Fresh daily donut manufacturers have much to think through when it comes to investing in automated equipment, especially if they are working within their existing facilities and not starting from scratch. 

“Adding automation to an existing line is a challenge if it was not designed with automation in mind from the beginning,” said Ken Weekes, international sales manager, WP Bakery Group USA.

Space is typically a critical one. Many regional donut bakeries start out with a reversible sheeter, doing transfers manually. Automatic donut lines tend to be longer. 

“As their market grows, they have to expand out of the plant or buy a big enough plant to put in a Rademaker line,” said Nick Magistrelli, vice president of sales and marketing at the company. “You really need the linear space to make those possible.” 

This becomes even more critical as they try to add in modular equipment for different products. Modular equipment on the makeup line can make a line extremely flexible and changeovers quick and easy, but there’s a cost: floor space. 

“When you get into a yeast-raised makeup line, you have to have enough length to make space for the cutters and applicators, curling rollers, depositors,” Mr. Magistrelli explained. “Even if you only are making hexagonal donuts, you want enough length in there to incorporate new equipment later.”

If space isn’t an issue, yeast-raised donut manufacturers’ first investment in automating the line is the fryer and proofer. These systems are the heart of the donut process. The fryer dictates the speed and throughput of the entire line. Any future investments must build off this piece of equipment, all the way down to the width of the production line. 

“Our lines are designed to be the same operating width as the fryer from start to finish,” Mr. Weekes said. “This means that we produce the products in the makeup line so that they utilize as much of the frying width as possible, which ensures a high level of productivity.”

After the fryer and proofer, baking companies typically invest in bigger mixers to supply the line, then sheeting and makeup with automatic transfers. This keeps every part of the process at a similar scale throughout. This is critical for consistency, which is automation’s strength.

“You have to have the right mixing capacity, proofing capacity and frying capacity so there aren’t any jams between the individual processes where the product could be negatively influenced,” said Alex Weissbach, head of technology and product management, Rondo Alex Weissbach, head of technology and product management, Rondo. “For example, if you would like to increase the capacity on our Rondo sheeting line, the operator has to double-check if the proofer and fryer can follow.”  

Then there are the transfers to consider. This can be a major bonus for automating the process and a last holdout for semi-automated operations. It also requires significant controls between processes, whether from mixer to makeup, makeup to proofer or proofer to fryer. With today’s Internet of Things, even transitions between equipment from different vendors can go smoothly. 

“The integration of the controls from sheeting to proofing to frying on the ethernet allows us to mix and match brands,” said Damian Morabito, president of Topos Mondial. “So now our proofer can talk to any sheeter from any supplier, and everything is coordinated.” 

When it comes to equipment reliability, Mr. Magistrelli said every fresh donut producer must have a plan in place in case equipment goes down, because it will. Fresh daily donut production cannot stop and won’t have time to wait for a supplier to send a part or technician, no matter how supportive the supplier.

“They have to build an infrastructure into their bakery to get back into production on their own,” he said. “That can mean having the right parts on hand for the equipment as well as having onsite expertise with mechanics and electricians because a service engineer won’t be able to get there quick enough.” 

Another strategy is to have a second or alternative production line that can step up if a piece of equipment or production line has unexpected downtime. 

“A lot of these bakers will have duplicates of the same equipment just in case equipment goes down, or they might keep their semi-automatic production line as a backup,” Mr. Magistrelli explained. “That allows them to maintain production.” 

This strategy can be especially helpful in the finishing side of the operation, where automation has been difficult to implement for fresh daily donut producers. As Mr. Morabito pointed out, while fresh daily donut manufacturers may have a lot of different SKUs, most of the base product is the same: either a ring or a shell. Most of the differentiation — and therefore changeovers — happens at the end of the line. 

“A ring or a shell can be finished 12 different ways, but it’s a ring or a shell going into the proofer and fryer,” he said. “It’s possible for these donut manufacturers to be fully automated until the back end.”

While automated injection and finishing is possible, it’s typically only seen in frozen donut manufacturing where operations enjoy long runs. At the fresh daily level, bakers might invest in multiple injectors, glazers, tanks or even finishing lines to keep production moving and minimize changeovers. 

Another part of reducing downtime is cleaning. A good sanitation plan can prevent unexpected downtime, but also requires some. David Moline, vice president, sales and marketing, Moline Machinery, recommended self-cleaning proofers and fryers that clean during production. 

“It’s not like a CIP system where you run the cleaning cycle when it’s offline,” he said. “It’s actually during operation with an automated waste removal, so you don’t have to stop production to clean.” 

This is imperative as clean oil is critical for quality donuts, and cleaning the frying oil is a difficult process at the end of the day. Anything donut manufacturers can do to ease that process keeps donuts frying nicely and the plant clean. 

“We have a fully automated oil melting and filtration system that keeps the oil clean every single day and automates the fat melting process if you’re not buying oil and bulk,” Mr. Morabito said of one of Topos’ latest innovations. “It’s a fully piped system and requires no humans. It all happens with just the push of a button, so we can filter and clean at the end of a shift or day.” 

This article is an excerpt from the June 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Donut Processing, click here.