the input of the vacuum blowers to capture the seeds and crumbs that can shut down a system and create a logjam.

“This filter prevents crumbs and residue created during the depanning operation from entering the vacuum blower,” noted Bob Harrington, vice-president of sales and marketing for Capway. “This filter protects the inner blower housing from residue buildup that diminishes the vacuum blower’s overall capacity. It is imperative that this filter be maintained on a regular basis to prevent it from becoming clogged up as well.”

Mr. Harrington added that dirty vacuum cups reduce flexibility and the ability to properly seal to the product surface during depanning.

“Monitor the inside surface of their cyclone separators and vacuum piping on a regular basis to prevent buildup,” he suggested. “This buildup disrupts the air flow and will reduce vacuum capabilities of the system.”

The plan for depanners

Mr. Adams suggested that bakers don’t fall for the hook, line and sinker when choosing a depanner. Sometimes it’s not as simple as it looks.

“When selecting a depanner, considerations need to be made for the range of products that will be run on the line and the sizes and types of pans,” he pointed out. “Most importantly, ask about how resilient the product is to handling. Sometimes, cakes will need to be cooled before depanning.”

With inline vacuum depanning, an air jet assembly mounted in front of the vacuum chamber loosens products from the pan prior to entering the depanner area. Magnets mounted within the pan conveyor hold down pans as bread, buns, croissants and other baked foods are removed by vacuum cups mounted on a belt.

Vacuum depanning doesn’t work with cakes and other fragile products.

“It is best to use either pick-and-place or flip-over depanning with these items,” Mr. Adams noted.

Using the old-style “slam” depanners may damage pans.

“The AMF Den Boer Depanner can flip the products either in a single- or double-flip to place the product right-side up,” Mr. Adams said. “This is especially good for large ring cakes with toppings such as streusel.”

AMF Bakery Systems will feature its depanning capabilities, including pick-and-place and flip-over depanning, at the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), which will be held Sept. 7-11 in Las Vegas.

Scrabble depanning is another option if vacuum could damage a soft product, Mr. Harrington said. As product-filled pans travel a decline conveyor, the nose of the scrabble belt is lowered, enters the pan and “scrabbles” the products onto the nose using a driven belt. After the products are removed, the scrabble belt lifts, and products then move to a discharge conveyor. When the next tray arrives, the scrabble belt lowers again, and the whole cycle is repeated. Scrabble depanning, however, has operational limits. Often pans for trays need to be flat to fit the scrabbler lift between the pan and the product.

Pick-and-place systems are used with toast or lidded panned breads where typical inline conveyor-style vacuum depanning systems might not be effective due to the pan-relief angles. The pick-and-place depanner uses axis-style robots to lift the loaf straight out of the pan, transfer it horizontally and place it onto the takeaway conveyors.

“This type of pick-and-place depanner uses either needles that pierce the product, vacuum cups to lift or polymer grippers that grip to de-pan product,” Mr. Harrington explained. “Soft robotic polymer grippers emulate the human hand with the robotic fingers gently grasping products from pans and placing them on the takeaway conveyors. These grippers are relatively new to the industry and will have a big impact on the future of depanning.”

At IBIE, Capway will feature depanners that meet the food industry’s stringent regulations. Mr. Harrington said the company’s Provident line is built to meet Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and ANSI 50.2 sanitation standards.

The depanners also are designed to meet the various Global Food Safety Initiative standards, while its vacuum chamber and conveyor system received an IP69K washdown rating that allows them to be cleaned with high-pressure water or steam. Moreover, the blower module can be placed up to 40 feet away from the vacuum head allowing for space flexibility in crowded facilities.

Mr. Harrington noted that new depanner recipe management systems, which also will be featured at IBIE, reduce changeover times and maximize performance. Capway will also exhibit a polymer gripper mounted on a collaborative robot to show its finger-like capabilities.

That quick, clean release

Today’s pans come with a variety of technically advanced coatings to provide a quick, clean release over a longer period of time. However, bakers should follow certain procedures when depanning to protect pans as well as minimize the costs of recoating and refurbishment.

“The more vertically you can depan the baked good, the longer the life of the pan and coating,” advised Bob Bundy, vice-president of operations, Pan-Glo USA, and president of Synova LLC, a Bundy Baking Solution. “Keep pans in good condition by straightening moulds, not scrapping the pans, minimizing abrasion of coated surfaces and keeping the surfaces clean of debris.

“Typically, baked goods with a higher sugar content — those made with chocolate or fillings such as fruit — require greater release characteristics. Mould depth also determines the combination of glaze and/or oil used in the process.”

Mr. Bundy noted that some of the biggest advances in pan coating include its AmeriCoat from Pan Glo, which improved performance and longevity by 50% between pan recoatings over the last 10 years, and DuraShield, which saw a 15% performance improvement over the same period.

“The less you have to recoat, the better the life of the pan,” Mr. Bundy observed. “The better managed the release coatings and agents, the less scrap product is produced.”

Earlier this year, Bundy Baking Solutions launched Synova, a business that manufactures and distributes release agents for baked foods, including bread and cakes as well as food-grade release agents for troughs and other bakery equipment. Synova will feature its Supra bread pan oil and Prima mineral oil at IBIE.

For bakers looking to increase their yield, don’t be a fish out of water. Cast an eye on the latest in depanning to keep your operation running smoothly.