While there have been innovations in crust types, most pizza innovations can be seen in toppings.

“The demand for interesting, unusual, more artisan or gourmet toppings beyond the conventional pepperoni and mushroom is the trend and is here to stay,” said Eric Riggle, president, Rademaker USA. “The consumer wants a more ‘localized’ feel to their product rather than a mass-produced feel, which means seasonal toppings.”

With a wide range of toppings comes hygienic design concerns. Pizza lines require regular cleaning to protect products from allergens or unwanted ingredients.

“You don’t want a consumer to buy a margarita pizza and get residue of tuna on top,” said Coen Nikkels, manager of marketing and business development for Rondo. “Therefore, pizza manufacturers need to make sure that the production equipment can be cleaned easily.”

Rondo’s ASTec equipment comes in dry- and wet-cleaning versions. Wet washdown capable equipment is better suited for plants using meat, fish and dairy toppings.

Moline also matches a range of sanitary requirements.

“We can design our systems to the needs of the baker whether it be somebody who doesn’t have full wet washdown requirements, or if there are meat fillings that are being incorporated on a fully finished crust and may require USDA specifications where it’s wet-washed every day,” said David Moline, vice president of sales and marketing at Moline Machinery.

[Related reading: A quick lesson in sanitation planning]

To add flexibility to a frozen pizza line, Mr. Moline advised installing modular toppers. Moline’s modular toppers handle different topping types and weights and can incorporate waterfall or spot-topping applications and reclaim systems.

“If a cleaning is not required and you’re able to just move one topper in, that’s often the most practical way to approach it,” Mr. Moline said.

Flipping for flexibility

The variables to consider when building a pizza can pile up quickly. Each factor requires another consideration when building or updating a line.

“That’s where testing on the front end comes in,” Mr. Moline said. “If it’s not an existing process, we can help develop that process in our technical center; we do that all the time. If it’s an existing process or maybe a customer wants to combine capabilities of two different lines, then that’s easy. We know the process for each, and we can make one line that can do both.”

Higher levels of variation of pizza crust, however, often require higher levels of investment.

“The wider the range of pizza types, the more expensive the concept,” said Hans Besems, executive product manager, AMF Bakery Systems. “Likewise, this kind of line is always a compromise. You never use all of the equipment to the fullest if you’re making a thin crust pizza or a deep-dish dough. Therefore, we see many more lines that are specifically designed for thin crust pizza with many different diameters and a large variety of toppings and a separate line for deep dish pizzas. In this case, you don’t have to compromise one product over another. The line doesn’t require long changeover times.”

On lines needing versatility, adding components that require little manual manipulation helps get the most out of the machine. Advanced forms of automation have made it easy to switch between thin and thick crust types through pre-programmed menus. The Vemag pizza dough divider can make several portion sizes and changing between the weight requirements involves very little downtime.

Limiting changeover time allows bakers more flexibility in what they can produce on a line. Fritsch lines require a maximum of 10 minutes for pizza and flatbread changeovers. And its sheeting and cutting tools simplify the process.

[Related reading: Tips for mixing and proofing the perfect frozen pizza dough]

“Dough pieces are punched and cut or pressed and punched out of one sheet of dough,” said Matt Zielsdorf, director of sales, Fritsch, a Multivac company. “This allows fast product changeover because the retooling process is as quick and easy as changing the punching tool or cutting roller and then starting the next program.”

Recipe controls optimize a system’s ability to jump back and forth between crust specifications. These automated systems help with quality consistency and labor considerations, explained Cesar Zelaya, bakery sales and technology manager for Handtmann.

“Handtmann equipment flexibility is made possible by our precise control of functions,” he said. “Gram-sensitive accuracy when processing different types of dough from stiff and low absorption to sticky with a high moisture level is important. Simple touch screen functions to control the line, recall a large menu of recipes and automatically set and manage their specifications are required for flexibility with real value.”

Rademaker lines work off a recipe management system controlled via the PLC.

“Each recipe and line setting can be saved per product and accessed at changeover,” Mr. Riggle said. “This results in less downtime at changeover as well as a consistency of process given that the manual guesswork is taken away by the Rademaker automation.”

On Rondo’s equipment, operators switch between doughs by selecting the product, and the system adjusts all units on the line to the correct parameters. This includes speeds and roller gaps.

Feeding the freezer

Frozen pizza doughs all end up in the same place — the freezer. But because pizzas often have loose toppings and a wide range of dough considerations, the freezing process isn’t as simple as it may seem.

AMF’s Spiral Freezer offers sequential defrosting in operations to sustain 24/7 production runs.

“The configuration of the AMF Spiral Freezer room optimizes the air movement in a continuous air flow at a regular wind speed to protect toppings from falling off the pizza doughs,” said Bobby Martin, executive product manager, AMF.

[Related reading: Dividing frozen pizza dough can improve product quality]

Jerking and unwanted movement on a freezer belt can negatively affect the pizza quality that every upstream process worked so hard to achieve.

“Many customers today have preference for product to be stationary on the belt, so the position of the product goes into the spiral freezer should be same position as coming out of the spiral freezer,” said Lars Soderman, sales director for Scanico, a Middleby Bakery company. “We are able to keep the product in the same position on the belt with our direct drive application. Direct drive allows the belt to engage directly with the drum, eliminating overdrive so you can increase the load capacity and longevity of your belt.”

Increased longevity means higher throughputs and more consistent results. In the world of frozen pizza manufacturing where dough shapes change and toppings can tower, the smoother the path, the better. If successful, everyone gets a slice of what they want.

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