We track our family on mobile apps. We find our lost pets with data chip technology. Likewise, the latest advances in ingredient handling systems provide data that tracks not only the location of raw materials but also the trends on how ingredients are performing.

Knowing what to track goes beyond the basics.

“It’s not just the ingredient,” said Darren Adams, vice-president, engineering, the Fred D. Pfening Co. “What is it, and what’s its play in the recipe? Is it used in more than one location, and what are the quantities in which it’s used?”

Jason Stricker, director of sales and marketing, Shick Esteve, said it’s important to pay attention not only to the variables but also to the data that high-tech systems create from them.

“The idea is that you’re capturing the raw ingredient lot information and tying it to, in some cases, a finished batch, or in the case of a continuous operation, you’re tying it to a period of time when the production occurred,” he said.

With all those questions answered, ingredients travel throughout the operation in a series of stages, from the time they’re received through storage, processing, and then packaging and distribution as finished goods. And each transfer from one stage to the next is a checkpoint to monitor ingredients’ whereabouts and maintain a seamless production schedule, control quality or, heaven forbid, efficiently manage a recall.

Staying on schedule

Even without a worst-case scenario in mind, ingredient handling systems’ data technology can simply keep things moving down the line smoothly and efficiently.

Zeppelin Systems’ Production Resource Information System Management Applications (PRISMA) software can track an ingredient from the time it enters the bakery.

“As raw materials enter the system, lot code data and associated quantities from the baker’s E.R.P. system can be linked to the PRISMA locations, including silos, bins, tanks or staging areas where they’ll be stored during the process,” said Ed Ryon, systems software manager, Zeppelin Systems USA.

By doing this, the ingredient handling system becomes an integral piece of a bakery’s overall process.

“As production orders are received from the E.R.P. system and scheduled for production in PRISMA, the campaigns to make the products can be linked to the sales orders for particular customers or even internal orders that may be produced to inventory,” Mr. Ryon said.

One of the most basic benefits is the mitigation of human error when scheduling production.

“Mistakes can happen, like transposing a number or being off by a line when transferring from one report to another,” Mr. Stricker said, noting Shick Esteve’s Clarity Process Management (AIM) system links directly to a bakery’s E.R.P. to eliminate the potential for human error that could skew the data.

Another benefit pertains to inventory control.

“One big thing we see interest in is tracking an ingredient that’s been received by electronically entering it into the system so it has an expiration date,” Mr. Adams observed. “That allows for good first-in-first-out tracking. It gives bakers the ability to save ingredients that could expire during downtime like holidays, and that provides cost savings on the ingredient storage.”

Pfening works with third-party programmers who develop interfaces or even mobile apps to help with process management.

“The head of inventory or the person in charge of ordering or delivery of ingredients can be notified when an ingredient is low and needs to be re-ordered,” Mr. Adams said.

Staying on schedule can ease the mind of a baker when the process is running smoothly, but it can also help if problems occur.

Keeping an eye on quality

By nature, bakers are perfectionists. Every product must meet every quality specification, every time. Not only can ingredient systems help track trends that can impact quality, but now they also can use lot tracking to identify which specific batches or finished products were impacted by a problem relating to a specific ingredient.

“If you’re really worried about the quality of your product and want to make sure it’s consistent — what you’re sending to the customer is consistently good and of a certain high-quality standard — it makes sense to take the time and effort to really track your ingredients and pay attention to them,” said Chuck Kerwin, general manager, AZO. “What we’re seeing now is that you can provide analysis equipment that can monitor the moisture and ash content in the flour or temperature and measure the Brix for a sugar system to help adjust or maintain a consistent ingredient delivery to the mixers.”

Data is about more than just the facts and figures. When harvested and analyzed properly, it helps bakers ensure that no matter what the external variables are, the ingredients are delivered to the mixer in the same condition, every time.

Shick Esteve’s Clarity Process Management and Clarity IIoT integrate with new and existing automated ingredient handling systems to manage data pertaining to recipe and batch management, process control, production schedules and lot tracking.

