Looking back in time, what seemed surreal even just 10 years ago has become totally real. Even as little as three years ago, virtual and augmented reality were only toys at a major baking trade show and going digital was only in its infancy for many bakers.

Today, the reality is that these “toys” have emerged as tools of the baking industry. Moreover, companies now manage data to drive greater efficiencies, enhance profitability and, in the long run, provide a solution to solving the ever-expanding workforce gap.

While virtual and augmented reality remain the future for most operations, the baking and snack industries are making great progress — and significant investments — in harnessing data through interconnection and communication.

As one might say, one small step for man, one giant leap for the industry.

“Equipment manufacturers have truly begun to take advantage of data that is naturally available at the time products are made,” said Rowdy Brixey, president, BEST: Brixey Engineering Strategies & Training. “This data can range from time, temperature, lot number, ingredients, scaling accuracy and faults, and the list goes much deeper. The real beauty comes from collecting this information across the entire shop floor. Then it can be compiled in a way that reporting analytics highlights variations, cost per unit, best day and other equipment performance statistics that pinpoint opportunities in real time versus the old rearview mirror reports from yesteryear.”

Time is of the essence when it comes to solving operational issues. Even a couple hours of downtime are unacceptable. True connectivity remains the key to ratcheting up efficiency, according to Bob White, president, Focus Works.

Mr. White said the company’s PRIMS technology gives management far more control over the entire process than manual operations, starting with lot traceability from ingredient receiving through manual and automatic scaling. The system also provides operator instructions, including the computerized record of each step in the process until the product is shipped from the plant.

“It can also control and track the process variables, piece weights and other data you wish to record that may affect the processing,” he said. “When generating production schedules, issues with material shortages do not occur since PRIMS monitors inventory purchasing, receiving and its consumption transferred to the ERP system in real time.”

Fixing it from the start

Automated scaling and dosing must be accurate to ensure dough temperature within recipe tolerance.

“As I like to say, ‘perfect batching equals perfect quality,’”
Mr. White noted.

Over the past two decades, bakers have made tremendous strides in production scheduling, according to Mr. White.

“Once an extremely manual and time-consuming process, most of today’s ERP software packages have automated scheduling embedded and/or advance planning and scheduling tools available to integrate them,” he explained.

“Unfortunately, despite the tremendous amount of functionality, companies still struggle to deliver orders to their customers on time,” he added. “And in many cases, after making valiant but unsuccessful efforts to ‘go-live’ with production scheduling software, companies revert to scheduling the shop floor using whiteboards and spreadsheets — an extremely manual and time-consuming process.”

The monitoring of production waste — both product and time — mandates more attention to detail, especially for sustainability and continuous improvement, noted Robert Burgh, president of Nexcor Food Safety Technologies.

“To manage these goals, our systems track and trend pertinent data across all necessary departments to achieve long-term improvements,” he said.

Defining how to invest

In the past, return on investment (R.O.I.) often determined how purchasing decisions were made. By analyzing data in real time, total cost of ownership (T.C.O.) has become a major factor in the long run.

“To do this properly, all relevant information must flow back to an ERP which ‘debits’ and ‘credits’ the assets as they either cost you money or earn you money,” Mr. Brixey explained. “Receiving money from the selling of product is everyone’s goal, but many plants don’t truly understand which products make them money and which ones cost them money.”

Mr. Brixey said bakers and snack producers need to charge assets for all materials, labor, depreciation, energy, waste, downtime, units produced and any other cost. That means T.C.O. has become the new R.O.I. Here’s where data management comes in.

“The key is to set these charges up to flow in real time and to balance back against the bill of materials authorized when an order is placed,” he said. “Once all this has been set up, you have the ability to push this to an HMI or plant floor display that can give visual management key performance indications for run rate indicators, cost per unit, pounds per manhour or many other shift performance indicators — all in real time.”

The information also is available outside the plant via computers or even mobile devices.