Depositing, dividing and rounding technology in the baking and snack industries is helping food manufacturers increase efficiencies, enhance sanitation, ensure safe operation and deliver products that meet their customers’ needs.

As the economy continues to improve, bakers and snack producers are taking a look at their production equipment, knowing that investing in newer technology can improve their product yields and efficiencies and reduce dreaded and costly downtime.

With food safety top of mind, these food manufacturers are seeking sanitary equipment as well as machinery that can help solve specific problems and improve their procedures. “Sanitation and clean design is definitely an ongoing requirement,” says Rich Breeswine, general manager of Koenig Bakery Systems, Ashland, Va. “Easy changeover and simplicity of use are desired by most bakers we have talked with over the past year, in addition to machine durability.”

Cost remains a key factor for bakers and snack manufacturers, many of which are now closely weighing the cost of refurbishing older machines versus purchasing new ones. “I would estimate that 50% of bakers refurbish machines and the other half purchase new machines, with the latter holding onto existing machines as a backup insurance policy,” Breeswine says.

Processing equipment with manual or automatic control and fine-tuning capabilities during production have become more sought after as well. “Storing recipes and variations are also popular,” says Ric See, who oversees business development for Lititz, Pa.-based Graybill Machines Inc.

In addition, processing equipment that enables users to quickly change from one product to another is where the food industry is heading. And due to skyrocketing ingredient costs, portion control is more important today than in years past. Equipment that provides these capabilities can offer a quicker return on investment (ROI).

Efficiency updates

The good news is that equipment manufacturers have unveiled new machinery and updated features incorporating high technology. For example, Reiser, Canton, Mass., has improved both its base Vemag machine and the unit’s attachments. “We have introduced new portioning double-screws that are gentler on dough and reach higher capacities as well as new double-screws that are specifically designed to gently and accurately portion gluten-free products,” says John McIsaac, vice president of strategic business development. “The new smart attachments allow the Vemag double-screws to run continuously, and the attachments also make the precise portion. This has resulted in lower product pressures and higher throughputs.”

Reiser’s top-selling equipment is its Vemag dough dividers, which are geared for yeast-raised products, such as breads, buns, rolls, pizza dough and English muffins. “Three years ago, our top-selling depositing equipment was Vemag depositors and portioners for cookie products,” McIsaac says. “But the advances in the Vemag have allowed us to obtain pocket-divider quality with extrusion-divider efficiencies. The Vemags quickly pay for themselves with weight savings, while adding the benefit of low maintenance and unmatched hygiene.”

Koenig has introduced the Mini Rex Multi, a two-row automatic dough divider and rounding machine. Key features include easily exchangeable ledges and pistons that accommodate a dough weight range of 11.5 g. to 330 g. in one machine. “Since the ledges and components are removable, the sanitation of the machine has been greatly improved,” Breeswine adds.

The Mini Rex Multi is one of the company’s top-selling machines due to nearly a 40% price reduction, which Breeswine says is the result of a more streamlined design. “This makes it even more affordable to small- and medium-sized bakers with a return on investment as short as a few months as a result of increased production and reduced labor over semi-automatic disc dividers,” he says.

All of Graybill Machine’s processing equipment is custom-designed to meet individual clients’ specifications. Top-selling equipment includes finishing systems for snack cake production lines.

In the last 12 months, Unifiller Systems Inc. in Delta, B.C., introduced three new machines for bakery and snack production. Its Multi Pistoned depositing machine is fully computer-driven and controlled. It also has a built-in conveyor, pan sensor and color touch-screen control interface.

“Many bakers use electric gear roller depositors, which do a great job for many applications, but the Unifiller Multi Station does at least five things very differently,” says Stewart Macpherson, owner and vice president of sales and marketing. “It uses an electronically-controlled volumetric cylinder and pistons. It also offers individual portion control that is metered and deposited from each filling port. This unit will handle chunky fillings up to ¾-in. cubed and offers faster deposit speeds, but it will also gently handle delicate aerated and maintain product integrity.”

Unifiller also has redesigned and renamed its Spot Depositor. The new iSpot Depositor is now easier to use and clean, according to the company.

Unifiller also offers machinery for gluten-free dough depositing, which is a growing segment due to the increasing number of consumers with food sensitivities. “The most popular machines today are complete customized production systems, including our Piston Depositors and finishing machines,” Macpherson says.

Bothell, Wash.-based Hinds-Bock Corp.’s servo pump fillers, first unveiled in food plants 10 years ago, are being used by bakeries for depositing and spreading batters, fillings and icings. “This equipment is good for spreading batter into wide sheets, where consistency is critical,” says vice president Lance Aasness. “The pump fillers also run at extremely high speeds, with a single machine running up to 160 units per minute, depending on the product and application. They are also ideal for accurately spreading icings.”

