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Rising wheat and energy prices could put bread and baked goods supply chains at risk cautioned CEO of the Federation of Bakers recently. To help curb these escalating macroeconomic costs, food inspection specialist Fortress Technology unveils how automated technologies can be deployed by industrial bakeries to reduce giveaway and false rejects and boost productivity.

Before the Ukraine conflict, bakers were already digging in and preparing for a bumpy ride, with rising commodity and import prices adding an extra 4.5 pence to the production costs of an 800-gram bread loaf. In the last six months, production costs have more than doubled again, claims the Federation of Bakers.

Naturally, the cost of flour contributes to these hikes. However, it’s the higher energy consumption figures from running machinery, ovens and keeping the production lights on that impacts the final costs more. Making it even more imperative to uncover the causes of upstream losses and counteract batches of baked goods being wasted because they were out of tolerance before reaching the ovens.

Automated weight monitoring

Checking the weight of baked goods before the proving phase is pertinent. As is maintaining consistent processing and checkweighing speeds. The reason, explains Fortress Technology’s Commercial Manager Jodie Curry, is to factor in processing variables and ensure products aren’t out of tolerance before baking.

Leaving until the final stage of the process could result in an entire batch being over or underweight. Potentially costing a bakery over four hours of lost production time and thousands of wasted product being binned,” cautions Jodie.

Additionally, a bread loaf may weigh 800 grams when baked, but in its raw state is 917 grams. If it is out of tolerance by just a few grams, dough can overspill and potentially spoil other loaves during baking. Plus, if one is overweight there will definitely be an underweight loaf in the batch.

Guaranteeing uniform portion weights, the Fortress Hestia Dough Checkweigher – used for all sorts of baked goods applications – from pizza to baps, French sticks to cakes and crumpets to traditional loaves – inspects up to 12,000 dough pieces per hour. Connected to an automated upstream dough dividing line, if a piece of dough is under or overweight by as little as 0.5 grams, the Dough Checkweigher automatically rejects it.

Simultaneously, the machine’s advanced fibre optic controlled software communicates back to the dough divider in real time to adjust the position of the blade for the next batch. For optimum processing flexibility, Fortress can pre-programme up to 500 different product codes, ranging from 150 grams to six kilograms. 

“Every big bakery started off performing these dough-dividing and weight-checking tasks by hand. Not only is this labour intensive, but also leads to variations in product quality. For commercial as well as artisan bakers, automated dough checkweighing allows for individual pieces that are off target weight to be removed and reworked, as well as providing corrective feedback to the dough divider,” emphasises Jodie.

Data gathered via the management control system can also help to track uptime and address line inefficiencies. Using the swipe touchscreen, baking operatives can select the statistical parameters most relevant to their operation. The easy-to-use graphical display automatically logs and reports Reject Integrity compliance tests. This intuitive digital interface also helps to significantly reduce set up time between each batch.

For enhanced traceability, reports – configured by time, date or product code – can be downloaded and easily converted to common management reporting and software applications.  Secure remote and authorised access levels enable bakers to troubleshoot, diagnose and resolve equipment issues on the spot to minimise system downtime and avoid production bottlenecks.

Small energy footprint

To help bakeries address gas price rises, which have risen five-fold from £45 per therm just 12 months ago, this Dough Checkweigher features an energy-efficient electric servo drive instead of compressed air. The result is a more compact system to accurately and automatically reject over or under weight dough faster and more sustainably.

Measuring just 200cm in length and 90cm wide, one of the key advantages of this electric drive is the reject unit can be located beneath the hygienic, unclippable conveyor within the body of the machine, highlights Jodie. “In an automated inspection cell like the Hestia, servo drives are proven to be extremely energy efficient. But these drives also help our engineers to maintain compact and slimline unit. Especially when compared to systems that typically have the reject bin protruding to the side.”

Adapting to these market forces, producers of baked goods remain under constant pressure from all sides to optimise energy efficiency and workforce productivity while simultaneously reducing waste and giveaway. Jodie concludes: “Bakery rejects not only waste raw ingredients and affect yield, it also wastes all the labour that went into producing every batch. Add in the energy consumed by ovens, mixers and other automated equipment on the line, and inefficient start-ups and shutdowns, all these interconnected factors contribute to the economic and ecological performance in today’s commercial bakeries.”

Dependent on production volumes, switching from manual weight checks to automated upstream checkweighing can save industrial bakers up to £1,000 a day.