“As we’re recording and monitoring data in the system, we can provide important information for the process,” Mr. Stricker explained. “Let’s say a particular ingredient came in too hot or too cold; you can get to that very quickly because the data is right there on a dashboard.”

With the ability to tie ingredient handling data into a bakery’s M.E.S. system comes the potential to bring all elements of the process together. Bühler’s WinCos technology also offers real-time and historical data that can be tied to a bakery’s M.E.S. system to monitor quality and consistency.

“If you have data that shows variations within the process, this will allow you to analyze those variations,” said John Hunter, sales account manager, bakery and ingredient handling, Bühler Group. “That gives you the ability to use the data to make improvements. We obviously do that with ingredient handling when we’re tracking ingredients in a fully automated system, so we have the checks and can watch the weights within the required tolerances.”

Track and trace

While technology advances provide new opportunities for scheduling and quality assurance, it’s important to remember that data can also enhance good old-fashioned lot tracking, too.

The greatest benefit this type of tracking brings is in mitigating the fallout should a recall happen.

“When transaction reporting occurs — beginning with receiving all the way through to the finished good — you have transactions going to and from the M.E.S. system to keep track of all the ingredients, including where they are and the location where the packages were sent,” said Kevin Pecha, AZO sales manager.

“That way, should you ever have to do a recall, you’ll know the batch or lot included the particular ingredient, along with its lot number,” he added. “It has to do with constant communication between the plant floor and the M.E.S. system to know that as you’re receiving something as a work in progress, it’s reporting back to the M.E.S. That way, you have a good record as to where the lot number is and into what finished good it went.”

In the old days, a recall impacted massive amounts of product, and that was a potential hit to company’s brand. One adulterated ingredient or mislabeling could lead to consumer skepticism and product going to waste, even those items that weren’t directly affected. Today, ingredient handling systems can track not only the lots but also specific production runs within those lots.

“Now, if you identify an issue — whether it pertained to sanitation or an ingredient recall — you can isolate it within the bin as opposed to isolating an entire lot of what was received,” Mr. Adams noted. “It can divvy up the lot a bit.”

In the case of a recall, Bühler’s WinCos system offers bakers easy access to information starting with finished products to trace back which ingredients were used and from where they originated.

“We’re becoming more effective in how we can analyze that information quickly and respond to customers,” Mr. Hunter said. “It’s a fair question: ‘If there was a problem with an ingredient, which products did I put it into?’”

Similarly, Zeppelin’s PRISMA Enterprise Resource Planning Interface allows for seamless integration with E.R.P. and M.E.S. systems to make data easily accessible, which comes in handy in a recall situation. When the PRISMA system scales raw materials out of the storage location, the raw material and lot codes are recorded along with the quantities being scaled, which are then deducted from the lot code.

“This allows the database to provide an easily accessible record of which lot the raw material came from and for which batches to fulfill specific orders,” Mr. Ryon noted. “This provides one-up-one-down supply chain traceability.”

In addition to traceability through data, the way ingredients like flour travel through the system can ensure food safety and even help bakers with FSMA compliance.

Some bakers might have heard concerns about how their processes deliver flour to silos and any potential risk of traceability issues that could fail to meet the spirit of FSMA.

“It is difficult to determine the lot number if the older material is returned to the top of the silo when new raw material is also being put in,” Mr. Pecha said.

To address any such concerns, AZO designs a one-way vacuum system that does not allow dust to return back to the original source at the silo.

“The scales have their own filtration system to separate the powder from the air,” Mr. Pecha explained.

For existing systems, AZO developed a parallel system that includes a secondary loop that goes from the silo to the mixer scale and then comes back to an intermediate receiver in the same convey line.

“If any dust gets put back into that convey line, it’s isolated from the transfer system,” Mr. Pecha said.

Closing the loop allows bakers to focus on tracing quality bulk ingredients as they enter the process.

This article is an excerpt from the November 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on ingredient handling, click here.