Ingredient tracking, employee safety, automation and reliable, long-lasting equipment are important factors to consider when buying bulk systems.
In today's economy, bakers are planning more carefully as they invest in equipment, looking for long term solutions rather than short term investments.
“With flour prices and operating costs skyrocketing, compounded by a more competitive marketplace, today's bakeries are making smarter long-term strategic decisions when it comes to buying equipment,” notes Michael Palmer, general manager, KB Systems Inc., Bangor, Pa. “In the last few decades we are seeing a steady trend where successful bakeries are opting for smarter, more reliable, flexible and automated bulk flour solutions instead of smaller less sophisticated equipment.” Many producers of budget bulk equipment are no longer in business, he says. “This trend speaks to a more sophisticated and informed marketplace that is demanding advanced technology to maintain a competitive edge in a tight economy.”
Bakers are concerned about allergens, are interested in tracking batches for quality control purposes and are welcoming more control over their bulk systems. While the basics of bulk handling technology have not changed in recent years, computer interfaces and touch screen interfaces are more common and troubleshooting is improving.
“As people get more comfortable with computer technology, the user interfaces are easier to use. Some of the bigger systems have touch screen controls or a diagram showing what's coming on and what's working at what point,” says Kevin Rohwer, vice president, Contemar Silo Systems Inc., Concord, Ontario. “Some of the systems will have different sensors throughout, indicating if there is a problem and where the problem arises.”
In addition, software programs are helping bakers improve the accuracy of batch sizes and batch control. When ingredients are being blown at rapid speeds, 1 lb. to 1.5 lb. of error is common, but certain software programs can decrease the margin of error.
“Customers always want to control exactly how much product goes in their mix and be able to repeat that on a constant basis,” Rohwer says. One automated program can adjust the amount of raw ingredient called to the hopper. If a baker calls 100 lb. into the scaling hopper and 101 lb. arrives in the hopper, the program detects that it received too much and adjusts by reducing the amount it pulls the next time.
As more food contamination stories appear in the news, ingredient tracking has become an increasingly important issue, especially when bakeries are handling imported ingredients. In a teleconference presented by the American Bakers Association, Miriam Guggenheim, a food regulatory attorney at the law firm Covington & Burling, predicted what we might see in 2009: “Given the globalization of our food supply, it is no longer adequate to just inspect finished goods. Instead, food safety has to be built in throughout the manufacturing and ingredient sourcing process. For bakers in the United States, a key issue will be knowing your suppliers and ensuring the safety of your ingredients, particularly those coming in from abroad.”
Bakers are interested in options to better track ingredient shipments from arrival to finished product. In the case of flour, one expensive option is to have two flour silos, and empty one completely before refilling it to monitor what flour went into what food shipment. “When you get into bulk loads, like one silo that holds 25 tons, there's not as much [tracking] ability if they empty out 15 tons, and then put another load on top of the remaining 10 tons in the silo,” Rohwer says. In this case, companies might rely on load cells and a computer program to estimate when one batch has finished and the next has begun.
Employee safety at facilities also is a concern. “The most significant development regarding bulk material handling systems in the past year is the heightened concern about dust explosion hazards,” says Bill Kearns, vice president, engineering, Fred D. Pfening Co., Columbus, Ohio. The concern follows a dust explosion at Imperial Sugar in Georgia, which killed 14 people. Congress responded to the incident by passing legislation requiring OSHA to establish and enforce national standards relating to dust explosion hazards and their control and mitigation. “There has been a dramatic rise in industry concern and management attention to making sure that new facilities include the best possible protection and older plants are kept as safe as possible.”
Baking Management takes a look at a sampling of bulk equipment options.