Kerwin Brown, president and CEO of BEMA, said that designing bakery lines that could cope with numerous product lines and fast changeovers was still top of mind for industry, but sanitation was of equal importance.
“Bakers have to be more and more efficient, for sure. The challenge of that is their demand on sanitation. Certainly cleaning, in light of the depth of new audits, is continuing to ramp up in demand,” he said.
These two issues of flexibility and sanitation have converged, he said. “You’ve got more audits on sanitation and then more requirements from bakers, so you need to be more efficient and crank out more product. Those are converging deals.”
Brown said that bakers were continuing to weigh up flexibility, sanitation and the return on investment (ROI).
“The ROI fixture is becoming less black and white because people are seeing the long-term side of things – looking at smaller costs in changeovers or sanitation,” he said. He said a few minor tweaks in production, be that shorter changeovers or less down-time for cleaning, could add up to hundreds and thousands of dollars in savings each year.
Not enough time in the day…
As demands on sanitation and flexibility converged, time too had tightened for bakers and their suppliers, Brown said, as consumer demands toughened.
“Customers continually demand new products and tweaked product, and that insatiable desire is not going away – I don’t think there’s any holding it back anymore. It’s where we are as a world right now.” He said that bakers and their suppliers were “crazy busy”.
With some demands, like new flavors, there wasn’t the need for total equipment changes, he said. However, with completely different formulas such as a seven grain mix versus a regular white bread, he said the processing line would need to be completely changed because the doughs mixed differently.
Packaging needs most flexibility
Asked what part of a bakery production line saw the biggest expectations on flexibility, Brown said most bakers would say it was towards the back end of production – packaging in particular.
“Packaging is hard because you’ve got these different size products. For example, we want a Twinkie as a single pack and a double pack or cupcakes as four-packs or six-packs; that kind of flexibility.”
Some of the innovations in packaging for bakery lines were very advanced, he said, with the ability to change bag sizes, materials used and speeds.
However, he said that it remained predominantly manual in operation. “There’s still talk about the desire to have interconnected, smart machines that you clock on and they know what to do and use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but it is still a fairly manual process.”
Future challenges of bakery equipment innovation
Brown said that if interconnectivity and centralization was the innovation focus, there would be plenty of challenges. “In a line, you’ve got multiple vendors, so how do you get it so they’re all talking and communicating on the same level?” he asked.
He added there was also the challenge of ensuring easy cleaning if there were connecting wires and various machine pieces linked.
Future use of electronics and wireless technology would be better suited to employee training or information, he said, so a supervisor, for example, could walk past with an I-Pad and see run rates on a machine or a new employee could access clean down information and guidance from the touch of a button.
“It’s in other fields, so bringing it into our field isn’t unrealistic. The technology is readily available, so we see that as something that could certainly happen,” he said.