by DAN MALOVANY
Sitting on 41 acres of land in a New England industrial park, the outside of the new 265,000-sq.-ft. bakery in Bloomfield, Conn. looks distinctively Pepperidge Farm, with a white pre-cast concrete façade set off by signature-painted stripes in rustic red and farmhouse orange.
Operations at a Glance
|Company: Pepperidge Farm |
Headquarters: Norwalk, Conn.
No. of Plants: Eight.
Plant Locations: Aiken, S.C.; Bloomfield, Conn.; Denver, Pa.; Downingtown, Pa.; Downers Grove, Ill.; Lakeland, Fla.; Richmond, Utah; Willard, Ohio.
Featured Plant: Bloomfield, Conn.
Cost to Build: $72 million
Date Opened: April 2003
Size: 265,000 sq. ft. on 41 acres of land
Lines: Two bread lines, one bun and roll, crouton and stuffing operations.
No. of Employees: 250
Plant Mgr.: Bill Livingstone
Project Mgr: Glenn Wright
At the front of the bakery stands a Pepperidge Tree, a tradition that dates back to the company’s early days. As legend has it, founder Margaret Rudkin used to plant a tree in front of every new bakery that she built from the time she founded Pepperidge Farm in 1937 until Campbell Soup purchased it in 1961.
The Bloomfield tree is dedicated to former president David Albright, who spearheaded the building of the $72 million plant that eventually replaced the company’s antiquated facility Rudkin built next to its headquarters in Norwalk, Conn.
Inside, the Bloomfield bakery is also naturally Pepperidge. From an operational perspective, it resembles the company’s most recently built facilities in Lakeland, Fla., and Denver, Pa. That’s not surprising, notes David Watson, vice president of engineering who was involved in the design and construction of the Lakeland plant in the 1980s and the Denver operation in the early 1990s. Why go back to the drawing board if you already have a design that works?
“If you look at Lakeland, Denver and Bloomfield, you see a very similar product flow,” Watson says. “All of the major utilities are located at the far end of the plant. The boilers and air compressors are located along a wall that’s never going to expand. Then the flow moves through ingredient storage, dough mixing, prep, baking, cooling, packaging and shipping in almost a straight line.”
Of course, there are significant differences between Bloomfield and the other two facilities. Some of the changes are market-driven. Unlike the Lakeland and Denver plants, which were designed to produce biscuit and bakery products, Bloomfield mainly produces bread and rolls, but also dried baked products for its core New England and mid-Atlantic markets.
“Some of the big differences here involved going to a second-floor mezzanine for the stuffing and crouton operations, which we didn’t have in the Lakeland or Denver scenarios,” Watson says.
Changes in technology also played a role. The Bloomfield plant includes a number of “firsts” for Pepperidge Farm, including a robotic pan system, a continuous proofer design and the largest bread-baking ovens in its system. These advances in technology have minimized the downtime between changeovers, while increasing the throughput for producing bread products.
At the same time, from a design perspective, the bakery isn’t as complicated an operation as previously built plants.
Dating back to when Margaret Rudkin was in charge, Pepperidge Farm has always pushed the envelope with technology, and sometimes found itself ahead of the curve. Back when Lakeland was built, for example, the computer age was in its infancy. Without the abundance of software available today, the pioneering company enlisted a small firm to develop proprietary software specifically designed for the bakery. In retrospect, what Pepperidge Farm received was more complex than it needed.
“We’ve come a long way since Lakeland. Because of the increase of in-store bakeries at the time, the vision of Lakeland was to have product baked and in the store within 18 hours,” Watson says. “To get there meant utilizing the latest in technology. We were tracking every single loaf of bread through the entire line, which after start up, became quite evident that we were using technology that wasn’t giving us the best bang for the buck.”
Likewise, in Denver, the company installed the latest in robotics, but again, hindsight shows that it was ahead of the technology curve. Watson says the original robotic arms were better designed for picking up heavy objects like car doors, not delicate cookies like Milanos. However, in the mid-1990s, new faster, gentler and more affordable Delta-style robotics came on line. With such nimbler technology available, Pepperidge Farm over the last few years has installed 46 robots in several of its eight plants to handle a variety of tasks from sandwiching Mini Milanos to automatically placing cookies into paper cups.
