Crumbling cookie efficiencies can reduce profitability and spell disaster for a high-volume bakery. However, innovative technology developed for mixers, depositors and ovens reduce the inefficient cookie production strains that occur in high-volume bakeries.
Whether a bakery has one or several cookie lines producing sandwich, chocolate chip or gourmet cookies, equipment manufacturers offer a slew of new technologies that improve various aspects of cookie production lines.
Mixing cookie dough
Allergens present a difficult problem in cookie manufacturing. Even with precise cleaning, a new batch of cookie dough can be contaminated if it touches small amounts of allergenic proteins remaining on mixing tools. This problem is compounded because cookie bakers typically produce different cookies on the same production line. Whenever a formula calls for nuts or other allergen-causing ingredients, a mixer's design should prevent cross contamination when changing over. One manufacturer's mixer uses polished stainless steel to prohibit ingredient buildup, which can contaminate other dough batches. The mixer's solid stainless steel design allows bakers to use high-pressure hoses, which are more effective in cleaning cookie systems and do not disrupt a mixer's electrical system, one mixer manufacturer says. "Traditionally the industry uses very large, difficult to clean equipment, but it is getting to the point where Food and Drug Administration and United States Department of Agriculture are starting to get intrusive enough where people are going to have to start looking for other alternatives," one mixer manufacturer says.
Production lines must stop periodically in order to wash all critical areas of the mixer. To minimize mixer downtime, one mixer uses detachable shaft seals to quicken the cleaning process. Within minutes, the mixer's shaft seals are removed from the mixer and taken to a separate washing station. While these seals are being cleaned, sanitized back up seals are used.
"This (process) saves 45 minutes per shift, per day, per machine, and the seals are removable without tools," one mixer manufacturer says.
When mixing cookie dough with large particulates such as raisins, nuts or fruit, mixers should give dough batches homogeneous characteristics. If cookie dough with particulates is mixed improperly, the particulates could rest on top of the dough batch. As a result, the inclusion concentration could interrupt the dough flow during portioning and depositing.
Transporting dough from the mixer to forming and portioning equipment poses its challenges when looking to automate the process and promote consistency. One mixer manufacturer's cookie dough transportation system transports mixing bowls from the mixing station to conveyors that supply downstream equipment. The mixing bowl is sent to the elevator on a rail system that uses automated robotic technology. The bowl is lifted above the portioning equipment on an elevator, and dough is removed using a scraping device. The company developed this system in response to observing line operators struggling to remove dough scraps from the mixing bowl.
"An operator can be out with a rake or a shovel taking dough out of the mixer, and that is a bottleneck (for production)," one mixer manufacturer says.
To prevent the bottleneck, the robotic dough transporting system eliminates the tendency to overload or under load the production line, which is an advantage when looking to improve consistency in cookie production, one mixer manufacturer says. The system does this by continually feeding the production line with consistent batches at specifically programmed times.
Depositing cookie dough accurately reduces waste and giveaway.
Proportioning and depositing cookie-dough is a delicate process, and when inaccuracies occur, revenuereducing give away can be expected. One manufacturer's depositor uses a guillotine cut-off attachment to produce consistent cookie-dough shapes. The computer-controlled depositor analyzes production rotations within the depositor, and the depositor has a margin of error of 1% to 2% of product weight.
"Try to avoid waste," one depositor manufacturer says. "If you are selling 2-oz. cookies, you do not want to sell 2.25-oz. cookies." Depositors that can produce plain cookie doughs or cookie doughs with particulates allow bakeries to sell a variety of products. One depositor welcomesall cookie dough, and accommodates large particulates. The system can deposit cookies that have raisins, nuts, oatmeal, chocolate chips and fruit clumps. The particulates entering the depositor can have a diameter up to .5 ins. However, if the particulate's diameter exceeds .5 ins., the particulate will be broken down. The depositor produces 200 portions a minute, but the manufacturer warns that the depositor must be timed accurately with conveyor and oven speeds in order optimize the depositor's accuracy.
"You have to portion the product accurately the first time, and place the product accurately the first time," the depositor manufacturer says.
Another manufacturer's depositor also promotes weighing accuracy, but does so in a different way. The depositor uses wire-cutting technology with a filler-block die to ensure accurate cookie weights. The cut speed is about 60 strokes a minute, and the system uses a belt-lifting device to place products on conveyor belts. To improve cookie weight accuracy, manufacturers suggest bakers produce slightly larger cookies than 1 oz., when high-concentrations of particulates are used. If a cookie weighs 1 oz. or less and 35% of its weight comes from particulates, inaccurate depositing is more likely to occur. Increasing the final cookie weight when high-concentrations of particulates are used simplifies the depositing process, and reduces the possibility of weight variations.
Entering cookie ovens
The oven is the final step in developing a tasteful cookie, and is usually the first to be blamed when cookies do not pass quality control, according to one oven manufacturer. If a freshly baked sugar cookie looks too dark when exiting the oven, the natural reaction is to decrease oven temperature. One oven manufacturer cautions that before hastily adjusting oven settings, cookie bakers should check the sugar and milk powder content in the cookie.
"Ovens are very stable devices that need little adjustment," one oven manufacturer says. However, the oven is at fault typically when cookies resting on the outside of the conveyor belt turn darker than those resting in the middle. The main cause is temperature difference flowing through the baking chambers of the oven.
To ensure a more accurate bake, one manufacturer's oven uses indirect heating and re-circulating air technology to adjust and regulate different baking zones in the oven. When production calls for a temperature increase inside the traditional cookie oven, a result of the temperature increase is an increase in humidity inside the baking chamber. The humidity increase can affect certain cookies differently, one oven manufacturer says.
Another natural tendency is to open the oven's air ducts to reduce humidity levels inside the baking chamber. However, this causes the oven to burn more gas.
"It is like turning the air conditioning on in a house and leaving the door open," one oven manufacturer says.
To give bakers more control over the baking process, indirect heating technology allows bakers to adjust temperatures without impacting the humidity levels inside the baking chamber. Another advantage to indirect heating is that it minimizes the gaseous results of combustion—carbon dioxide and water—from flowing around bakery foods.
"There is a school of thought that asks why would you introduce the products of combustion onto bakery foods," one oven manufacturer says. "The gases could permeate the product." However, the oven manufacturer cautions that there is no proof that circulating gases that result from combustion have any affect on bakery foods.
"For people who want really clean air, then re-circulating is better," one oven manufacturer says.
Reduced baking time and increased cookie production also can be accomplished when ovens produce higher air volumes. One oven manufacturer compared this technique to what occurs outside during cold temperatures. For example, if a strong wind blows by, the cold temperature intensifies. If an oven is able to blow high amounts of heated air onto cookies, then moisture evaporation occurs more rapidly. By reducing moisture levels inside the cookies, the faster the dough is baked.
"It is a productivity tool," one oven manufacturer says. "If you can bake 20% faster you have more throughput." This process also allows bakers to install shorter ovens inside the bakery, which increases floor space for packaging equipment.
To optimize a line's performance from the mixer to packaging, cookie bakers should treat their plant as a single entity, with the equipment acting as integral parts of that unit. Keeping lines maintained allows bakers to alleviate choke points in the line.