Snack food and wholesale bakery manufacturers in the market for dividers, depositors, and rounders have a long list of considerations. These include automation, reliability, scalability, integration, flexibility, communication, customization, ease of maintenance and sanitation, and different packaging capabilities, according to companies that produce such machines.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, automation probably has been the highest priority for customers of Naegele Bakery Systems, Alsip, IL, says Mike Philip, industrial sales manager. “You always want to save on labor,” he says. In the last year or so since the pandemic began, bakeries want to have fewer mixer operators feeding in the ingredients. “That’s seems to be huge right now, for the amount of money people are telling me they have to pay an operator to motivate them to come to work. People are looking to automate, where they would have thrown a few people at it in the past.”
Naegele, which distributes a pancake sandwich maker through a Japanese company called Masdac International, has seen greater demand for single-serving packages for foodservice applications, Philip says. “Foodservice locations are not wanting their workers to handle food or prepare it as much,” he says. “They’d rather give you something in a package on its own, to reduce the spread of any kind of infection.”
Customers of Hinds-Bock, Bothell, WA, also have been focused on automation, according to Rod Gregg, executive vice president. “When looking at depositors in 2021, compared to the last 10 years, they want a servo-driven depositor, with a servo motor driving the pistons back and forth, and they want automated vs. the traditional [machine],” he says. “The reason they want that is because it gives you better control over the speed of drawing product into and pulling it out of the depositor.”
Now owned by Middleby Corp., Elgin, IL, Hinds-Bock also fields regular requests for integrated lines of equipment rather than those that are independently controlled, Gregg says. “If they have to change four or five pieces of equipment separately, it drives customers crazy,” he says. “They don’t want to have to make adjustments on 10 different pieces of equipment.”
At a more granular level, Hinds-Bock has seen the need to produce a wider variety of depositor nozzles to handle different types of products, such as gluten-free doughs, Gregg says. “You’ve got to have quite an arsenal of nozzles that can handle the different viscosities of product, he says. “They’re very specific to the customer’s recipe.” Some need nozzles that rapidly shear off sticky or stringy product “to break away any tailing,” he says. “That way it doesn’t stack up like soft icing.”
Automation has remained a top trend, agrees Patrick McGady, vice president of sales and marketing, Handtmann, Inc., Lake Forest, IL. Reliability has taken on greater importance in the past year or so, he says, due to the consolidation of lines and renewed need for longer runs and multiple shifts to fill demand for basic products. “This also means the added value of additional uptime from a clean design with simpler maintenance, shorter set-up/teardown and sanitation has become a higher priority,” he adds.
The ease of scalability to efficiently adjust to a dramatically higher or lower volume also has become an important consideration as customer production requirements have shifted up and down, McGady says. “And besides volume, the need for flexible equipment that can efficiently produce a variety of different products is also becoming more prioritized,” he says.
In addition, customers are more likely to insist upon improved process monitoring, simplified line control, and secure data communication, McGady says. “Improved control in these areas means a more efficient operation that’s required to maintain an advantage in today’s competitive environment,” he says.
Finally, McGady says, customers want the ability to customize their dividers, depositors and rounders to meet special needs, or just to be able to integrate diverse or legacy systems. They view that as “a solutions partner capability that requires skillful food science, application and engineering teamwork, along with excellent project management skills and fabrication capabilities of the highest order,” he says.
New and improved
Naegele’s pancake sandwich line from Masdac, called the Dorayaki, creates handheld products with a filling that feel almost like a pouch. These can be chocolate or regular pancakes that feature exterior patterns, brand logos, pictures, or names, Philip says. The machine can produce individual pancakes and pouches with one or two fillings. They can be shelf-stable, frozen for microwave or toaster-ready, and range in size from 2.5 to 4.5 inches, he says.
In Japan and elsewhere around the globe, the products tend to be available at retail, typically as single-serving packs at a convenience store, Philip says, while in the U.S. and Canada, they’ve been gaining traction at foodservice. “They’re in schools and places like that, in other types of cafeterias,” he says.
To address customers’ desires for integrated equipment, Hinds-Bock has hired an automation engineer who’s specifically tasked with weaving together packages, Gregg says. “His job is to make sure those are linked into one central control panel, where if the customers want to adjust the line … all the equipment is integrated through one control system,” he says.
Hinds-Bock has been rolling out a variety of different types of depositor nozzles to meet customer needs for customization in that area, Gregg says. One moves side-to-side horizontally to ensure that the product is sheared off cleanly, for example, while another moves up and down for much that same purpose. “We’ve learned over the past three years that because so many bakeries are changing their formulas, and changing the recipes, we need to test their customers’ products,” he says. “We physically test the product and determine which type of nozzle works best for their recipe.”
Handtmann has released a Rotary Dividing Solution for pizza and bread dough which “supports consistent dough quality with a short product path that creates less friction,” McGady says. The system’s rotary blade, adjustable for different dough densities, is designed with an undercut function that guides each portion to an accurate placement on the conveyor belt. “The rotary blade and conveyor belt speeds are also controlled separately to optimize downstream processes, and a variety of inserts are available in customizable shapes and diameters,” he says.
The company also has introduced the DS 552 Depositing Solution, which provides gram-accurate spot or continuous depositing of pasty to viscous fillings on laminating lines, McGady says. Configurable between two and 24 lanes for portion sizes between five and 500 grams, the servo-driven flow divider delivers up to 200 cycles per minute, he says, while the valve-free dosing “requires no safety housing, [and] provides easy access to the modular system for simple nozzle and product changes, making thorough cleaning fast and increasing equipment availability.”
Finally, Handtmann has released two new divider models, the VF 820 and VF 828 S. These machines are precise and reliable, with an adjustable vane cell design with gram-accurate dividing, a product path a fraction of the length of traditional designs, and minimal product-to-surface friction, which maintains inclusion integrity and overall product quality, McGady says.
“They also feature standard metal detectable non-metallic parts in food contact areas, a hygienic design with no microbial traps, fast-train external surfaces, and an option UVC ambient air sterilization system,” he says. Operators thus can confidently “divide, deposit, fill, form, or extrude product with almost no waste and no fear of underweights.”