In today’s tight labor environment, bakeries can manage workforce woes involves using automation to add versatility to a production line.

All too often, bakeries need additional labor to handle multiple product changeovers during a single shift. Adding flexibility to sheeting lines typically comes with increased costs and requires more space.

To optimize production with the least amount of labor, bakers must understand the full range of products prior to designing the operation, said John Giacoio, vice president of sales, Rheon USA.

 “A sheeting section for laminated dough is different than a sheeting line for non-laminated dough,” he said. “With lamination, you need turns in the line where you can add the required layers. This means you need an ‘L-’ or ‘C-’ shaped line, depending on the required number of layers. As long as you have these turns, you can make almost any type of dough sheet.”

For makeup lines, he added, forming options can be installed to accommodate future products if the facility has enough line length.

“Fortunately, many forming options are modular and can be moved in and out as needed,” Mr. Giacoio said.

Hans Besems, executive product manager, AMF Tromp, an AMF Bakery Systems brand, said the company’s lines are standard and universal for many product applications.

“Our low-stress sheeting technology ensures any dough is relaxed and reduced to a perfect sheet,” he said. “Special tooling and flexible setup ensure changeovers can be made quickly and efficiently. We wheel in and wheel out units, for example, for croissant makeup, pastry makeup, decorating, cutting, strewing and more.”

Alexander Weissbach, head of technology, product management and the Dough-how Center at Rondo, said the company’s lines provide fewer labor-intensive changeovers because they can handle both laminated and soft, sticky bread doughs. Specifically, its Smartline has a tiltable satellite head that can be adjusted for gentle sheeting of different doughs.

Additionally, the MLC (modular laminating concept) enables bakers to add lamination to existing sheeting lines. This allows bakeries to install a small operation and bolster production capabilities as the business grows.

Koenig also offers a modular design that can be upgraded at any time later.

“The Koenig Menes line has a three-roll dough sheet former, which can be used for different doughs,” said Wolfgang Staufer, chief executive officer, Koenig. “By using plug-in rollers in different surface finishes, both solid and soft doughs can be processed. Due to this changing system in different widths, a variable dough width is achieved, and the residual dough is reduced to a minimum. The calibration rollers and scrapers can be easily removed for cleaning purposes.”

Expanding capacity isn’t difficult, but bakers need to identify potential bottlenecks. Mr. Giacoio noted that changing out the head section of a sheeting line will increase throughput. However, the higher production speed impacts the entire line.

“This increase in speed means everything before and after the line needs to mix, proof and bake faster, causing a potential bottleneck,” he said.

Ron Mullins, bakery field sales manager, Reiser, said a handful of attachments allow bakers to use the Vemag as a sheeter or laminator, dough divider and more. Bakers can use it to gently extrude a consistent dough sheet.

“Typically, this results in less rework and less waste,” Mr. Mullins said. “Often the Vemag extruder allows eliminating some of the initial gauging stations or the sheeting station.”

He added the Vemag can also extrude fat on laminating lines or deposit a variety of fillings into pastries.

Ken Hagedorn, vice president, bakery sector, Handtmann, said vane cell depositors can handle difficult fillings from delicate fruit to beef in Jamaican meat patties.

“If you have a filling with blueberries and cream cheese, you’re not going to see a lot of bleeding from the blueberries that end up turning the cream cheese blue,” he said. “You’re going to have white cream cheese with blue pieces of fruit in it.”

Bakers need to balance out a quick fix vs. a long-term solution. Mr. Besems suggested that splitting a line at a certain point to increase the output could be an option by mirroring the line.

However, bakeries may want to invest in higher capacity equipment with new turnkey lines and systems. That allows the new line to efficiently produce a higher volume of baked goods while the older line gets a new life because it can create shorter runs of new products and accommodate a higher number of changeovers.

To reduce labor, Rademaker has found ways to automate hand-forming, such as the bending and pinching of croissants, observed Nick Magistrelli, vice president of sales, Rademaker USA.

“We have the teardrop style of bending and pinching that’s more suitable for the European market, and we have the overlap bending and pinching solution that is popular in America,” he said. “We have automation to create stuffed-crust pizza or a traditional sheeting line pizza, and we’re getting asked to automate other difficult-to-produce items in the pastry and bread community that, in the past, bakeries were willing to do manually. Now bakeries want to do it, whether it’s Rademaker or us working with other robotic companies to come up with specialized solutions to reduce the labor involved.”

In the short run, Mr. Weissbach said, Rondo provides new accessories, such as upgraded filling depositors, new stamping dies or various cutting tools, for existing lines to create new products like folded and filled pastries on a conventional Danish line.

A long-term alternative may be changing the guillotine to ramp up capacity.

To accommodate workforce challenges, bakeries are forced to do more with less.

The automation of sheeting and laminating systems cannot only manage an operation’s workload more efficiently but also create a more workplace-friendly environment for everyone involved.

This article is an excerpt from the April 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Sheeting & Laminating, click here.