Accomplishing a successful expansion takes a combination of supplier expertise and in-house ingenuity.
When expanding their production lines, many bakers grapple with how to become more efficient. Can they accomplish the same efficiencies by designing lines on their own, or are there more gains to be had by bringing in outside expertise? According to Jim Diver, vice president of operations, Dunbar Systems, Lemont, Ill., bakers that opt to bring in professional integrators will feel far more empowered than they may have initially expected. Jonathan Lasecki, chief engineer, Ashworth Bros. Inc., Winchester, Va., agrees. His company provides specialized integration services along with its best-known products–high quality baking bands for cookies, crackers and snack foods.
Dunbar Systems recently worked with a baker to design and install a streamlined production line, and left space in the bakery for at least two future production lines.
“We also knew the baker needed the production line to serve multiple purposes. As we designed the system, we integrated the ability to run multiple style products allowing for maximum flexibility. Most importantly, the changeover from one product to the next was able to happen quickly, allowing the company to maximize its baking time and minimize downtime,” Diver says. “The baker was also able to gain efficiencies by running the production line with fewer people. In addition, we put into the design a robotic system that gently removed the product from the pans placing the product on a conveyor taking the baked goods right to the packaging system.”
The biggest challenge faced by any equipment integrator, Lasecki says, is actually working with bakers to understand the limitations of current production lines and being able to help integrate their products at minimal cost.
“Offering a belt that can handle wider widths or heavier loads is of little use if the in-feed and out-feed equipment is not capable of meshing seamlessly. So, we strive to work with the bakers to develop a plan for current and future expansion. We make sure current machinery is performing at maximum capacity and ensure a seamless and efficient integration of any new equipment additions to the line,” he says.
Lasecki recommends bakers look to the future. “Plans should include long term goals and capital expenditures,” he says. “Adding equipment quarterly or annually may be more cost effective in the long-term than a large capital project with many improvements at once. Additionally, bakers should look at the current economic environment as an opportunity to acquire used equipment suitable for refurbishment.”
Kroger Moves Forward
For the past several years, the bakery division of the Kroger Co., Cincinnati, has been trying to stay ahead of demand. Its biggest challenge is keeping its 2,500 supermarkets in 31 states supplied with baked products.
To meet this goal, Joel Payne, Ph.D., manager, corporate food technology, bakery team, says the company has, until recently, been sub-contracting many products to outside bakeries. But now, the company plans to bring much of this production back to its own bakeries through line upgrades and building new facilities.
“Building an extension to our Country Ovens plant in Bowling Green, Ky., will considerably increase our cake capacity. It’s in shakedown trials right now. It is starting to produce, but it’s not in full production yet,” Payne says. “We had the adjacent land, so it simply made sense to build a new facility.”
The new plant is a 64,000-sq.-ft. expansion to the existing 176,000-sq.-ft. Country Ovens facility that has been steadily producing over 255 different types of par-baked products for Kroger’s in-store bakeries. The $25 million price tag covers the construction as well as equipment and integration.
Kroger took a unique approach; it was building while in the design process and purchasing equipment along the way. Though this took more concentrated effort on the part of the Kroger in-house engineering and design staff, it substantially cut
project time from start to finish. High volume cake production is fully automated, and final cakes move to a semi-automated line that applies icing to top and sides of quarter sheets and round/double layers. It turns out a basic cake every three seconds.
“This new facility opens up space in the existing one, and we did not fill the new facility up with lines. We built it for three or more and only put in one. We are thinking ahead,” Payne says. “It all starts with the design process. We always go for straight line if at all possible, but the facility, the product and the end goal are the real guidelines. This facility will eventually be one of the world’s largest cake lines in measure of total output.”
The in-house engineers did all the planning, but the company brought in outside systems integrators after all the equipment was in place. “The integration experts need to get all the equipment talking to each other. That is what is getting resolved right now.”
Payne’s first recommendation to any baker thinking of updating, expanding or installing new automated lines is to always buy the best equipment possible; top of the line for each area.
“Ours has to be the best and the most appropriate equipment for each area of the line–it has to fit exactly what we are doing and more importantly, what the end product is,” he says. “When we look at new equipment that we don’t have hands-on experience with, we only deal with manufacturers who have centers where we can test our recipes and methods firsthand on their equipment. We would never buy something without a substantial test run of a full line of product first.”
The next project on Kroger’s schedule is an upgrade to meet its cookie demand. “It’s an older plant, and we want to create multiple simultaneous lines. This will require installing substantial new equipment and integrating it with existing equipment,” Payne says. “We certainly would like to be able to bring all our baked products back in-house but we have such a high demand, we still need to outsource for some time to come.”