The Changing Roles Of the Bakery Engineer
By Jeff Dearduff
If you Google “chief engineer,” various descriptions come up, and not one of them relates directly to the tasks that a “manager of what goes on in a bakery relating to the process machinery” has to deal with on a daily basis.

Sure, the overall concept is there, but here are a few specific professions related to the term: the head cat on a freight train; the one that is in charge of a group of rocket scientists; and the person that organizes all the “techie” stuff for the morning show at the local radio station. Ah, here you go: “the head cat, who is in charge of a group and organizes stuff.” That must be where it came from.
When we look into what the job really consists of, it has two key points: First, it’s a management function. Second, it’s consumed by maintenance activities. Many industries have adopted a much more understandable title for the job: maintenance manager. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. Sure, “chief engineer” sounds better, but “maintenance manager” is more applicable to the baking industry today. So from this point forward, we will consider this title change one of the first significant paradigms that must be overcome.
The next change has to do with the tasks and responsibilities that the “maintenance manager” deals with today versus what a “chief engineer” might have dealt with in the past. In the late ’70s, the bakery chief engineer’s job began going through a transition. Specifically, older machines were manually operated while newer equipment started to have an automated feel to it. Because the job’s responsibilities at that time were largely associated with keeping ovens running and mixers turning, the transition was fairly manageable for a guy who had come up through the ranks and landed in leadership. Personnel and regulatory issues were not much of a factor, so the chief engineer could concentrate the majority of his time on the task at hand.
Today, the bakery maintenance manager is dealing with newer systems that are sophisticated to a level many notches above what the typical manager is currently ready for. In addition, the maintenance manager now must deal not only with technological advances, but with regulatory issues that require extensive study time and management effort. Personnel issues that once could be handled with an arm around the shoulder and a stern directive must be managed with kid gloves, along with company, corporate or federal policy. The ’70s chief engineer was often highly respected and depended on by the owners of the company. In many cases, this position reported directly to the owners, who understood that the performance of the chief engineer often meant the difference between getting full trucks of bread out on schedule and the consequences of late or missed deliveries.
Today, maintenance managers are sometimes buried so far down the structure that they may report to a second- or third-level manager in the local bakery. They still are held accountable for keeping the bakery running smoothly, sometimes on a 24-hour basis, six days a week. However, the title is not important on a personal basis nor through the chain of command. Maintenance managers understand that value of keeping the operation running smoothly and the costs of when it’s not. However, if that value isn’t expressed from management, it creates an uncomfortable and sometimes unproductive environment.
There are meetings. There are more meetings to plan other meetings. The time spent today by maintenance managers sitting around a conference table, often in discussions that don’t necessarily involve their responsibilities, is a significant change and burden. This is not such a problem if the maintenance department is staffed so that their leadership duties continue through their lieutenants. For the guy who is the leader, trainer, thinker and all-around “fix-it” guy, the time lost in these meetings only is regained by extending the number of hours or days spent at work each week.
In addition to being a top-rate maintenance mechanic, a strong inspirational leader, a creative problem solver and a human resources specialist, the maintenance manager also must be an accountant, a purchasing agent, a regulatory expert and an IT specialist. In summary, today’s maintenance managers are people who are facing change while living with a variety of paradigms, both self-inflicted and atmospheric. Until there is a shift, they will continue to drive in the ruts created by those who influence them.
When the ruts get too deep, and we bottom out, it’s too late. SF&WB
Editor’s Note: In this new monthly column, Jeff Dearduff, director of engineering at East Balt Inc. in Chicago, will address the responsibilities of the bakery engineer. Jeff got his start in the baking industry at Perfection Biscuit Co., now Aunt Millie’s. He is a member of the American Bakers Assn., the Baking Industry Sanitation Standards Committee, the American Institute of Baking and the American Society of Baking. You can contact Jeff at