When people panic, they buy bread. As the baking industry has seen with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, persistently declining bread sales were reversed overnight as the industry worked around the clock to keep store shelves stocked with bread and buns. This boom in business on the retail side may have had some bakeries looking at extra capacity well before they anticipated needing it.

As bakers expand their operations, they often will look to add a new mixer or oven. However, if ingredient handling isn’t sized up when bakers need extra capacity, it can lead to production slowdowns. The flexibility of these systems makes them well-suited to work within a bakery’s limitations if a facility must expand storage capacity sooner than planned.

As a bakery grows, the ingredient handling system has to be expanded to keep up with the demands for more ingredients, whether that means larger quantities or more variety of ingredients.

“A lot of times the bakery has either added mixers or, over time, has changed the product offering, and that puts pressure on the ingredient delivery streams not designed for that product’s needs,” said Eric Kartlick, regional sales manager for North and Southeastern regions, Zeppelin Systems USA.

The pain point could be the minor ingredients, constantly changing to accommodate new products. These are often specialty ingredients that are handled manually, and that slows the entire process down, actually reducing throughput. Or maybe if the bakery has added mixers to accommodate more batches, the bulk delivery system can’t keep up. Whatever ingredient is holding up the mixer is a good indicator of which system needs to be upgraded first, Mr. Kartlick explained.

Before jumping into investing in new equipment, there are things that bakers can try to squeeze more capacity out of their existing systems.

“Don’t reinvent the wheel,” Mr. Kartlick said. “See if a number of small tweaks can get what the bakery needs. Examples would be speeding up blowers, changing the shivs on a blower to get more cubic feet per minute, changing rotary airlocks to a larger size or changing purge times on convey cycles. All these little things may be enough before the baker is forced to spend big dollars on a huge expansion.”

If those aren’t enough and a bakery does need to invest in an expansion, there are priorities that can shed light on what should happen first.

The bulk ingredient system is often the first place bakeries start when expanding capacity at the front of the production line.

“The areas offering the greatest reduction in either labor or ingredient expense are great places to start,” said Jason Stricker, director of sales and marketing, Shick Esteve. “Typically, it will be in the areas of bulk dry and liquid ingredients. These are by nature the largest components of the recipe and thus experience greater usage. From there it could be in the areas of both dry and liquid minor ingredient automation.”

Bulk storage also provides the quickest return on investment (ROI). These ingredients — items like flour and sugar — are the most used in a formulation,  and a bulk system can be sized for extra capacity and easy expansion later.

“You can put a silo in, and it can hold way more capacity than you need at that time and then deliver from the silo to a use point you know you need right now,” said Darren Adams, vice president, engineering, The Fred D. Pfening Co. “If everything is oversized, then you can very easily branch off from the system you’ve already created and deliver bulk ingredients to a second, third or fourth use point with minimal investment.”

If there is sufficient capacity in the bulk systems, bakers may turn to the minor or micro handling systems. These ingredients are often manually scaled and added to the mixing bowl, but as a bakery increases capacity, automation accelerates the process and increases accuracy.

“Often the first stage of an ingredient handling system expansion is for ingredients that are fed frequently in medium quantities, that require additional labor to be applied when manually scaled and added to the mixer,” said John Hunter, sales account manager, bakery and ingredient handling, Bühler Group. “Micro ingredients that are routinely added may also be added to the ingredient handling system, particularly where they are dosed in the majority of recipes. Often liquid ingredients like oil are initially added manually, but as usage increases, these liquid ingredients are added to automated ingredient systems.”

Even if a bakery hasn’t invested in a silo, automating downstream ingredient handling equipment first can offset the cost if the capital isn’t there. This allows bakers to not only reduce the cost of storage equipment, some of the priciest of the ingredient handling system, but it also helps them save money on ingredients by buying in bulk.

“Set up a lot of the equipment other than the storage bin, and then use smaller batches of ingredients and a bag dump that transfers into your use points,”

Mr. Adams suggested. “Or use a super sack or bulk bag unloader that would handle more than a bag but much less than a silo. Then you get a little bit of your cost savings from buying in bulk, but at the same time, you’re not purchasing a very expensive large bulk silo.”

As bakeries increase capacity, ingredient handling systems must keep up, and expansion then becomes necessary. Whether bakers start with major, minor or micro ingredients, each system comes with considerations and strategies to squeeze in as much capacity as possible.

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