Gemini Bakery Equipment, Philadelphia, first introduced its CraftMaster combination roll and specialty bread line approximately 10 years ago and, over the past two years, has upgraded the system. “We have learned that many specialty bakeries have been forced to increase their ability to run a much larger choice of products,” says CEO Mark Rosenberg. “We now have the ability to run a much larger range of rolls and bread and reduce the changeover time.”

The CraftMaster can now produce a full range of roll products previously made on a conventional roll line, yet also produce club/cut end rolls and Italian or French bread up to 30 in. long.

Low-stress production

Since 2012, Rademaker USA Inc., Hudson, Ohio, has introduced processing innovations such as the DSS low-stress front section, a high-speed traveling guillotine and a high-capacity croissant line. “DSS is a low-stress feeding system for soft, prefermented bread dough that requires extremely gentle processing,” says vice president Eric W. Riggle. “The new high-speed guillotine will cut products at a rate of 250 rows per minute, while our new croissant processing line is equipped with features that make changeover easier and foolproof as well as increase the rows per minute to 150. As an example, a 2-oz. croissant can now be produced at 45,000 pieces per hour, assuming a five-across production.”

Lake Forest, Ill.-based Colborne Foodbotics’ newest processing-equipment development is its multi-piston depositor, with independently adjustable and controlled pistons. It is typically used for cake, muffin and other batter-based portioning applications.

“Traditional depositors, depending on the product and application, will deposit different weights across the width of a multi-piston depositor, causing finished product weight variations that ultimately lead to over depositing and giveaway,” says Rick Hoskins, director of sales and marketing. “By adjusting each piston individually, users can compensate for any variations that occur consistently across a given depositor, which eliminates giveaway.”

The new depositor also allows users to deposit multiple flavors because different specific gravities require different stroke lengths to deposit a given weight. “The other unique feature over other depositors with similar features is the unit is still simple and cost-effective, since it’s controlled pneumatically, as opposed to very complicated costly Servo-driven units,” Hoskins explains.

Colborne Foodbotics’ 11-plate rotary pie system is its top-selling processing line. “This is a redesign of an older 9-plate rotary pie system that has been a staple processing line for over 60 years,” Hoskins says. “The 11-plate incorporates programmable logic and servo control for greater product flexibility and 50% increased output. In addition, this new design allows for much more thorough and quicker sanitation processes.”

Purchasing considerations

Bakers and snack producers should consider a variety of factors when purchasing processing equipment for bakery goods and snack foods. First and foremost, they should purchase machinery that meets their needs or solves specific production problems. It’s also important to look at the machine’s durability, sanitation, ease of use, life expectancy, safety features and the cost in relation to the expected ROI.

“A production line that generates product to exact specifications is as important as machinery built for the long term,” See says. “Practical design and ease of operation are also factors for consideration. It’s a rare find when all are combined into one production platform. Operational safety configuration can also be a designed-in system to meet varying levels of client requirements.”

If equipment will be used for multiple tasks or designated to handle other production needs in the future, the flexibility of the unit should be assessed. “It’s also important to look at the reputation and stability of the manufacturer,” Riggle says. “This includes the ability to service and support the machine.”

Along with understanding the sanitation requirements for the machine’s task, Hoskins recommends food manufacturers select a processing equipment manufacturer that has experience with the type of unit they plan to purchase. “This is probably the biggest attribute that should be weighed,” he says.

Less downtime, more control

The next wave of innovation in processing equipment for the bakery and snack industries will put a premium on versatility.

“Producers tell us that they need to be able to alter their product mix depending on their customers’ demands,” McIsaac says. “We aim to build machinery that can divide or portion today’s product efficiently, but also be ready for the next products the market demands. Machinery manufacturers will be under pressure to provide this versatility.”

Smart machinery that can self-adjust during the production process also is on the horizon. “The latest wave of processing equipment will be equipment that thinks using on-board smart intelligence, where data sent to the machine will allow it to self-adjust or make corrections when any changes of weights, density, temperature or position is identified by the machine,” Macpherson says.

Due to the high cost of labor and health insurance, automation will continue to increase. “Controls will continue to evolve to make setup and operation of depositors even easier,” Aasness says. “Technology will continue to enhance maintenance and repair of equipment to maximize uptime and yield. Equipment that’s easy to clean and operate, which provides immediate cost-saving, will be at the forefront.”

The processing equipment of the future will offer manufacturers improvements in efficiencies and reduction in downtime. “Bakers are starting to realize that labor is about as squeezed out of the process as it can be and that new product offerings are costly to bring to market,” Riggle says. “There is a lot of profit to be made by analyzing existing processes and making improvements in the areas of waste reduction, product yields and lost production time, whether that be via reduced downtime for breakdowns, product changeovers or sanitation.”

Equipment manufacturers recognize that fulfilling bakers’ and snack processors’ many equipment needs won’t be easy. “Combining speed and flexibility is really the biggest challenge,” Hoskins says. “Still, I see future systems being as fast as possible without sacrificing flexibility.”