Dave Watson has earned his stripes when it comes to designing and building bakeries. During nearly 40 years in the food industry, he has seen it all, ranging from good startups and bad ones and great planning to a lack of it. 

Currently food, bakery and snack engineering subject matter expert at The Austin Co., Mr. Watson gained his expertise from his experience at Pepperidge Farm and Campbell Soup Co. There, he began as a project engineer then managed the design and construction of Pepperidge Farm's flagship plant in Denver, Penn., which opened in the early 1990s with robotics and other cutting-edge technology at that time.

At the 2022 International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE), he will share his experience during his presentation: Designed for Success - Making the Right Choices for Your Bakery, which will be held Saturday, Sept. 17, at 8:30 a.m. and Sunday, Sept. 18, at 11 a.m.

“This presentation will help identify the pitfalls and issues that have made for bad projects and help give bakers of all sizes a much more successful project,” he said.

An active member in many baking industry associations, Mr. Watson is a current member of the IBIE Committee, having served on it since 2010.

0414-IBIEDaveWatson.jpgDave Watson, The Austin Co.
Source: Dave Watson

 Reflecting on your career, how has technology changed over time?

If you go back into the late 1980s, when Pepperidge Farm was expanding, technology wasn’t where it is today. We were pushing technology beyond what it could deliver at the time. Because of that, it created a lot of issues in getting the plant up and running. Today, systems, controls and robotics have come much further. They’re much easier to set up, maintain and operate. Employees are more computer literate and pick up the technology more quickly. That’s a major change from back then to today.

How has bakery construction and design improved?

In the 1980s, bakery facilities had to be built with precast concrete to create a truly sanitary environment. Today, with insulated metal panels, you get a more cost-effective project with materials that are much easier to clean and keep maintained. There’s also more focus on people’s comfort than in the past. The ability to hire and retain a workforce has put more emphasis on employees’ comfort, whether it’s paying more attention to air-conditioning areas and more breakrooms. We are also laying out the operation to space people out more just in case we have a resurgence of COVID and to make employees feel safer. That’s something we didn’t think about 20 years ago.

What is most challenging: expanding or renovating a plant or building a new one?

They all have their challenges. When expanding, you have to keep your existing lines running, which puts greater focus on the coordination of activity, so you don’t have contractors in your bakery where you’re making products. At the same time, you need to maintain a tight schedule for construction. The coordination between the bakery and outside contractors is super critical. You don’t want any food safety issues like getting dust into your production area. You need a strong focus between maintaining your existing operations and the expansion. In greenfield plants, the challenges involve resources being stretched. You may have your future leaders doing the design and startup, but you may lose focus on keeping your existing operations running. I’ve seen numerous times where resources are stretched too thin and efficiencies at existing operations drop because it is a lot more fun to be involved in a brand new plant.

What new technology do you expect to see at IBIE?

We’re going to see more technologies like automatic guided vehicles, artificial intelligence or collaborative robotics. Those are going to play a bigger role in the bakeries of the future. IBIE also allows bakers to get to know US and international firms that are leaders in their respective technologies. It will help people five years from now to frame up where they want to go long term with their facilities.

How do you approach IBIE as a bakery engineer?

I always strive for a focus visit with enough time to meet suppliers on short- and medium-term products, but still allow enough time to look at technology from a longer term perspective. At IBIE, we’re going to see the latest in technology that not everybody is ready for but will help you as a baker plan for the future.