In the Bloomfield plant, the new robotic pan system gently stores and retrieves more than 26,000 pans, streamlining changeovers and saving wear on pans.
The information systems are not only more advanced, but also more user-friendly than what was available even 10 years ago.
Sometimes, Watson notes, simplicity is a form of beauty.
“We’ve also moved away from some of the fancy bells and whistles that were part of the Denver and Lakeland plants — the tour walkways, for example, that were built there—and we simplified the use of technology,” he says.
The new bakery even includes some rebuilt equipment, such as an intermediate roll proofer, catalytic oxidizers and a stuffing and crouton line that had been installed in the retired Norwalk of late.
During the initial planning stages, Watson says team members evaluated the systems that it wanted for the plant, and in some cases, the team felt that the newer technology simply did not provide enough enhancement to product quality, consistency or production capacity to justify buying new equipment. So, if equipment such as an intermediate proofer, crouton seasoning system or catalytic oxidizer hadn’t improved over the years, the team chose to rebuild existing equipment and combine the old with the new.
“The only assets that came over from Norwalk were the newer systems that were installed within the last 10 years,” Watson says. “It was more targeted toward the crouton and stuffing operation and the air emission equipment. They were probably the biggest assets that we decided to relocate. Our overall goal on the project was to utilize the best technology available in order to get the best product quality at the best cost.”
A Source of Pride
Although its 611,000-sq.-ft. Denver plant is the company’s largest facility, the Bloomfield bakery is now Pepperidge’s largest producer of retail bread among all of its operations. The two bread lines there produce an average of 16,000 lbs. per hour or about 33% more product than on the three labor-intensive lines at the old Norwalk plant.
Built in 1947, the Norwalk plant had been expanded repeatedly over time as demand for Pepperidge Farm baked goods grew in its core New England and mid-Atlantic markets. Surrounded by a burgeoning residential neighborhood and retail shops, the facility simply had no more room to expand. As a result, production flow zig-zagged through the plant as the company tried to maximize space.
By the time the decision was made to close the Norwalk plant two years ago, demand had exceeded its capacity of filling 18,000 baskets of bakery products a day.
The Bloomfield location was chosen because there was now plenty of room to expand as sales grow in the future. From a geographic standpoint, the site is located practically in the middle of its core market, which includes Boston and New England to the north, New York and the mid-Atlantic to the south, and the seaboard coast to the east and through New Jersey and parts of western Pennsylvania to the west.
Even though Bloomfield is located about 60 miles from Norwalk, about 175 of 250 veteran employees transferred to the new site. Pepperidge Farm took its experienced bakers who had worked in a low-tech environment and trained them on computer-controlled lines in a state-of-the-art operation. When time came to say goodbye to the venerable Norwalk plant, Watson guesses that most bakers really didn’t miss the old hands-on operation that much.
“It is a source of pride that so many of our Norwalk employees opted to join us in Bloomfield,” he says.
Nature at Her Cruelest
When it came to building the bakery, Mark Sarvary, Pepperidge Farm’s president, notes that Watson, Rick Ferguson, senior vice president —operations, and the entire team of Pepperidge Farm employees and its suppliers “deserve a medal” for starting up the Bloomfield operation on time, on budget and during some of the most difficult conditions possible.
The company broke ground in May 2002 and commissioned the first line during the following April. Within 12 months, Watson says, Pepperidge Farm was shipping to retailers.
“Our goal was to have the building under roof in October . We made a huge push early on to get the building enclosed and get some heat into the plant so that we could continue to perform the remaining parts of construction and begin installation of equipment,” he says. “We were out of the weather at that point.”
Starting around Thanksgiving, it began to snow, and it almost never stopped until April. During one of New England’s worse winters on record, some 86 in. of snow fell on Bloomfield while temperatures often hovered in the single digits for weeks at a time.
“Between the snow and the cold, it created tremendous challenges just keeping the place plowed out to be able to get the equipment, contractors and the vendors moving and keep the project on schedule,” Watson says.
While the adverse weather certainly led to incremental costs, Mother Nature also severely tested the intestinal fortitude of the project members. Looking back, it’s one of those “war stories” that Watson won’t soon forget.
“While we were under construction and installing equipment, all of the contractors pretty much worked out of trailers,” he recalls. “There was a long row of trailers where everyone had set up their offices and workspace.
