Bakers Journal

Smooth sailing

April 28, 2016
By Brian Hartz

Maintenance key to avoiding production downtime

To keep equipment in good shape, be sure to use it to the capacity it is designed for — if the dough mixer is only recommended to 100 lbs, using it for 150 lbs will put tremendous stress on the machine. Photo: Fotolia

Few things can do as much damage to your bakery’s capabilities as equipment failure. Modern, high-capacity commercial bakery equipment is highly complex and often controlled by sophisticated technology. When something goes wrong, it can go really wrong, and the result can be significant downtime, which, in turn, can cut into your bottom line and business reputation. Even relatively simple bakery production equipment has parts that will need to be cleaned, maintained, and eventually replaced if the machine is to continue functioning properly.

If downtime continues for prolonged stretches of time, your customers might lose faith in your ability to deliver the goods and turn to a competitor to fill orders.

“If you can’t deliver your product, it may do irreparable damage to your brand reputation,” says Ross McMillan, co-owner and sales manager with RF Bakery Equipment in Coquitlam, B.C. “Your mission-critical job, as a bakery, is to provide fresh goods every day. If you are selling wholesale to a customer and you can’t produce them, it has terrible consequences.”

In addition to having negative long-term effects on your brand, a catastrophic breakdown, McMillan adds, can do immense short-term financial damage.

“In the bakery business, downtime is death because bakeries are typically producing fresh product every day. We’ve seen downtime range anywhere from $1,000 an hour to $100,000 an hour. The cost associated with a reactive breakdown … a part might have to be flown in from somewhere, technicians might have to be there working overtime. There are all sorts of extra costs that are incurred as part of a catastrophic breakdown.”

That’s why regular, ongoing preventative maintenance and inspection of production equipment is nothing short of essential.

A preventative maintenance program requires commitment – through good times and bad. It can be tempting to cut corners on maintenance and repairs when profits are down, but in doing so, you make a bad situation potentially much worse.

Giant Food, a Landover, Maryland-based maker of bakery and dairy products, instituted a preventative maintenance program in 1994 and has seen equipment breakdowns plummet. At one of its six plants, gear failures decreased by more than 50 per cent. Preventative maintenance also adds value in the form of increased productivity and a reduction in human resources tasked with fixing machinery. Giant Food’s productivity, for example, “rose from 175 to 250 gallons per minute while the plant’s maintenance staff was reduced from 22 to 12,” according to a case study published in Food Engineering magazine.  

“You should have redundancy everywhere you can,” McMillan says, “and if you can’t have redundancy, take matters into your own hands and make sure you have a complement of spare parts on hand. Don’t rely on your service provider to have those because they might not.”

When it comes to preventing equipment failures, knowledge is power. Although manufacturers and resellers often have service technicians available 24/7, bakery owners and operators can nip problems in the bud before they occur by educating themselves. Suppliers’ technical support staff will often work with clients post-purchase to ensure they know how to take care of ovens, proofers, depositors, sheeters, mixers, and all the other machinery that goes into producing baked goods.

“We aim to educate the client as to what they can do to maintain the equipment on a daily basis,” says Albert Cinelli, managing director and sales and marketing manager at G. Cinelli-Esperia in Woodbridge, Ont. “Most of this comes down to cleaning and greasing. Cleaning is a daily procedure while greasing is a more infrequent endeavour. While doing so, it engages the client to know their equipment and it truly reduces maintenance costs a great deal. What we do encourage is having us visit a couple times per year to check all equipment, and if daily maintenance is being carried out, the visits are short and the technicians can address staff on any shortcomings.”

McMillan says proper care and maintenance of bakery equipment extends to how it’s used. Commercial baking machinery must be robust and able to withstand long stretches of nonstop operation, but users need to keep the equipment’s specifications in mind if they want to prolong the machine’s lifespan as much as possible.

“Use the equipment within its specified guidelines,” he says. “In other words, let’s say you’ve got a spiral mixer and you’re mixing dough, and the mixer has a 100-kilo dough capacity, use it to capacity; don’t use it to 150, 200 kilos; don’t put blocks of ice in it; don’t do things that are beyond its functionality. As durable as it is, you’re putting unbelievable amounts of stress on the equipment if you’re using it beyond its design capability.”

Cinelli says his company ensures customers are well aware of such guidelines and parameters. “With any new piece of equipment delivered, we have an orientation with all responsible staff, showing them not only how to properly use the equipment, but how to maintain it themselves … this entails the simple, mundane tasks, nothing that requires technical expertise to carry out. Safety is paramount, but there are things that must be done by a technician.”

RF Bakery Equipment usually conducts an extensive, educational handover process when a customer buys a new piece of equipment. “We go through the equipment, we show them how to properly operate it, and we show them how to properly maintain it,” McMillan says. Often, he adds, the biggest problems can be prevented by the simplest of solutions: cleaning. But bakery operators should be mindful of the fact that cleaning needs to be done properly.

“Cleaning is certainly first and foremost, and it’s easy to do,” McMillan explains. “Flour dust is a big culprit in our business and it gets everywhere, so you need to vacuum out electrical enclosures and vacuum out condensing units on refrigeration equipment. Also, keep water, when you’re cleaning, away from equipment as much as possible. Don’t just hose stuff down that might have sensitive bearings. You could be damaging electrical components; you could be causing corrosion.

“Use common sense. Don’t clean equipment in a way that it’s not meant to be cleaned. We see that all time – people just take a hose to things and then they don’t understand why things are shorting out or bearings are failing.”

If you’ve cleaned, greased, replaced, and otherwise done everything you can to prevent an equipment failure, and something still goes wrong, well, help is available – usually within a couple of hours. Companies like Cinelli Esperia and RF Bakery Equipment have technicians on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to emergency maintenance situations.

“Our response time is typically within 30 minutes after normal business hours,” Cinelli says. “We do not have a call centre – and this is by choice. Rather, each technician receives the call directly outside of normal business hours.”

Both McMillan and Cinelli say their tech support staff will employ a troubleshooting process over the phone before responding in person, in case it’s a problem that can be resolved without a direct, on-site (and costly) service call.

“There are all sorts of questions and scenarios you can run through and help the customer over the phone so the technician doesn’t have to go out there in the middle of the night, and the customer doesn’t have to bear the cost of that happening,” MacMillan says.

“However, in the event of an emergency, we have technicians throughout our service network from the Quebec border to the B.C. border on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We make that available because we realize our business is mission critical.”

Implementing a preventative maintenance program in your bakery may be the key to avoiding costly services calls, damaging downtime and to generally keep things smooth sailing for you and your customers.

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