Packaging lines in bakeries and snack manufacturing plants need accumulation or buffering systems to handle products when packaging goes down, but the rest of the operation is still running. This temporarily reroutes or stores product until the line is back up.

“You need to put enough accumulation at the front end of any packaging line to take care of issues down-stream,” said Teri Johnson, vice president, North America, TNA Solutions.

Accumulation systems include bulk bin storage or using a series of conveyors. This is another place where bakers might need to get creative if space is tight.

“They actually can go vertical like on a gondola,” said Kelly Meer, product manager, Syntegon. “There’s micro-buffering: I need to buffer for 30 seconds. … And there’s macro-buffering: My system is down for five minutes. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but if you’re making 10,000 crackers a minute, where do they go?”

The other option is having backups that can either take over or increase capacity if one packaging line goes down.

“When we look at a solution, we look at how do we ensure there’s enough redundancy,” said John Weddleton, product manager, automation, Harpak-ULMA. “If it’s a two-wrapper solution and one wrapper goes down, is the other wrapper capable of picking up the volume off that other line?”

Several scenarios can pop up and create bottlenecks along bakery and snack lines, from people to product and process. The key is to know what can go wrong and work to avoid those problems.

“Oftentimes a bottleneck is the operator,” Mr. Meer said. “Let’s say they have an outstanding operator who runs that system, and it’s great. But then that person is sick or can’t come to work. … So the challenge is: When they’re not available, who’s going to step in?”

This points to the critical importance of good training. Packaging companies offer onsite training, videos and much more these days, including virtual reality and augmented reality technologies.

“Augmented reality is not only a tool that helps our customers fix things through remote support, but an equally powerful tool to conduct training sessions with them so they can have more meaningful hands-on training re-motely,” Ms. Johnson said. The other side of the coin is ensuring that machines are easy to operate so new workers can quickly learn how to run them properly. Companies are striving to design controls that are operator friendly.

“We want to keep the HMI, the interface for the operator, simple and intuitive,” said Andreas Schildknecht, senior project manager, robotics, Syntegon. “The complexity is somewhere in the machine, but you as a manufacturer/operator, you should have simple tasks, simple communication with the machine.”

This article is an excerpt from the November 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Bottlenecks, click here.