Darren Adams grew up on a farm and from a young age appreciated the origins of the foods we eat. Eventually, he developed a passion for science, robots and technology, and discovered a way to marry his background with his technical training.

“When I learned after graduating from school that an industry existed that merged raw sourced ingredients from farms and mills with robotics and automation to produce food and that I could be a part of it, I became very inspired to make an impact in this industry,” Mr. Adams said.

Mr. Adams is the vice president of engineering for the Fred D. Pfening Co. He has more than 20 years of industry experience. He started his career in food operations and then moved into a role in quality assurance for food and beverage products. Next came equipment design and production management. All along his journey to becoming vice president, he has always taken education seriously.

He is regularly involved in AIB International training sessions, meetings and organizational meetings. He stays up to date with new information published in trade media and attends design and management training at tradeshows. He is also a member of the NFPA 61 Technical Committee for Agricultural Dusts, where he works to update rules and regulations that protect the industry and its workers from dust hazards and dust-related explosions.

In his role with Pfening, he assists bakers with everything from system design to manufacturing to procuring the right pieces of equipment.

More than anything else in the industry, Mr. Adams appreciates the feeling after completing the commission of an ingredient handling system.

“When the finished product comes off of this newly installed production equipment, and I get to taste the product thereafter, it really provides that immediate acknowledgement of success and completion,” he said.

What expertise are you able to offer bakers in your role?

Our primary role is to help bakers overcome the issues they experience regardless of what the issue is. Manufacturers say that the issue can be resolved through the process or the tools and equipment, so we work on the challenges with this perspective and then pinpoint the correct solution or available options. These challenges range from improving ingredient delivery accuracy, increasing or upsizing equipment and production output, handling unusually challenging ingredients, to sometimes just trying to make the needed tweaks to a legacy system to make it operate at its best capability.

What are the Top 3 issues bakers come to you with needing solutions?

One is when to go to bulk ingredient handling and system automation, and how to effectively do it. It is hard to determine when you should automate your process. Pfening is able to help you by learning about your process and ingredients and providing you with affordable ways to automate your process. This can include anything from the first instance of a complete bulk ingredient system with storage silos, when to go to automating smaller ingredients (“minors” or “micros”), or it could include a fully automated clean in-place system for cleaning liquid piping.

Second is how to improve batch accuracy and repeatability. One of the most common issues in food production is accuracy and repeatability of your equipment. Pfening will evaluate your process and product, clarify the accuracy requirements needed, and provide a system design that will resolve the accuracy or repeatability issues that you are having with your ingredient handling. The solutions can include new scaling equipment, new system layout or valve type/design used, and a complete control system with customized software to properly operate and sequence the scaling equipment.

Third is how to simplify the automation controls for the operators. Operators have a lot to take care of such as replenishing ingredients, mixing and timing their batches, dealing with equipment issues and nuances. They should be provided the best tools to be successful. Simple, foolproof, robust operator control interface (HMIs) are the best to simplify the system for the operator. These controllers offer step by step graphics and written instructions, preloaded recipes, complete ingredient and recipe batching systems, and can provide ingredient inventory levels and equipment fault alarm displays.

What’s an example of when you helped a baker overcome a significant challenge?

Although we have done this time and again in general terms, there is one specific instance where I led a project to install a very simple liquid ingredient delivery system for tempered ingredient water and soybean oil. The system consisted of many bowl-style mixers, all of which were being filled with water and oil by hand. The challenging production floor layout, unique recipe mix, and work cell arrangement didn’t permit easy and accurate manual ingredient addition to their mixers. By adding this automated liquid ingredient system, the operation no longer required the effort of maneuvering hand-carried ingredients through the facility to be added to these mixers, as now a simple recipe entry on a keypad and the press of a start button was all that was needed. When we eliminated all of this extra personnel traffic and manual ingredient addition, the operations were able to increase output, and it resulted in a safer, more efficient work environment.