Multitasking to The Max
Today’s depositors must handle everything from light batters and gourmet cookie dough to USDA-regulated meat fillings and energy bars with thick, viscous formulations.
When it comes to depositing, it’s always good to take into account the C.R.A.P. Factor. That’s official policy at Unifiller Systems. No, it’s not what you think it is. Rather, it stands for Critical Risk Analysis Points.
So when a customer asks for a request, what does the team at the Delta, British Columbia-based company do?
“We look at it and ask, ‘Does this have a lot of C.R.A.P. or not?’” says Jamie Bobyk, Unifiller’s media/marketing coordinator. “And if [the request] doesn’t fall within our criteria, then it gets a ‘no.’”
Unifiller uses the C.R.A.P. Factor to make sure it doesn’t over-promise anything.
“We’re trying to bridge the gap between our customers’ expectations and our capabilities. We want to take things on that make sense for both,” Bobyk says.
Bakery, snack, pizza and baked hot snack producers certainly expect a lot when it comes to today’s depositors. They’re searching for versatile equipment that’s flexible enough to gently do a wide variety of tasks with quick changeovers.
“Different customers rank the following in a different order; however, they all seem to be interested in accuracy, speed, reliability, ease of changeover and ease of sanitation,” says Lance Aasness, vice president at Hinds-Bock.
In some cases, engineers at the Redmond, Wash-based company just need to tweak existing designs to meet customers’ needs. Other times, they have to go back to the drawing board. Recently, the company has been making its line of depositors easier to operate.
“We have improved the pneumatic and electrical controls, which make the machines much friendlier to operate,” Aasness notes. “Oftentimes, adjustments are made by simply pushing a button on an operator-interface screen, and the robust design of these machines provides for a high degree of uptime.”
Multiple Options Available
Traditionally, many companies used a piston design to deposit batters and soft dough. But today, depositing systems come in many shapes and sizes.
Reiser’s Vemag bakery equipment, for instance, uses double-screw technology to deposit anything from light batters and gourmet cookie dough with large particulates to high-protein energy bars that have thick, viscous formulations.
Unlike piston dividers that rely on gravity to feed and deposit brownie dough onto pans or deposit cookies or muffins onto band ovens, Reiser relies on vacuum along with gravity and mechanical force to feed “virtually any product ” into the double screw, says John McIsaac, vice president of engineering at Reiser.
“Once the product has filled the double screw, we turn it a certain number of rotations to get the same exact weight time after time,” he explains. “The Vemag double screw gives us a tremendous base pump to work with. While we are constantly refining the base pump, there is also a large emphasis on developing attachments and new solutions using double-screw technology.”
For injecting fillings easily into snack cakes and other baked goods, E.T. Oakes Corp. has developed a depositor that can be rolled up to or mounted over an existing line, says Bob Peck, vice president of engineering.
Oakes uses a low-pressure continuous mixer to directly feed the depositor, which moves both vertically and horizontally to inject fillings into rows of snack cakes. Because the system uses a continuous mixer, there is no bowl cleaning or product handling.
“We make a pressurized type of manifold,” he explains. “Whatever gets metered in is also metered out. There’s no need for hoppers. It’s a very clean approach to depositing.”
The systems, which come in multiple widths, can come with a sensing system to tell if the pan is in the correct position or not. If the pan is not there or there’s a stoppage in the line, the cream or jelly automatically transfers to a bypass line or to a nearby accumulator until the line is up and going again.
Handle it Gently
For many food processors, the trend over the last few years has been toward producing high-quality, fast-food items that are baked or fried and have a home-cooked taste to them, notes Mike Barnett, vice president of NuTEC Manufacturing.
Additionally, there is an emphasis toward ethnic foods. They may be stuffed sandwiches, burritos, egg rolls, calzones, empanadas, filled tortillas or even fajitas found in the refrigerator and freezer case or thawed and sold in the deli/bakery.
“People are looking in the grocery stores for a good, hand-held entrée that’s something more than just a snack — more than a little pizza roll or something,” Barnett says.
New Lenox, Ill.-based NuTEC is responding to this trend with its C-Frame machine, which can operate in speeds ranging from 15 to 65 strokes a minute depending on portion size. The system can deposit sizes up to 1 3/8-in. thick.
Moreover, the C-Frame machine doesn’t require companies to overhaul their entire lines, Barnett says. This system fits right onto their existing production lines and increases their production capacity, and it does that without sacrificing any product quality. The finished product has consistency, good quality and a home-cooked taste.
Because the C-Frame is 100% hydraulic, the system experiences less wear and tear. There are fewer breakdowns, reduced downtime and lower repair costs, he says.
The depositor’s pump system gently moves the product so that it doesn’t overwork the ingredients.
“It works better on items that are hard to form, but it’s versatile enough to work on delicate products like seafood, vegetables or multi-ingredient fillings,” Barnett adds.
During the last year, Reiser’s engineering department has been developing systems that can extrude bread dough gently, but with the quality of ram-and-sheer dividers. Depositing toppings has been another focus. For sandwich makers, frozen-food producers and foodservice suppliers, the company now has a slice depositor that can put thin slices of cheese, meat or even peanut butter on a slice of bread.
