Scaling up to mass production for retail is a make-or-break step, and baking and snack manufacturers must answer some questions before they can advance. Is increasing output or flexibility the priority? How do you plan for the impact of growth on regulatory obligations? Is semi- or fully-automated equipment the right choice? How do small- or mid-sized baked good and snack manufacturers looking to scale up production know if they have made the right decisions? 

Working closely with packaging technology suppliers can help answer many of these questions.

In this piece, three professionals share their perspectives on what companies should consider before they invest in new packaging equipment and offer insight on how companies can ease the transition to a bigger operation, all in the hopes of getting a bigger piece of the snacking “pie.”

Keep a big picture perspective
Jorge Izquierdo, vice-president of market development, PMMI

Modular equipment can make moving from one process to another extremely simple. Consumer trends are constantly evolving, and packaging is more fluid than ever. Manufacturers are continuously being pressured with calls from their marketing department and retailers with requests to meet these demands, making equipment with flexibility and modularity features crucial to any operation.

Hygiene and safety are also top of mind for baking and snack manufacturers. With the Food Safety Modernization Act, manufacturers must not only comply with the regulations but present documentation and records of their operations at any given time. As a result, equipment that helps operators track and document their processes automatically helps cut down costs and save time. It also decreases the chances of errors that sometimes occur when operators keep track of processes manually to validate their operations.

When it comes to production, it’s not just about how fast a machine runs. Manufacturers must keep a big picture perspective and evaluate changeover time. After all, if changeover takes up one hour for example, all the downtime can significantly decrease productivity. Manufacturers must consider how frequently they change from one format to another and make sure they still meet the demand to get products out the door each day. With this in mind, there are pros and cons with semi- and fully-automated equipment. The latter offers faster speed but requires more training for changing equipment tooling, adjusting speeds and configurations — making it a less flexible option. Semi-automated solutions may not be as fast, but they are relatively easy to operate and offer greater flexibility. Manufacturers simply need to know which would be a better fit to meet their business goals.

Lastly, for an independent baker making a transition to mass production, it all begins with measurable goals. Once there is a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished, one can plan for it and determine what type of solutions and enhancements are needed.

An upgrade offers flexibility
Ross Long, vice-president of sales marketing and aftermarket, Kliklok-Woodman, a Bosch Group brand

Where packaging equipment is concerned, one of the most critical requirements today is format flexibility and “scalability.” That is the ability of a particular machine to run multiple package sizes or formats at speeds that match both present and future demand. 

As an example, vertical form, fill and seal equipment can be implemented to accommodate growth in the snack industry. A Kliklok-Woodman piece of equipment could be purchased originally as an intermittent motion machine capable of speeds, in small pack sizes, of up to 90 or 100 packs per minute. Then, as the capacity demand increases, that same machine can be converted in the field to a continuous motion capability and provide the end-user with 25% to 30% faster speeds. Similarly, additional pack formats can be accommodated with “kits” at any point in the future. That allows snack manufacturers to buy a machine at a lower price initially when they don’t need the speed or specialized features. Instead of retiring the machine or buying a whole new machine as their capacity increases or market requirements shift, they can simply purchase a continuous motion or format upgrade kit.

The philosophy of modular and or scalable machine design applies equally to cartoning systems. Some top load cartoning systems initially can be “hand loaded” and later can become fully automated with the addition of robotic loading solutions without drastically changing the original machine investment. These cartoning systems also share the same level of flexibility in being able to accommodate quick size and shape changes as well as increased production speed requirements.

Focus on the basics first 

Arnie Sair, production planning and distribution, Signature Brands, L.L.C.

Convenience is a trend driving innovation across the entire food industry. Consumers are looking for something to eat that they can take with them. When it comes to a company just starting in the baking or snacking industry, my advice would be to make sure your house is in order. If you want to increase capacity or scale up, focus on the basics of production. Ensure that the current state of operations are running as effectively as possible and that all the basics are covered. When a manufacturer has a strong base, they will find that making upgrades and enhancements to their lines can be a lot simpler.