Cleaning, Sanitation, Hygiene / Heating: Cookers, Dryers, and Ovens / Sustainability / Technology / Process and Operations / Bakery & Baked Goods

One of Canada’s Biggest Bakeries Also Is One of Its Most Efficient

By focusing on both energy use and production facility, Canada Bread built a Hamilton, Ontario, bakery that exceeded expectations.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

One of the most notable features of Canada Bread’s Trillium Bakery in Hamilton, Ontario, involves something it doesn’t have: A boiler.

Constructed in 2010 for $33.8 million and commissioned in 2011, Trillium was designed with LEED certification in mind. Optimization of energy performance was one of the biggest point-getters in the certification process that culminated in LEED Gold in late 2013, and a major piece of the design involved the economizers placed in the exhaust stacks of the seven ovens. The recovered heat is sufficient to meet hot water and steam demand, negating the need for a boiler.

Technology evolves slowly in bakery processing, but the Trillium project incorporated the best technology available at the time it was completed, according to Chris Markwood, vice president-operations and plant manager for the past four years. It was complemented with like-new machinery from an Interstate Bakeries facility that was shuttered as Interstate went through the throes of bankruptcy. Controls were gutted in Hamilton and replaced with state-of-the-art technology, and ease of cleaning and sanitary design guided all equipment purchases.

Occupying a 26-acre site and designed to allow expansion that would add two lines, the 388,000-sq.-ft. bakery was built when Canada Bread Co. Ltd. was a division of Maple Leaf Foods. Corporate leaders were embarking on a major reconstruction and consolidation effort, with Trillium intended to replace three aging bakeries serving the Ontario province. Trillium barely breaks a sweat matching the now-shuttered Toronto plants, producing 55 million loaves a year plus another 26 SKUs at a cost 30 percent lower per unit. Buns, English muffins and other products boost overall production to 113 million units.

Up to 18 shifts a week operate, depending on seasonal demand and other factors. “We’re looking very closely at shipping truckloads of product to the Buffalo area” to take advantage of the depressed value of the Canadian dollar, Markwood reports. Staffing tops 400, more than 100 additional positions than originally projected, a reflection of greater than anticipated throughput.

In the wake of a 2008 Listeria outbreak involving luncheon meat that killed 22, food safety became a Maple Leaf obsession. Consequently, sanitary design was a top priority at Trillium. A walk-on ceiling below the roof provides space for utilities, isolating maintenance activity and repair work from the production floor and eliminating horizontal piping in the makeup area. A utility and traffic corridor ringing the production floor helps enhance hygienic operations. Fully enclosed receiving areas for flour, sugar and other bulk ingredients were an upgrade for the Canada Bread network.

Improved process control was the key to lowering unit costs and improving overall quality. Tied to the corporate ERP system, the plant’s control system integrates everything from bulk receiving and the automated ingredient system to the packaging rooms. Statistical process control helps detect set-point drift in both machinery performance and quality-assurance outcomes, reducing waste and facilitating corrective actions.
Besides QA checks, inputs from vision systems on the seven lines automate color control, although there is no PID (proportional-integral-derivative) loop to perform temperature corrections in the ovens. Other Canada Bread bakeries rely on manual color inspection. Rework of out-of-spec product has been reduced to 5 percent.

Gold seal plant

Despite its image as the Great White North, Canada is embracing cultural diversity. Hamilton is 40 miles from Toronto, where local boosters claim their community has an ethnic diversity that rivals New York City.

Two of Trillium’s lines produce tortillas, the plant’s fastest growing product category. Annual sales are increasing more than 12 percent, according to Markwood.

A healthy respect for the natural world is a core value for Canadians, regardless of ethnic roots. That might explain the environmental controls integrated into Trillium, although there also was a carrot involved: By achieving LEED Gold certification, the city of Hamilton provided a $1.1 million grant.

The Canada Green Building Council, which certified Trillium as LEED Gold, liked the facility’s energy-optimization system, but it absolutely loved its water-efficiency system, awarding five out of five possible points in that category. The key element involves catch basins for rain water. Some of captured rain replaces the use of potable water for landscaping, but the bulk of it is filtered and routed to toilets, urinals and other applications where greywater is acceptable.

Building features that now are standard in greenfield projects and building retrofits, such as energy-efficient lighting and a white, reflectant roof membrane, also were part of the construction.

Trillium is not without its imperfections. To reduce floor space for ovens, the bakery uses units in which product enters and exits at the same point. Based on the ovens’ performance, Markwood would opt for a conventional, linear oven.

“It’s more mechanically intense,” resulting in more maintenance issues, he says of the oven units. “If you were building the line today, you’d have a longer oven with separate entry and exit points.” Barring downtime, the bread oven outputs about 10,000 1.5-lb. loaves an hour.

During a recent walk-through, two workers were posted at a conveyor transfer point to reorient bun pans as they traveled downstream from the oven. The problem originated in the oven, Markwood explains, where half the pans were twisting around and discharging incorrectly. Correcting the problem was near the top of the engineering staff’s to-do list.

One possible solution is magnets. A metal detection vendor claims it has devised a solution involving magnets to maintain proper orientation of baking pans as they are conveyed throughout the plant. A company representative did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

If magnetic force is the answer to twisting pans, it will be up to Grupo Bimbo to make the investment. By the time Trillium commenced production, Maple Leaf had invested more than $100 million to build and equip the plant. Canada Bread was sold to Bimbo in May 2014 for $1.7 billion. The deal included 19 bakeries, but the crown jewel was Trillium, which accounts for 22 percent of Canada Bread’s production volume.