“During one of the worst cold spells in January, the water [pipes] to all of the trailers froze which forced everyone to have to use temporary port-o-potties,” he says. “What I will always say, ‘It was one of those few times that you hoped that you weren’t the first one up in the morning.’ That could be a very cold place to be.”
Despite the complications caused by the nasty weather, Watson calls the Bloomfield start up “the best of the last three plants that we’ve built.” He cites several reasons.
“We have a great team who did a lot of upfront planning,” he says. “I think there was a lot of experience that we could pull from the other two plant start ups that helped this plant start up go that much further.
“We had a lot of teams that were put together early on to focus on specific or critical areas of the project,” he adds, “whether it was contingency planning to make sure we could maintain our customer service levels, or bringing in product from other plants to supplement where we were in the start-up, or getting our people up here to begin hiring and staffing.”
During the final stages of the start-up, Pepperidge Farm brought in quality assurance managers and research and development personnel to validate each product and monitor product quality.
Bloomfield’s a Bloomin’
Today, 250 employees work three shifts from Sunday through Friday with major sanitation and preventive maintenance conducted on Saturdays. In addition to the crouton and stuffing operation, the plant has nearly identical-looking bread lines. One line, called Line 2, produces 1-lb. loaves at a rate of 160 a minute while the other, called Line 3, cranks out 1.5-lb. varieties at 130 a minute. Line 1, which is a bun and roll operation, was being installed during SF&WB’s visit in November and should be up and operating in April just prior to the peak bun season. It has a six-pocket divider that will produce 800 buns a minute.
Line 1 is also designed with the ability to produce bread during the off-season for buns. Eventually, when demand warrants, the company could purchase bread makeup equipment and packaging systems to produce loaves at rates similar to the other two lines, Livingstone says. The plant was also built with the ability to expand the building for another bread line in the future.
Six 175,000-lb. silos hold two types of white flour and one of wheat. Bulk liquid ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup, canola oil, and shortening, are stored in 10,000-gallon tanks. The facility also has a dual-tank, liquid yeast system.
In the Norwalk bakery, doughs used to receive about 45 minutes of floor time after mixing to create the distinctive Pepperidge Farm products. However, because seasonal temperatures fluctuated widely, it took a veteran baker’s touch to ensure the products baked consistently.
Bloomfield, on the other hand, is divided into three temperature-controlled sections: one for mixing and makeup, a second for proofing and baking and a third for packaging and warehousing. In addition to ensuring greater control of the process, the temperature controls provide comfort for the employees, no matter what the weather outside.
To provide additional front-end controls, Pepperidge installed a liquid brew system, which is located in a separate room behind the mixers. Water, flour, sugar and yeast are added to two 9,000-lb. brew tanks and mix for 60-90 minutes at 77°F before passing through one of two large heat exchangers that reduce the temperature to 40°F to stop the yeast activity before the brew is pumped into one of the 9,000-lb. holding tanks. There, the brew will agitate for up to two hours prior to being pumped to holding tanks next to a 2,500-lb., dual-tilt horizontal mixer for each line on the production floor.
Minor ingredients, such as rolled oats, rye meal, rye sour, wheat gluten and granulated sugar, are automatically weighed and conveyed to each mixer on demand from the central recipe management system. Micro ingredients are pre-measured in a separate room and then placed on pallets and taken to an ergonomically designed mixing platform for loading into the mixer through a rear tilt bowl that minimizes lifting and other issues. Depending on the product, anywhere from 400 to 900 lb. of brew are mixed with water, flour, yeast and the minor ingredients to produce a 2,500-lb. batch.
After the glycol-chilled mixer dumps the dough, the trough is elevated to a 15-ft. wide hopper feeding two seven-pocket piston dividers. Line 2, the 1.5-lb. bread operation, has a single hopper for producing Pepperidge Farm’s Farmhouse and non-Swirl breads. To produce its Swirl breads, Line 3 is outfitted with a dual hopper where, for example, a pumpernickel dough can be put in one and a light rye batch in the other to make up its Deli Style variety.
On both lines, for non-Swirl breads, divided dough pieces travel through a conical rounder with flour dusting to an intermediate proofer for a 10-12-minute rest at ambient temperature before entering one of two sheeters prior to dropping into six-strap pans. Swirl breads, Livingstone says, pass through a proprietary makeup and sheeting process on Line 3.
