Matthew Phillips didn’t start his career in baking, but the process of manufacturing inside a food supply chain, and the people who do it, are what drew him in.

“Learning about bakeries and how various disciplines must work together to take on a challenge or solve an issue highlights a unique and exciting culture within the industry,” Mr. Phillips said. “Additionally, LeMatic is a business that owns the entire process from design, manufacture, assembly, implementation to service after the sale. That total ownership of the product was a key factor in establishing a career in the industry.”

Mr. Phillips started out in logistics before moving to the automotive field in sales and project management. He’s worked in the baking industry for the past three years, serving as LeMatic’s senior sales executive and aftermarket manager before being recently promoted to director of aftermarket services.

As director, Mr. Phillips gets to see and hear the challenges clients and partners experience with LeMatic’s equipment and find a solution — which is what he enjoys most.

“When there is an opportunity for improvement, it is my division of the company that gets the raw feedback of what works and what is a challenge,” Mr. Phillips said. “There is nothing more rewarding than integrating into a project, establishing a common solution and obtaining our goal while working with a customer. I would have to add that I love hearing from customers with 1980s vintage equipment still in working order as part of their current-day operations.”


What are the most common issues when it comes to packaging, and how can you avoid them?

This is an easy topic, and it is terribly overlooked in our industry. Training is at the heart of most of the common maintenance issues. Many times, my team is contacted by a client with equipment problems, and the cause is not from a simple bearing failure or a torn belt but rather the setup process could be identified as the cause of the failure. When we have the opportunity to send in a technician to work alongside an operator or maintenance representative, the training those people receive greatly improves the operation of the line. 


How do certain ingredients affect the kind of packager, slicer, pan cleaner, etc., you’ll need?

Ingredients and the resulting product can change the performance of a machine in one changeover. Products with seeds, egg wash coatings, sugar forms and cornmeal bottoms are all part of the normal life in a bakery. With each product, the key is to understand the impact and what actions should be taken to ensure equipment efficiency and product quality. 

For example, a cinnamon raisin bagel can be an extreme challenge for a bagel slicer. However, a move to a Teflon-coated blade will greatly reduce the buildup that takes place and allow for longer runs between blade changes. Most products with inclusions require higher horsepower motors and more robust slicing blades.

In considering product ingredients, equipment design should reflect the need to manage crumbs, slicing quality and packaging rates. Some ingredients retain moisture more than others. This requires slicing blades, hold-down belts, conveyor belts and product guides all to be designed and configured in an optimal way.


What does a robust maintenance plan entail?

A robust maintenance plan starts with the basics. If the core of the maintenance plan is not understood by those who have to manage it, the high-level functions are cut short by the failures that take place at the most basic level. A few examples: “When do I replace that chain?” “What does that error message mean?” “If a pyramid belt is worn, what impact does that have on my slice quality?”

When these basics are understood, the steps in diagnosing maintenance issues are more limited. This all goes back to having regular training from the OEM. This allows a maintenance program to then grow to predictive maintenance with replacement kits on the shelves.


What factors determine which robotic or vision system works best in a bakery line?

Finding the right people is key to getting the most from our packaging lines. However, utilizing automation is key for successful growth in the baking industry. Labor shortages and employee fatigue are a battle we all face. Repetitive movements are not easy on the operator or the business. Looking for key integration points is critical in the baking world, not just in high production volume bakeries, but even in larger artisan-style bakeries. Some lines don’t need full automation but rather “automation-assisted” production lines that can cross over the line from being in the red or the black. Each bakery is so different, but they all have certain areas where repetitive movements can be aided or even alleviated by some level of automation. The key is to not only measure the amount of labor utilized but also the turnover in that same area. Turnover costs us all.


How can bakers streamline their maintenance plan to make it as quick as possible?

We are always looking for the “next best thing” in streamlining. Sometimes we forget that we have a history that will tell us what is not streamlined.

Bakers have an opportunity to use their suppliers for missed opportunities. Bakers should take advantage of the purchase history they have with their suppliers and look at what they are buying and how often they are purchasing those items. Instead of looking at those items as purchasing level opportunities, bakers are starting to look at them as opportunities to prevent downtimes. Bakers are starting to use life cycles to determine when to replace wear items to completely avoid the repeated downtime issues. 

If we have a belt that lasts six weeks and then is at risk of failure, why not replace that belt at five weeks? This does two things for bakers: It reduces the chance of downtime, and it reduces the effects of poor performance for an item at the end of its lifespan.

In the upcoming months, our clients will be able to log into a portal at the machine, look at training and operating manuals, predictive maintenance parameters, equipment efficiencies and more. This technology will be transferrable to mobile devices, as well as workstations.


How is equipment being designed to make maintenance and sanitation easier?

OEMs in the baking industry must stay current on food safety issues. That is how bakeries are supported by food OEMs vs. the non-food OEMs out there. For example, as a baker you would never want to approach a standard automation company for a new piece of equipment without some type of background in food products. There are so many options out there for automation, but those of us in the baking industry know that there is a defining line that must be kept. 

We cannot expect that new maintenance and operations people can make all the decisions for automation like, “Is that in the open package or post-package area of the machine?” There is a definitive risk out there for bakers that a new employee may make a purchasing decision which bypasses this line of thinking. 

Simple things like a painted frame could be fine for the first few years of production but pose a sudden surprise when the paint starts to flake off into the product. A new, stronger belt which is metal fiber enforced may last six times longer, but when it begins to fail the metal fibers might make their way into the product. Our bakers face these challenges every day, and it is up to the OEMs to make sure they put the right options on the table.