Purchasing a mixer can be a game changer by boosting performance on a high-speed production line and providing critical front-end controls that enhance everything from product quality to food safety.

However, not all investments go as planned, and there’s nothing worse than buyer’s remorse after realizing a major purchase may not have been the best choice for the long run. 

To make sure a mixer is the best fit, many bakeries are turning to total cost of ownership (TCO).

“I would suggest that more often capital spending doesn’t reflect TCO, but instead, only purchase price is considered,” said Jim Warren, vice president of Exact Mixing, Reading Bakery Systems (RBS). “Why would I say this? Purchase price is a tangible number. Everyone understands it. What’s more difficult to calculate are intangible savings.”

He pointed out that many ongoing savings and costs are ignored in the initial capital process and later found buried in a burgeoning, annual operating budget.

In addition to the total number of employees required to run the system, bakers should determine factors such as dough scrap rate, energy usage and the amount of long-term maintenance and sanitation costs, just to name a few.

That’s how TCO paints a more realistic picture of how much a mixer costs over time compared with the traditional return-on-investment (ROI) formula, noted Marc Ferree, technical sales manager, Shaffer.

“Many bakeries require estimated freight and startup supervision costs for their budget proposals,” he said. “This is only part of the costs that should help you determine which OEM proposal is the best for you. A piece of equipment that has a higher selling price may be better in the long run due to sanitary design, fewer wear parts and maintenance issues over the expected total life of the equipment.”

Melanie Gay, marketing manager, VMI, observed that a TCO formula factors in all operating and maintenance costs associated with the mixer as well as potential upgrades or retrofit expenses as the bakery expands in the future.

“This allows decision-makers to have a more comprehensive view of the true cost of the investment over time, rather than just focusing on the upfront cost,” she explained. “This can help in making informed decisions about whether the long-term benefits of the asset outweigh the total costs associated with it.”

It’s also why basing a purchase on the initial price isn’t always the best deal for bakeries in a constantly changing marketplace.

“TCO can incentivize decision-makers to choose more efficient and reliable assets that may have higher upfront costs but lower operating costs, resulting in better long-term value for the investment,” Ms. Gay said.

Because the typical industrial mixer lasts at least 20 years — and often more — changes in a bakery’s product portfolio can also have a significant impact on the capital spending process. Just look at how the commercial bread aisle has evolved over the past two decades. 

“The trend toward seeded breads and heavy grain products poses a challenge for older mixers,” said Terry Bartsch, executive product manager, AMF Fusion, an AMF Bakery Systems brand. “Customers are running them on their existing mixers, and sometimes the mixer they bought wasn’t sized right for the products they’re being asked to produce today when it comes to horsepower.”

In the past, he added, a 2,000-lb horizontal mixer came with a standard, 100-hp motor. With the shift from softer white and wheat breads toward heartier products, today’s mixers may require a 150-hp motor, for example, to handle the stiffer doughs.

Without the higher horsepower motors, bakeries will need to run smaller batches of dough. Preparing for future product change has become another intangible factor bakers are considering in their TCO formulas. 

“Times are changing for us, but it’s hard to put your finger exactly on what’s going on in the ingredient world and how it affects the doughs being mixed. We have to keep learning and evolving as the market changes,” Mr. Bartsch observed. “The doughs weren’t as stiff 20 years ago, and there weren’t as many varieties as today. We’re hedging our bets and raising the amount of horsepower needed for a mixer because the variety of products today are more demanding because of the stiffer doughs.”

To reduce the time required for sanitation, AMF has switched to a rotary-style agitator shaft seal on its horizontal mixers. 

“In the past, if dough leaked into the stational lip seals, the sacrificial piece was the agitator shaft,” Mr. Bartsch said. “The sacrificial piece now is a plastic rotor inside the seal. It’s exactly what you want it to be so you can change it easily and affordably.”

For stiffer doughs, Peerless Food Equipment strengthened all components from agitators, shafts, frames, drive systems and bowls to increase the rigidity, reliability and performance of its mixers. Its KleanVue mixer comes with a stainless steel frame composed of round, laser-cut tubes to promote easy sanitation, according to the company. The sanitary shaft seal with air purge minimizes bowl leaks, while EZ Kleangate provides tool-less changeovers to reduce downtime.

Additionally, Mr. Warren said, surging labor costs and the price to train new workers have dramatically decreased the conventional ROI time period for capital investments.

In many cases, bakeries are looking at automation to reduce the number of workers needed to operate a production line simply because they can’t find enough people to fill all three shifts.

“With the uncertain availability and cost of a trained workforce, bakers are beginning to ask questions such as, ‘How many people are required to operate the line,’ and ‘What is the cost if I need two people to operate the mixer and have none?’ Knowing that one person can operate multiple continuous mixers and the risk of not having as reliable of a workforce must be considered,” he said. “A line that cannot run because of workforce challenges has the longest ROI no matter what initial investment was required.”

Continuous mixers also provide a steady stream of dough once key parameters are established.

“The mixers are very easy to use and allow for controlling the temperature and the hydration of the dough,” said David Rodrigues, regional sales engineer at Zeppelin Systems USA. “You just need to make sure the dosing is set at the start of the shift, and once that happens, it runs continuously and consistently with less power consumption.”

During the past decade, sanitation has also changed to accommodate stricter food safety standards and government regulations. That’s translated into more time and labor needed to clean mixers properly.

However, Mr. Ferree estimated that advances in sanitary design such as an open-frame mixer, better welding and the elimination of flat surfaces where dust and water can gather allow for quicker sanitation.

“An old mixer would take about one hour for cleaning, while cleaning today’s mixers has been cut to 30 minutes,” he said. “The bakery is saving labor time, water and detergent and other costs in cleaning the mixer. By doing all of this, the bakery is able to get the production line up and running even more quickly than in the past.”

Diosna offers its new WH series of hygienically designed Wendel mixers that come with a 240- to 600-kg (525 to 1,320 lb) dough capacity. Ronald Falkenberg, regional sales director for USA and Canada at Diosna, said the line of Wendel mixers comes with removable bowls and an open-frame design that provides enhanced sanitation.

Automatic clean-in-place (CIP) systems provide an effective option for some bakeries, noted Bob Peck, vice president of engineering, E.T. Oakes.

“We’ve been offering spray balls inside our holding tanks and slurry tanks to aid with the cleaning of the equipment,” he noted. 

He added that E.T. Oakes offers dual-purpose pumps that enable CIP as well as metering and transferring of batter from mixers.

“These pumps provide the turbulent flow GMP that a CIP requires,” Mr. Peck said. “Bakeries still need the CIP system, but the pump is already on board our systems for allowing cleaning in place.”

For horizontal mixers, however, CIP can be hard to justify as a necessary expense.

“Mixers have become more sanitary, but the cleaning methods have not improved much over the years,” Mr. Bartsch said. “The simplest method to clean a mixer is to put warm water and a solution in a mixer and run it at slow speed to loosen the dough up before you get rid of the dirty water and hose it down.”

Tobias Koenig, sales manager, process machines, Zeppelin Systems, GmbH, said the Codos mixer comes optionally with a “wash in place” system that’s slightly different from CIP systems. A cleaning interval can be integrated in the recipe automation and takes 60 to 90 minutes in between changeovers depending on the dough. Alternatively, the mixer has openings for a pallet truck to move it to a separate area of the bakery for thorough manual washdown.

Looking at the big picture is an effective way to provide years of predictability on a capital investment while avoiding unexpected surprises and a lifetime of regret.

This article is an excerpt from the May 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Mixing, click here.