After makeup, the dough pieces typically receive a 55-minute to one-hour proof. While the Norwalk plant had a rack-type proofer, the Bloomfield one is continuous. As a result, Watson says, there are fewer pan jams and less downtime. Moreover, the continuous system provides better control of temperature and humidity within the box.
Likewise, the new 125-ft., direct-fired tunnel ovens provide a more evenly baked product. The company ran a mole through the oven to calibrate its six zones and to double-check the efficiency of the bake, Livingstone says.
After baking and depanning, the bread enters an enclosed double spiral cooling system with two attached cooling spirals for 90 minutes at 60°F, which evenly reduces the loaves’ temperature from more than 200°F after baking to under 90°F upon entering slicing.
“When you have a lot of grain in your bread, you need to get the temperature right so that it slices as cleanly as possible,” Livingstone says.
As the bread cools, the pans pass through an in-line pan cleaner and pan flipper to remove excess product before recycling back to makeup. Or, if needed for a changeover, the pans are stacked and unstacked by the robotic, pan storage-and-retrieval system.
Here’s how it works. The system consists of five robots and an automatic guided vehicle (AGV), which retrieves and stores the pans in a three-tier rack system. Using magnets, the robot picks up pans and, with a burst of air, gently discharges them. For safety, the pans are enclosed in cages. In addition, the systems have electric light curtains. If an employee inadvertently reaches in and breaches the safety zone, the robots immediately shut off.
Watson calls this robotic operation one of the biggest productivity and space-saving systems in the bakery. First, it reduced changeovers to 15 minutes or less. Second, it eliminated the need for conventional stackers and unstackers, which Watson says “are notorious for downtime and pan jams and replaces them with very high-efficiency robotics.” Third, it reduced the number of employees handling pans. Fourth, there is less banging and damage to the pans. Finally, because the plant uses 12 types of pans, storing them in a multi-tier rack system saves valuable floor space.
From the cooler, the bread passes by a switch, which diverts the product to either the stuffing and crouton operations on the mezzanine level or down to slicing and packaging and shipping for retail sales. Instead of using returns, Pepperidge bakes all of its bread inside the plant for its dry baked goods. The loaves dry out for 18 hours before they’re made into croutons or stuffing.
On the other hand, for retail bread sales, the loaves pass through two, dual slicers per line, and then through high-speed flow wrappers Livingstone says. After bagging, the double-wrapped loaves pass through metal detection and checkweighing prior to being manually loaded into baskets for shipping. The Bloomfield warehouse, which has 15 docks, has enough space to handle more than 36,000 baskets, or double the warehousing space in the former Norwalk plant. To streamline operations, the warehouse uses basket stackers and unstackers for bread and rolls. It can also automatically stack pallets, which are used for distributing cases of stuffing and croutons.
An Ongoing Project
Livingstone calls the plant an “ongoing project” as it continues to find ways to operate more efficiently and ensure product quality. Although a quality assurance manager takes samples from each shift and tests them for quality, moisture and shelf life, the front-line operators have been trained to check for product color, packaging integrity and other areas of quality control.
On the other hand, to assist in sanitation, the bakery has an edible waste, central vacuuming and flour recovery system, much like the company has in its Denver plant. To reduce downtime, the company has built small, gated closets throughout the plant where supplies for cleaning the lines or tools for fixing equipment are stored. If something breaks down or needs to be cleaned, employees can quickly enter a nearby cage and get the supplies they need to get the lines up and running more quickly than if they had to travel across the plant to a central storage or maintenance shop.
In another time-saving practice, each piece of equipment is labeled with a code that helps the maintenance staff track exactly what part has been repaired. If it needs to be replaced, the exact replica can be ordered by simply entering the code into the plant’s preventive maintenance computer. Watson notes that Pepperidge has an agreement with a company next door to supply the Bloomfield plant with ready-to-order parts on a consignment basis.
“There’s always pressure to have the right amount of parts, but without carrying an excessive storeroom of inventory,” he explains. “This agreement works out best for both of us.”
Since the plant has opened, Livingstone notes that bread sales have risen at upper-single-digit rates while the company’s thrift stores report a decline in returns that he directly attributes to improvements in shelf life and product quality.
A company can’t ask for too much more from a new facility that’s just gone on line.