When New Horizons Baking Co. started up its bakery in Toledo, Ohio, earlier this year, the 61,000-square-foot facility started with what the company knew best, and that’s cranking out English muffins.

With the new state-of-the-art English muffin line, which produces 2,000 dozen pieces of hour, the Norwalk, Ohio-based company now has a total of seven English muffin lines — four others in Norwalk and two in Fremont, Ind.

Altogether, those English muffin lines can comfortably turn out 20 million products a week, noted Mike Porter, president and chief operating officer, for New Horizons. The company also has two high-speed bun lines.

Overall, the Toledo plant has plenty of room to install up to three additional production lines. Today, the facility allocates 28,000 square feet for processing, 15,000 square feet for packaging, 12,000 square feet for its 650-pallet freezer and warehousing, and 6,000 square feet of office space. New Horizons purchased the building about five years ago from a frozen food distributor and used it as an ingredient storage facility in the past.

Overseeing daily production is Mallory Wampler, plant manager; Ben Buchanan, director of engineering; Fran Washington, manager of food safety/quality assurance (FSQA); and Dariana Rivera, human resources manager.

Currently, the 25 employees at the Toledo facility operate on a 10-hour shift, four days a week, followed by 4 hours of sanitation and maintenance. A second shift is in the planning stage.

As a part of the bakery startup, New Horizons took a different tactic with training, in addition to the traditional onboarding and classroom education.

“We hired the people for Toledo, then took them to our other facilities to work with other teams for two weeks with job shadowing,” Mr. Porter said.

Not only did the new hires get on-the-job training, but they also partnered with experienced line operators who could answer questions ranging from how the equipment operates to other job-related concerns that routinely pop up during the anxious first days in a new position.

“The job is not a challenge. It’s the environment that people are working in that’s the challenge, and we’re building an environment that fosters growth,” Mr. Porter said. “We work in a great industry, and we don’t sell that story, so we’re trying to change the mindset to all our people.”

From an automation standpoint, the Toledo bakery reflects the expertise that the New Horizons production and engineering teams have learned from installing six previous English muffin lines, expanding its Norwalk facility and upgrading its operations over the years.

“Every new line should be better,” Mr. Porter said. “We try to infuse new technology and innovation for efficiencies and make it easier to operate, maintain and clean.”

Flour is stored in a 115,000-lb outdoor silo with the infrastructure to add a second one as the bakery installs additional lines. Rob Harrison, director of operations, noted the Fred D. Pfening ingredient handling system comes with a use bin instead of a conventional bag house.

“The use bin is easy to maintain and reliable and makes us much more consistent while providing a buffer,” he said. “If we have any flour interruption, we have enough flour in that use bin until we correct it.”

Mr. Buchanan pointed out that New Horizons provided the SCADA platform and wrote the code integrating the Pfening system and the AMF Bakery System 2,000-lb horizontal mixer, which creates 1,600-lb batches that feed the line.

“We developed our own batch code internally instead of using someone else’s,” he said. “It’s just a simple step-by-step process of adding ingredients to the mixer. Since we developed it ourselves, we can make adjustments to the code. If something goes wrong, we can fix it instead of waiting for a vendor to fix it remotely or visit the bakery.”

After mixing, an AMF dough pump feeds the hopper of a Reiser Vemag six-pocket divider, which makes 65 to 67 cuts a minute. Mr. Harrison said the Vemag rounder table with oil-free rounder bars relies on a Rulmecca motorized pully to drive the conveyor belt in lieu of the standard motor gearbox combination. He added that the sanitary-designed system, a first for Reiser, was developed using New Horizons’ specifications.

Mr. Harrison said the production line uses several custom-designed servo systems — a first for any New Horizons bakery — to meter and divert product throughout the process.

After rounding, for example, the dough balls drop into a six-and-12 loading system. As the name indicates, the servo-
controlled system takes a set of six dough balls at a time and loads two sets of them precisely into 12-across rows of cups on the Clock Associates proofer. In all, the proofer has 960 flights, or rows of cups, that hold 11,500 pieces. As a part of the process, a duster and reclamation system provides more precise applications of cornmeal.

After a 25- to 30-minute proof, the dough balls tumble into a Clock Associates griddle oven outfitted with 54 Banner Day burners, which it uses on its other English muffin lines. The 12-across rows of griddles bake about 10 minutes as they travel across the 65-foot system, then return underneath before discharging onto a conveyor that leads to the G&F spiral cooler for about 55 minutes.

In case of a disruption in cooling or packaging, Mr. Buchanan said, the bakery installed a diverter just prior to the cooler where freshly baked products can be offloaded as the griddle oven keeps on baking.

Moreover, the oversized cooler can accumulate up to 5 minutes of products to act as a buffer in the event of a brief changeover or downtime in packaging.

Next, the English muffins exit the top of the cooler and head to the mezzanine in the separate, enclosed packaging room. New Horizons added the upper level, which is monitored only by cameras, to maximize floor space in the building and reserve it later for future production and packaging lines.

The English muffins then flow through a servo-controlled zig-zag aligner and laner that feed two Fabriweld fork cutting systems.

“Each forker can handle 1,800 to 2,000 dozen an hour, but we wanted a backup system and to run them slower to avoid any downtime,” Mr. Buchanan said. “We kind of went crazy with sensors everywhere so that we could control production flow and minimize as much waste as possible.”

The English muffins then glide down a conveyor from the mezzanine to the LeMatic bulk packaging system, which packages 30 at a time in a vacuum-tight pack or a 36-pack with heat seals that divide it into three tear-away packs of 12 for convenience and freshness. The department also houses a second Bettendorf Stanford system that can bag 12 pieces at a time with a Kwik Lok closure.

After Mettler Toledo metal detection, five bulk packs are manually case packed, then sealed and palletized before heading to the freezer set at 10˚F to 20˚F and frozen solid in 8 hours.

Technological improvements are a two-way street, and New Horizons is exploring ways to retrofit older production lines with servo motors, process improvements and other components used in the Toledo bakery.

Mr. Harrison noted the company is currently upgrading its maintenance program from a corporate level by replacing its paper-and-pencil spreadsheets with a computerized inventory, part management and work order system under the Asset Essentials program.

“With that, we’ll have better asset management, especially about what we’re spending on repairs and how to control costs from a maintenance and labor standpoint,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nora Bricker, director of FSQA, is currently working on getting the Toledo plant certified by Safe Quality Food (SQF) for food safety and quality assurance this year.

Along with the FSQA members in each bakery, Ms. Bricker’s team is reviewing all the data and conducting gap assessments on SQF’s latest Edition 9 of its audit process.

Moreover, she said, the group collaborates on cross-auditing, testing of product samples and employing various environmental studies and training to maintain a food safety culture throughout the three bakeries.

“Our teams are very tight-knit and support each other,” Ms. Bricker said. “If personnel at the Norwalk or Fremont locations have a question, others are willing to jump in and provide an answer.”

For this company, teamwork is key to creating its new horizons for the future.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on New Horizons Baking Co., click here.