KANSAS CITY, MO. - At the 2019 IBIE show in Las Vegas, Torrance, Calif.-based Bakon Food Equipment rolled out its latest generation of Bakon depositors under the BD brand.
The line is the result of Bakon’s global experience in depositing solutions, from piston depositors (single and multiple pistons) to gearwheel depositors and extruders, said Luc Imberechts, Bakon’s owner.
“Our equipment is designed with standard well-known high-quality components that are available on a worldwide basis,” Imberechts said. “ This is true for the pneumatic components - SMC Pneumatics - but also PLCs, integrated controls by Allen-Bradley.”
The new line of depositors has a tabletop unit, the BD-3. It’s perfect, Imberechts said, for operators who are looking to scale up from piping bags.
At the other end of the spectrum is the new BD-9, which offers a high level of accuracy thanks to the servo-driven cylinder. The operator can program the unit with the full color display, and it can be equipped with Bakon’s cake decorator.
For more complex applications, and when speed is crucial or extra flexibility is required, two units can work together or Bakon can add a robotic arm to the BD-9. It can also be attached to a conveyor belt for a more automated approach.
Sheet cake innovation
Delta, British Columbia-based Unifiller Systems Inc. has tallied many new innovations over the past year, said Sonia Bal, director of marketing.
The one most applicable to its supermarket and commissary customers, she said, is in large scale sheet cake production. Unifiller’s Automated Sheet Cake Icing and Bordering Line is a unique system for quickly assembling and decorating sheet cakes with minimal staff. Adapted to decorate either single- or double-layer cakes, the line showcases a unique servo mid-fill icing module, cake stacker and top and side icing system.
The line allows customers to mid fill and base-ice up to 10 cakes a minute, Bal said. Customers who have purchased the system have seen ROI within 6 months through a reduction in staff and decreased cake assembly time.
“Servo technology is key to this sheet cake line, providing optimal spread control of buttercream with a reduced need for touch-up,” she added. “Customers are able to build and recall recipes, up to 100 stored recipe configurations, while the system also conducts performance monitoring, collecting useful data on production rates, cycles and deposits.”
Cake producers are also able to configure the system to their specific needs by adding pre-finishing modules for cardboard placement, cake slicing, glue icing; or post-finishing modules for bordering or decorating, such as adding roses, intricate patterns or writing.
Unifiller’s servo-operated depositors are designed for a host of benefits, bringing convenience and efficiency to any food manufacturer, Bal said.
“We’re doing more upstream and downstream digital integrations with customers’ existing equipment,” she said. “We’ve integrated our food service servo depositors with packaging lines where one machine communicates deposit signals and parameters to the entire system. Easy-to-use, programmable touch screen controls and a built-in ability to act as a slave to an automated conveyor-based production system, add further efficiency.”
Cycle and deposit counters and electronic 100 recipe storage make these machines an ideal solution for customers with more advanced needs, Bal added. Unifiller’s servo depositors can be fitted with a full range of custom bridge-mounted nozzles, integrated over conveyors for automatic filling for various form, fill and seal lines.
COVID-19 has increased demand for automation and for the modular approach that companies like Bakon offer, Imberechts said. The company has also seen more attention to sanitation and sanitary design, which Bakon is well positioned to deliver, thanks to the ease of cleaning its units.
Right now, the only predictable thing about COVID and its impact on baking and the rest of the food world, Bal said, is unpredictability.
“As with many markets, we saw a global decline in demand for equipment, due to government lock-downs and social distancing rules that forced businesses to close operations. Many of our customers faced supply chain shortages or were shut due to health and safety concerns.”
Even businesses considered “essential services” were impacted, she added. For example, meat plants impacted by a COVID-19 outbreaks were forced to shut down for weeks, not only impacting their own production capabilities, but also the production capabilities of other downstream food manufacturers reliant on their product.
“Right now, we know people are interested in depositors. However, it’s taking a longer buying cycle to close deals. This will remain the case, until budgets and spending are back in line with pre-COVID times.”
COVID-19 has also highlighted the need for less human effort in producing food, Bal added. The call for social distancing, more PPE requirements, and the simple realization that shutdowns/lockdowns may be needed until a vaccine is discovered, means manufacturers are more open to considering automation, so that businesses rely less on labor and more on equipment.
“This will be instrumental to business continuity,” she said.
On the horizon
Looking ahead, Imberechts expects to see more depositor product innovations in cake production.
“The changes are driven by the creativity of our customers, the ever-changing consumer demand and the availability of new technologies —for instance, the possibilities offered by ultrasonic cutting of full sheets of cakes.”
Bakon also foresees an increase need for integration. Bakon’s modular approach offers big integration advantages for its customers, Imberechts said.
Also on the horizon: the introduction of robotic arms to work in combination with depositors to offer users more flexibility.
Unifiller has seen a shift in recent years towards more automation in order to meet demand, Bal said.
“We’ve seen steady growth in both category awareness for portioning equipment and depositors, and revenue, specifically from commissaries and other off-site facilities that provide food products to retail grocers.”
Unifiller customers, she added, want to use depositing automation to control product waste, ensure they have a consistent high-quality product portioned accurately to meet labelling ingredients quickly. They also want to manage their labor costs and ensure staff are expensing less human effort in the production of food.
“Taking care of staff by automating some aspects of production, like depositing, can lead to lower incidences of injury and greater morale, while decreasing the risk of contamination from human interaction,” Bal said. “However, since March 2020, most organizations supplying equipment to food production plants have seen less demand.”
Over recent months, Unifiller has seen large food manufacturers scale back operations, negatively impacting their revenue, their budgets, their staff numbers and their purchasing power.
“There’s a ‘wait and see’ approach,” she said.
A solution for large volumes
In May Unifiller announced the launch of its iFill Depositor, intended for bakery and food producers looking to deposit large volumes, up to 31 ounces, in a single deposit, using a simple and compact depositor.
Designed specifically for the needs of central kitchens, retail and instore bakeries, the iFill depositor is already used by one of the largest grocery chains in the U.S. Featuring an ergonomic 1” hand held nozzle with 5 foot food grade flexible product hose and a choice of 2 product cylinders, the iFill depositor pumps and portions product directly from any bowl or container.
“There are growing factors impacting the way food producers work,” Bal said. “Over the years, changes in minimum wage, fewer people entering the trades and boomers transitioning to retirement, have all led to the need for more automation. More recently, COVID-19 has demonstrated that businesses are heavily impacted when staff are difficult to retain due to health and safety concerns. The current pandemic has been eye-opening. Automating what was previously done by hand – for example, using the iFill for batter depositing – can simplify a business’ daily operations.”
The iFill includes optional attachments such as a pail shelf to keep product containers off the floor to avoid contaminants and an optional pie wand for easy pie filling, even on the rack. Although Unifiller expects this new equipment to be used mostly for cake batters and pie fillings, the application possibilities are endless.
Capable of up to 100 cycles a minute, the iFill depositor is ideal for flowable products without particulates. Customers who have purchased the equipment have been able to speed up production, increase yield, optimize their labor and better manage their product waste.
This story was featured in the August issue of Supermarket Perimeter. Check out the full issue here.