While many bakers hope and anticipate raw material costs will ease in 2023, that future is not now. Ingredient costs remain high, especially when it comes to premium ingredients such as dairy, eggs and sugar. While product loss and waste is never desirable, at these prices, waste just got unaffordable. And this isn’t limited to ingredient costs either. The price of labor itself has indulgent products like sweet goods costing more to produce these days. Manufacturers of these products are looking for ways to reduce waste and improve production efficiencies to bring these costs in line. 

“Automation is the answer here,” said Hans Besems, executive product manager, AMF Tromp, an AMF Bakery Systems brand. “We can automate almost the complete process and take over where human labor is hard to find or where it is too intensive.”

Automation provides a level of accuracy unsurpassed by human labor, which means less waste in every aspect of sweet good products: the dough sheet, fillings, icings, glazes and other toppings and finishings. Automation also provides the production efficiencies that will create a consistent, repeatable product. In addition, it eliminates the reliance on costly labor. 

“Optimizing the process and automating most of the steps will bring more accuracy, constant product quality, less waste, scrap and turning down products on a production line,” Mr. Besems explained.

Automation goes beyond simply producing more product at faster rates. The constancy of automated production creates more consistent items throughout a shift, and today’s equipment offers tools that can help operators catch deviations before they escalate. 

The beauty of automation is its ability to remove opportunities for human error, thus creating the most consistent dough sheet possible.

“Automated lines, such as the Mecapatisserie or Mecaflex line from Mecatherm, enable better management of process consistency and ensure a consistent product quality compared to a semi-industrial process,” said François Retailleau, product manager, line and digital solutions, Mecatherm. “In other words, it generates a much lower quantity of products that doesn’t match the expected quality.”

An automated process eliminates many opportunities for finished product to fall out of spec, but it’s critical that the dough being fed to the makeup line is consistent.

“One of the challenges with sweet goods production is maintaining consistency,” said Dave Kollar, senior sales manager, Rondo. “It gets back to basics. Regulated mixing, dough temperature and a controlled environment are critical. If you don’t have proper control and procedures on those things, that can lead to a lot of inefficiencies.” 

Automated lines have the benefit of pre-programmed parameters to ensure that doughs are treated the same. This makes finished product results repeatable. 

“Our HMI is set up to run the production line with the proper speeds, roller gaps, feedback systems, links to upstream and downstream equipment, controls for flour dusters, depositors, and all other components of the line,” Mr. Kollar explained. “All of the parameters are programmed via a ‘recipe’ on the HMI for a specific product, so if your dough is mixed and handled properly, the line will run at maximum efficiency.” 

As dough comes into a sheeting and laminating line for pastries, one of the major opportunities for lost product and inconsistent quality is the scrap dough at the edge of the dough sheet. While it’s true that scrap can be added back in to reduce waste, it can also have a negative impact on quality. 

“Bakers are always trying to recoup this cost, but we don’t want them to throw all that trim back into the dough because it lowers the quality of the finished product while preserving cost,” said John Giacoio, vice president of sales, Rheon USA. “We strive to give them the dough sheet they actually need without a lot of dough that needs to be reworked.” 

Being able to change the width of the dough sheet to provide minimal trim dough was initially a challenge for Rheon USA, which aims to provide a stress-free production process. 

“When you sheet dough without regard for the stress being put into the dough, it’s very easy to change the dough sheet width because it doesn’t matter how much you manipulate the dough,” Mr. Giacoio said. “But that manipulation causes more stress on that dough.” 

Rheon developed a divider that allows the adjustment of the dough width without compromising on the equipment supplier’s stress-free principles.

“The adjustable flex divider gives us the ability to adjust the dough width by changing the setting on the machine,” Mr. Giacoio explained. “We can go from a 1,000 mm dough sheet to 800 mm with the push of a button. If you were wasting that extra 200 mm of dough, that would be significant.” 

Fritsch USA, a Multivac company, also tries to minimize trim with its Fritsch Rollfix for small and medium-sized operations and Fritsch dough sheeters for medium-sized to industrial bakers. 

“With clearly defined dough sheets regarding the thickness and especially the width of the dough sheets, the cut-off and thus the production of residual dough is reduced to a minimum,” said Matt Zielsdorf, director of sales, Fritsch. “The goal is always to reduce residual dough.”

The company also designs its production equipment to use the lowest possible amount of oil, which can also save on raw material costs while making sanitation easier. 

Automated lines come with new monitoring technologies that can keep tabs on the dough sheet while it’s still in production. With the live feedback on the station’s HMI, inconsistencies in the dough sheet can be corrected by the operator. All of the data will be stored to be analyzed in detail after the production runs, to optimize future production runs.

“With the new Rademaker monitoring station, bakers are able to analyze all products during production,” said Nick Magistrelli, vice president of sales and marketing, Rademaker USA. “This enables preventative adjustments during production, which results in higher quality regarding shape and weight to ensure a more cost-effective production with significantly less product rejects.”

AMF Tromp uses artificial intelligence (AI) to evaluate each product and adjust the equipment upstream to address deviations. 

“With smart technologies and AI, AMF Tromp uses vision technology to evaluate every single product in real time, and by machine learning the Tromp machines will adapt automatically, resulting in almost no waste and perfect products repeatedly,” Mr. Besems said.

When it comes to fillings and icings, automation adds speed and consistency to each deposit, beyond what a human could do. 

“Depositors can accurately portion expensive batters and fillings into the pans versus hand-scaling, which is not consistent person to person,” said Rod Gregg, executive vice president, Hinds-Bock, a Middleby Bakery company. “Anywhere hand-filling is being done on a line is an opportunity to make production more efficient, accurate and less labor-intensive.”  

Temperature of the fillings or icings is also critical when it comes to maintaining consistency once automated depositors are in place.

“Holding close temperature tolerances ensures that you do not get premature separation of ingredients and that the toppings will properly adhere to the finished products without runoff or bare spots,” said Chuck Sena, director of sales and marketing, Axis Automation. 

Temperature control also ensures that these components remain flowable. Mr. Sena recommended limiting their exposure to air to prevent moisture evaporation and using the icings, fillings and glazes quickly to minimize the need to recirculate them through pumps. This prevents exposure to unnecessary shearing or aeration that will impact their consistency.

Because the systems are servo-based, Unifiller’s Pro Series depositors are unaffected by fluctuating pressure from compressed air systems. This enables them to provide a consistent and repeatable deposit.

This article is an excerpt from the March 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Sweet Goods Processing, click here.