Gourmet cookie producers are looking for systems that can handle half walnuts and other large particulates gently without damaging, smashing or pulverizing them. McIsaac also has seen a trend toward incorporating seeds into baked goods.
“Before, it was nuts and chocolate chips. Now, they’re incorporating seeds, and they want the consumer to see the seeds, so you have to produce the product without smearing it on the outside,” he says.
Sydney, Ohio-based Peerless offers Fedco A Series Piston Divider that delivers high-speed depositing of even cold muffin batters with particulates. The system can run up to 90 cycles per minute, depending on specific gravity, viscosity and size of the deposit. The systems can be custom-engineered to accommodate various pan sizes and configurations.
Handle It Accurately
For cookie producers, Reiser’s Vemag depositors produce wire-cut cookies with greater accuracy.
“With a traditional wire cutter, you’re depending on the rotors to bring the product down to the forming area and then cut them off,” McIsaac says. “We’re using vacuum and mechanical force. No hands are getting near the product and we are drawing in exactly enough product to fill the double screw every time. Once we fill the double screw, weight accuracy is  guaranteed.”
Currently, Oakes is developing a continuous-feed sandwich-cookie machine. In the past, the machine’s magazines had to be hand-loaded with the base and top cookie components of the sandwich cookie. Cream would be deposited on the base and the top component would be added.
“Our customers now want to do it on the fly,” Peck says. “That’s why were coming up with another type of machine that will automatically fed from the line.”
Hinds-Bock has introduced a servo-driven product-spreading depositor for automatically portioning and spreading a wide variety of products ranging from frosting onto cakes to fruit pieces suspended in a slurry, Aasness says.
“The introduction of this machine allows Hinds-Bock to not only help the customers by increasing throughput and reducing labor through automation, but also since we are a domestic manufacture, the customer does not need to purchase imported equipment,” he notes.
Unifiller’s Universal depositor comes equipped with a standard PC Nozzle for clean depositing of standard or low-carb products such as muffins, cake batter, fruit pie fillings and more. The power-lift frame lowers the base to floor level for easy manual filling. The Universal can be fit with a wide variety of attachments, including handguns, depositing heads and nozzles for almost all depositing applications in the bakery.
At the 2004 Baking Expo, the company displayed its Fast Track system, which allows bakers to quickly add capacity when it becomes available.
“It basically is, take any of our depositors and [affix it] to a mini, 4-ft. conveyor,” Bobyk says, “and these are all made to be interchangeable, so I guess you could picture it as a jigsaw puzzle. And it’s actually for companies that want to automate but not go to the full line, and maybe want to be able to go to the full line in the future. They can buy one module at a time, and that way keeps our cost down plus keeps the options open.”
Instead of having a whole cake line, bakers can roll in a number of Universals to provide production flexibility.
“You could have three Universals on a Fast Track and each [Universal] would have a different icing in it,” Bobyk explains. “Take one off, roll the other one in; take that one off, roll another one in. So changeover would be literally a matter of minutes.”
For small to mid-sized companies, Reiser offers the Vemag 500 model, which can be put on wheels and rolled around the plant to perform various tasks. The company’s larger Vemag model, the HP series, can divide pizza dough into a pan and is designed for larger production companies. Originally, Reiser’s attachments for its Vemag dividers and depositors produced one cookie or muffin at a time and relied on shuttle conveyors to fill a pan or tray.
“Now we’re also using flow division for filling ovens and freezers directly instead of shuttling,” McIsaac says. “We’ll still use shuttle conveyors for some products, such as an apple fritter, because it has to look handmade. It can’t look like it’s been made by a machine.”
Built in Versatility
To handle multiple tasks with one depositor, Reiser assembles systems modularly, using the Vemag as the base pump and mixing and matching various standard applicators. Moreover, the company’s staff of five engineers can custom-design applicators to produce three-dimensional cookies, mini-muffins, full sheets of brownies or pie fillings, to name a few.
Small and mid-sized producers, McIsaac adds, are asking for affordable applicators and other attachments that can be changed quickly with minimal sanitation.
“If the customer is going to need different shapes of a product, for instance, we try to make the attachments as affordable and versatile as possible,” he explains. “We look at the products they’re making, and we look for a way to make the attachment changeouts without using tools. We also look at some of the new materials coming out. Attachments that may have been made out of stainless steel can now be made out of high-grade, FDA-approved plastics. Today’s industrial-grade plastics are more rugged and machinable, so now we can design an insert that can produce an individual product and be swapped out without any tools or downtime.”
During the last few years, Oakes has responded to customer requests and reduced the amount of changeover time from 15 to 20 minutes to three minutes or less. The Hauppauge, N.Y.-based company accomplished this by simplifying the design and developing a special cart that can quickly remove the manifold head for easy cleaning.
“To make one product and shift to another, they need to change the injection manifold, which is a pretty heavy mechanism,” Peck says. “In the past, they had to unbolt it. Two or three people were needed to take it off.
“Now we’ve designed a system where you loosen up one screw and the whole mechanism slides off,” he adds. “It then rolls off to a takeaway cart, and they can move it to the wash room where they can then rotate it for taking it apart and easy cleaning and re-assembly.”
Depositors by Hinds-Bock and Unifiller also can be cleaned without tools.
Simplifying sanitation and maintenance, Bobyk says, “has always been our No. 1 focus,” Bobyk says.