Whether they’re indulging guilt-free with mini products or enjoying traditional cakes at events, consumers are demanding a variety of cake and muffin sizes and creating a moving target for bakers.

In the industrial bakery, operators need systems that offer increased flexibility while maintaining accurate deposits of batter into myriad pan sizes that range from mini to large.

There are several main types of depositors on the market: volumetric piston, air-pressurized and servo-driven. The industry standard has long been less than 1% fluctuation in deposit weight accuracy, but new advances have changed the way pressurized and mechanical systems are driven to protect inclusions, avoid waste and increase efficiency. No matter the system, it needs to be flexible enough to fill pans with deadeye precision.

Moving targets

Flexibility, when it comes to depositors, means several things. Machines today need to handle a variety of batters and place them into pans of any shape and size.

Sometimes depositors must fill single pockets. Other times, they provide complicated multi-pocket configurations or layer different batters. Depositing a French macaron batter that requires impeccable accuracy is very different from dropping large portions into cheesecake pans.

Batters range in viscosity from flowable and self-levelling to stiff and difficult to flow. They can be delicate and highly aerated, like angel food cake or require two different colored batters to create a marble cake. Today’s depositors offer answers to most of the challenges these complexities bring.

Unifiller Systems combines depositors, nozzles and accessories to provide the output and flexibility needed to achieve efficiency goals. Andy Sigrist, director of special projects for Unifiller, said bakers can use single or multiple pistons with interchangeable product cylinders to increase line flexibility.

“Beyond the selection of a depositor, the key to successful batter depositing lies in the range of nozzles offered,” he said. “Unifiller provides specific nozzles for the full range of portion size from mini to the largest sizes.”

The Unifiller MultiStation includes specific and flexible modes for depositing and spreading batters. This servo-driven rotary piston depositor was designed for soft or stiff batters. Bakers can choose nozzle configurations of six or eight across with up to three product cylinders. It can spread, inject, layer, deposit, mid-fill or decorate batters and is gentle on delicate products or inclusions, Mr. Sigrist said.

Unifiller depositors also may be used when switching between mini-sized portions of 1/3 oz to several pounds for full-sized potions.

“While the base depositor may remain the same, different nozzles and product cylinders suited for the specific application will provide flexibility to use the same equipment for a wide range of applications,” Mr. Sigrist explained.

Depositors that offer versatility today create opportunity for tomorrow’s demands without the need to invest in new machines. Reiser’s Vemag system’s base portioner can be configured for a wide variety of products. Its double-screw technology gives bakers the option to go from free-flowing batters to more viscous ones.

“We have an array of standard attachments, both single and multilane, to allow the baker to use the same Vemag on a wide range of applications,” said John McIsaac, vice president of strategic business development, Reiser.

Weight requirements vary greatly when shifting between mini and full-size products, but a depositor’s accuracy must remain constant. Hinds-Bock, a Middleby Bakery company, designs such flexibility and accuracy into its machines.

“In cases where this is required, we supply removeable piston and cylinder set sleeve kits to allow the depositor to work in the small and larger weight ranges,” said Rod Gregg, executive vice president of Hinds-Bock. “This allows bakers to make a wide range of products per day and can deliver fresh or frozen the same day. The daily efficiency goes up and so does their profit.”

The interchangeable pistons and cylinder sleeve kits offer consistent weight control for all viscosities of batter, Mr. Gregg added, and are quickly removable for fast changeovers.

Reducing the material flow path to the depositor nozzle is another way to enhance flexibility. The shorter the path, the less there is to clean and swap out. The Meincke V60 from Bühler Group features a very short flow path that increases the range of materials it can process while maintaining accuracy and versatility. Bakers also may combine depositing heads and various applications such as depositing batter with two heads and jam with a third.

The multitude of options in batter depositing allows bakers to achieve their flexibility goals.

Right on point

Depending on the product line, automatic depositors need to work with different sized pans, pan cavities and conveyor speeds. PLC controls and modern touchscreen displays have made these calculations easy for operators.

In operations where depositors need to be moved or cleaned to accommodate new batters or pan sizes, changeover time is critical. ET Oakes developed a simple manifold changeover system that takes less than 15 minutes.

“They’re made to bolt in place before the oven, and usually it’s just four bolts that hold it down,” said Bob Peck, vice president of engineering, ET Oakes. “When they go from product to product and changeover from one pan to a different pan, they’ll just take those four bolts off and remove the manifold.”

ET Oakes customizes its depositing manifolds based on baker pan drawings. If a pan has 28 rows across, the manifold is manufactured to match. If the pan configuration changes, a quick changeover entails removing the manifold and replacing it while the other is cleaned. A PLC recipe system stores depositing parameters associated with each product.

AMF Bakery Systems’ units come with interchangeable depositing heads suitable for large or small products on high-speed lines. This technology, according to Hans Besems, executive product manager for AMF, solves one of the biggest challenges for depositing: pan configuration.

“At AMF, we changeover the complete depositor head, which contains all of the components in contact with the product, within minutes so the machine is ready for another size product,” he said. “At that point, the machine can start producing again with the new head while allowing time to clean the original depositing head and have that ready for the next change of product.”

The AMF Unimac universal depositor is designed for cookies, batters, meringues, éclairs, gluten-free bread, choux-paste and more. The modular, compact design features two depositing heads for simple changeovers. Its multiple tooling options and program capabilities give bakers the option to run three to seven pans per minute using standard 18-by-26-inch sheet pans

Changeover isn’t an issue for a Vemag depositor either. All that’s required is a swap of the depositor attachment and the double-screw feeding the batter to the depositor.

“We have engineered new double-screws for extremely small portions at high speeds,” Mr. McIsaac said. “And we have engineered new attachments to produce custom sizes and shapes, from low speed to high speed.”

The Vemag machines are also recipe-driven, so bakers can call up a formula by name or number, and the depositor automatically adjusts its weight measurement.

“Keeping it simple may seem complicated,” Mr. McIsaac said. “Our controls engineers work to make it look easy.”

Recipe control has become standard for depositors. Unifiller offers an easily navigable touchscreen system and storage for up to 100 recipes.

“The setup when switching to another batter is reduced dramatically with more than 30 parameters stored in each recipe,” Mr. Sigrist said.

Recipes and easily changeable manifolds and attachments can increase flexibility but not at the cost of accuracy.

This article is an excerpt from the February 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on depositing, click here.