Stepping It Up

Innovation often comes in short gains and seldom in quantum leaps. That pretty much summarizes what our baker members of the American Society of Baking saw during their tour of the International Baking Industry Exposition in Orlando, Fla., last month.
If the show were a football game, the players at IBIE made a lot of first downs, but few of them really scored the big one.
For instance, Barry Blackwell of Kroger noted that the show was very informative.
“I can’t say that I saw any earth-shattering innovations,” he says. “It seems to me the vendors are moving toward equipment that is easier to changeover and clean.”
Other ASB members such as Antonio Gonzalez of Grupo Bimbo stressed that equipment manufacturers are taking steps in the right direction.
“I would say there were no really ‘new’ things, but there are many good improvements and technological advances going on,” he says.
No doubt, there were plenty of systems that piqued our baker members’ imaginations. Both Gonzalez and Jeff Dearduff at East Balt, for example, cited the use of robotics and vision systems for quality control or for handling of individual product pieces, specifically delicate ones like buns and English muffins, as the single biggest innovation they saw at the show.
“Anytime we can perform a job with machines, which has been traditionally performed by workers, we are heading in the right direction,” Dearduff explains.
“Whether sorting product into a packaging machine or putting product pieces into containers, it was good to see that there are people continuing to explore new applications for this technology,” he adds. “When incorporated with vision systems, robots can do a world of good for the industry.”
Certainly, this was the year of the servo, noted Robert Benton of Flowers Foods.
“Everyone wants to sell servo this and servo that,” he says. “I’m not 100% sold on servos for every application. I think there is and will always be a need for basic mechanical machines. Too often, equipment manufacturers forget that not only do we have to operate this new era of machines, but we also have to maintain them. Servos and their control systems bring in a level of complication that I’m not sure the typical bakery maintenance team is ready for without training.”
At the show, most systems were not new, per se, but simply redesigned to make them operate faster and with less downtime. There also seems to be an effort to use pull-out components that eventually may outdate the wrench and screwdriver.
Not surprisingly, some of our baker members reported that they scouted out equipment that clearly saved money — such as new bag closer that has been redesigned to use 10% less ribbon. Others looked for systems that better controlled the process. One mixer uses compressed air instead of glycol to chill mixer bars and was redesigned to minimize friction, which keeps dough chilled at lower temperatures and may speed up the mixing process. Another mixer incorporates high-pressure water to pre-hydrate water to improve dough quality and reduce mix times.
Our engineers also liked that new “hybrid” ovens that now come with multiple heating systems — from convection to direct-fired — and can handle everything from artisan breads and sweet goods to traditional panned white bread.
Extruder divider technology has evolved so it can handle both soft white bread and hearty multigrain rolls. With consumers demanding more new products, bakeries have to be much more versatile than they have been in the past.
The industry also has taken pan cleaning technology and literally put it on its head. New systems rotate the pans 180 degrees to take advantage of gravity to remove debris.
Many exhibitors offered ovens and other pieces of equipment with self-lubricating systems, making preventive maintenance a no brainer. Even the lubricating oil, for some, was food safe, thus eliminating even the most remote possibility of contamination.
Yes, our members saw a lot of improved, if not new, processes at the show. However, the real question is: What equipment didn’t they see at IBIE that they wished they had found?
Stay tuned. That’s next month’s topic.
Editor’s Note: This column was researched and written by Thomas Kuk, ASB president, and Dan Malovany, SF&WB editor.