In today’s world a smooth operation is all about the data. Baking is a combination of art and science, and information is the balancing factor. For continuous improvement, tools such as centerlining, rate lock and statistical process control (SPC) can help.

“It’s about that stability we’re trying to get to, and ­centerlining is a big tool to gain control of the process,” said Jeb Sloan, corporate engineering team lead for Clif Bar.

Operations that run multiple shifts can often fall victim to tweaks that happen from one to the next. Simply put, centerlining is a methodology that determines the optimum setting on the line to maximize the efficiency. It is based on hard data rather than opinions or other qualitative factors that vary between shifts.

“Centerlining, to me, is about determining what a production line needs to be doing front-to-back and knowing that every step of the way has a set of parameters to be monitored, measured and tweaked in order to maintain that improved level from one day to the next,” said Jeff Dearduff, president and chief executive officer, Gold Standard Baking.

Once a centerline is established, rate locks can be set according to the standard dictated by the data.

“On weight control, for example, we use systems to collect data and help us find where we’re in a state of control,” Mr. Sloan explained. “Then, as we get more information, we can use the control chart, which provides instruction to make adjustments, as opposed to falsely reacting based on judgment. Centerlining is a tool we use to set the rate lock and maintain a stable area.”

The beauty of these tools is that they create repeatable and predictable outcomes, said Joe Owad, director of plant engineering, Pepperidge Farm, a subsidiary of Campbell Soup Co. Keep in mind, though, that centerlining establishes a baseline and is not intended to do the work for the operator. Bakers must take the first steps to ensure operation gets to its ideal state.

“Optimize the line before setting the centerline marks or settings,” Mr. Owad advised. “Once the centerlines and rates are set, the program should include a way to monitor, assess and even adjust parameters where necessary to achieve that ongoing efficiency.”

The shortest path between two points is a straight line, and data helps operators avoid taking detours. SPC control charts display data that’s being analyzed via software in real time. This is a big tool in Clif Bar production.

“We have graphs and video boards out on the shop floor,” Mr. Sloan said. “These charts show instructions that are based on not one data point but a collection of data where the math suggests something in the process is heading out of control.”

This article is an excerpt from the August 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on continuous improvement, click here.