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By David Phillips, Plant Operations Editor | 07/10/2012
Some newer developments in mixing technology allow shorter mix times, more precise control and multiple bowl arrangements. Some equipment includes pressure-tight covers that can incorporate pressure and vacuum cycles to develop gas bubble size for the particular product. Gas additions can assist with direct cooling of the dough, or water jacket cooling can be used.
While stainless steel contact surfaces have been in wide use for many years, some manufacturers are offering products made with stainless steel stands as well.
To some extent, baking relies as much on conveying as it does on mixing.
Beyond the mixer, bakery products are conveyed through proofers, ovens and other processing equipment by way of specially designed belts. These belts have surfaces and materials that conform to the rigorous environments and conditions that the food is subjected to transform dough into flavorful and sometimes healthful foods.
"Conveyor belts for food process applications are a lot different than in other industrial applications," says Ashworth Bros.' Tabaka. "And in baking, those belts can be used as a surface for baking the product, for cooking it, for frying and for cooling and freezing."
In each stage of the process, particular materials and design play roles in aiding the process. For example, "Ovens are wider and able to carry more product," Tabaka says. "A unit that would have been one meter wide now might be two meters wide. The equipment is getting bigger, so the conveyor belts are getting bigger."
Spiral coolers for example can now house up to 3,000 or 4,000 linear feet of belts, says Ashworth's Chief Engineer Jonathan Lasecki.
"Another thing we are seeing is desire for equipment that will fit into a smaller footprint," Lasecki says. "This not only saves on floor space and allows for a better floor plan, but it can also help save energy."
Inventure Foods (www.inventurefoods.com), Phoenix, Ariz., manufactures kettle-style potato chips for a co-packing client at a 60,000-sq.-ft. plant in nearby Goodyear, Ariz. With production at more than 90 percent of capacity and sales of the product line growing 30 percent in one year, it turned to Heat and Control last year for an expansion project.
The company added six new kettle chip batch fryers and a state-of-the-art product handling, seasoning and packaging line.
Efficient packaging of batch-fried potato chips proved more complex than simply installing new bagmakers. Unlike a steady flow of chips produced by a continuous fryer, kettle chip fryers deliver intermittent batches. And since seasoning applicators, weighers and bagmakers work most efficiently with a consistent supply of product, these "waves" of chips can cause inconsistent seasoning and poor packaging productivity.
Inventure's new system was designed by Heat and Control to moderate the product flow and maximize the run-time of all components for greater production efficiency. The increased capacity offered Inventure more flexibility in scheduling production to meet demand, while balancing inventories more efficiently.
Packing and wrapping
An artisan storefront bakery selling products straight from the oven can take a minimalist approach to packaging — to some shoppers, plain, brown paper adds a quaint touch. But for a large-scale producer, packaging is a much more complicated issue. First and foremost, the package must keep a perishable product in optimum condition for the duration of its shelf life. And as with any other food or consumer product, the packaging is a highly-visible extension of the brand.
For bread and snacks, new packaging technologies have offered new opportunities in both areas, says Scott Beckwith, marketing manager for Sealed Air's Cryovac Food Packaging (www.cryovac.com), Duncan, S.C. "All food processors want good shelf appeal, along with protection of the product. What we are seeing now is interest in additional shelf life for products that are preservative-free, elimination of foil, packaging that uses less material and convenience features."
Among the technical advances that have allowed such benefits are new filling technologies, gas flushing and materials that include oxygen scavengers and barriers.
"The real benefit is that you can extend shelf life and at the same time you can take out preservatives so that you can get that clean label," Beckwith says. "You can benefit from putting the burden for freshness on your packaging rather than on your formulating."
Just last year, Cryovac introduced an odor scavenging feature to its Freshness Plus line of films. Beckwith says this line is around five years old and has from the beginning offered barrier and oxygen-scavenging properties that are well suited for a variety of baking and snack applications.
Easy open and reseal features continue to evolve too, he says, and there is plenty of room for innovation here that could give bread and snack marketers a competitive advantage.
Controlling a modern bakery plant operation can be a complicated proposition, and bakery and snack makers rely heavily on software solutions that can be used for other types of manufacturing. At least one company markets a solution that is specific to bakers.
Industrial baking looks quite a bit different in 2012 than it did just a few years ago. With grain-based foods maintaining their place at the foundation of dietary recommendations, bakery and snack products should continue on a trajectory of offering more healthful products that present more challenges to the manufacturing process. With those incentives, it is expected that technologies will continue to emerge to help processors meet that challenges.