How to Extend the Life of your Rotary Molder

by Rich Kowalczyk & Dan Fromm


F&S Engraving, Inc.


In today’s times of tight budgets, equipment maintenance has become increasingly important.  Proper daily maintenance procedures are critical to the longevity of your equipment.  This is, of course, true with the rotary molders on your bakery line.  If taken care of properly, a quality rotary molder can have a long, productive life.


Several factors will wear a molder down.  The first, and most obvious, is the scraper blade.  It is one of the few things that every rotary molding machine has in common.  The blade should be 2- to 5-thousandths of an inch away from the molder, scraping away excess dough and allowing for an easy transition from molder to belt.  The scraper blade is not supposed to come in contact with the bronze roller.   Most scraper blades are made of stainless steel, which is much harder than bronze.  If the scraper blade comes in contact with the bronze, it can easily shave away the bronze causing serious damage to the die.  To prevent the scraper blade from coming in contact with the molder, adjust the blade accordingly based on predetermined dough weights.  The scraper blade must be in good condition because if it becomes worn or damaged, it can damage the die roller. Die rollers are significantly more expensive to replace than scraper blades, so by simply monitoring the scraper blade position and condition, you can save a lot of headaches and money.


Dough can, over time, also wear the bronze away.  Much like rivers carving valleys through a mountain, cookie dough can slowly erode even the hardest bronze over time, diminishing and distorting designs.  Although dough may seem soft to the touch, the coarseness of sugar and the use of cocoa are two factors that can wear the bronze molder down.  Release coatings, although used to aid in the release of the dough from a cavity, are strong and provide an extra layer of protection for the die, but will not last forever. There are many different release coatings for different types of dough, and each coating experiences a different wear rate. 


Make sure you staff cleans the die properly when routine maintenance is required. Do not use boiling water or steam, as extreme heat can damage release coatings. Do not use any kind of metal instrument, such as steel brushes to clean the cavities, as it is possible to scratch off the release coating or even the bronze.  A plastic brush and warm water are the best way to clean the cavities without damaging the roller.


Eventually the design in the bronze or plastic die will get worn out, but it can be re-engraved.  Every machine has a minimum and a maximum working diameter for their rotary dies.  Each time a die is re-engraved, material must be taken off the entire diameter of the die. This can only be done a certain number of times before your rotary die goes below the minimum diameter required for the machine. Once that happens, you need a new rotary die.  To a certain extent, because accidents do happen, you can properly plan for rotary die replacement.


If you don’t know how to properly maintain your equipment, it could cost you a lot of money. Seek the advice of a bakery consultant for best practices with your specific rotary molder.


What is the Best Manufacturing Equipment for Your Cookie Design?


by Rich Kowalczyk


F&S Engraving, Inc.

We’ve discussed Rotary Cutters for Bread and Crackers in the last couple articles.  Now it’s time to talk about Rotary Molders and Wire Cutters for Cookie Products.

There are two main ways of manufacturing cookies on a commercial level.  The first is utilizing a piece of machinery known as a rotary cookie molder and the second is using a wire-cut machine.  Both pieces of equipment are equally popular and both have their advantages and disadvantages.  The main reason to use either piece of equipment is based on the design of the cookie.  We’ll discuss both pieces of equipment.

In a rotary cookie molder, cookie dough is placed into large hoppers and forced between two separate rollers.  One roller is called a forcing roller and the other is an engraved die roll.  The forcing roller forces the cookie dough into the negatively engraved cavities of the engraved die roll.  The cookie is then extracted from the cavity by a textured apron with the assistance of a pressure roller.  The engraved die roll can be replaced with another die roll with a completely different design. 

In a wire-cut machine, the cookie dough is placed into large hoppers and forced through a die cup by feed rollers.  The die cup will have a specific outline that will act as the shape of the cookie as the dough is extruded through the cavity.  A wire harp is then moved back and forth over the opening of the die cup, separating the cookies, thus allowing them to fall to the belt and proceed through the oven.  The die cups can be changed to allow for different shapes and sizes.

The design of the cookie is very important to consider when choosing which machine to use.  Wire-cut cookies are not able to have complex embossed designs.  Because the cookies are formed by extrusion, a baker is only able to control the size and shape of the cookie.  A rotary molder machine is able to produce a cookie with almost any design embossed into the cookie, as well as any specific shape.  When coming up with a design, a baker should contact a die maker whose experience will allow better judgment on the feasibility of their idea and make recommendation on the best way to produce it.

There are several reasons to use one machine over the other.  A wire-cut machine is able to significantly adjust the weight and thickness of the cookie, while a rotary molder only allows very slight adjustments.  A rotary molding machine allows a design to be embossed into the top of a cookie, while a wire-cut machine cannot have those design details.  A specific example of a cookie that is rotary molded is a Teddy Graham®.  The design is very small and 3-D with very fine detail in the face, arms and legs.  The wire-cut machine has a lower overall cost than a rotary molding machine.  The cost of replacing aluminum or stainless steel die cups is significantly less compared to replacing a large bronze rotary die.  The reasons for choosing either machine should be carefully thought through, as both machines are large investments for your bakery operation.

Wire-cut machines are less expensive, with less maintenance and replacement costs, but you will be limited to simple cookie designs. Rotary molders can handle virtually any design, allowing you to be creative and not limited by the equipment. You need to make the best cutting or molding decision for your operation. As we’ve previously mentioned, it may be wise to bring in a bakery consultant to help your line run smoothly and efficiently.


Rotary Cutters for Cracker Products


by Rich Kowalczyk


F&S Engraving, Inc.

In our previous article, we discussed rotary cutters for bread products. We would now like to do the same for cracker products.  Rotary cracker cutters can be as simple as a UHMW plastic cutter cutting out squares or rectangles.  They can be as complex as a bronze cutter with a mixture of notches, nicks, docker pins, and cut-off blades engraved with calculated angles and radiuses.  The complexity or simplicity of the cutter depends on the shape and design of the cracker.

In cracker production, there is a variety of equipment used.  The two that will be discussed are the sheeter and the laminator.  There is always a sheeter involved.  This type of equipment is responsible for controlling the thickness of the cracker.  Another piece of equipment that can be used in cracker production is called a laminator.  This piece of equipment is responsible for layering the cracker.  Depending on the type of cracker, a laminator is not always necessary.

The cutting is done in a few different ways.  One option that we will not get into is a reciprocating cutter.  Two other options involve rotary cutting.  The difference in the rotary cutting options is based on how many stages are involved.  There is a dual stage rotary cutter in which two separate dies are involved.  The first stage docks the cracker dough, and the second stage cuts the cracker shape out.  The benefit of this type of setup is that you are able to control the depth of the docker and cutter separately.  The option we will discuss further is a single stage cutter.  The single stage cutter does both the docking and the cutting in the same process with the same die. 

The shape of the cracker determines the layout pattern for the cutter, although, there are exceptions to this rule.  The different patterns for cutters are: in-line, with all rows in line, horizontally and vertically; nested pattern, which is interlocking, and a staggered pattern, where cutting is offset.  The cutters can be scrapless or have any range of scrap.

One process that is involved in a majority of cracker production is the dockering process.  If the cracker is laminated, gas is released from the yeast and is trapped between the layers.  In the baking process the gas expands.  This expansion causes the cracker to rise, producing a thicker cracker.  To release this gas and control the final thickness of a cracker, bakers use docker pins to puncture the dough. The more dockers, the more gas will be released, making the cracker thinner.  Larger docker pins can be used in the same fashion.  Crackers that do not contain yeast may be docked for visual appearance.

The design of commercial grade rotary cutters varies from supplier to supplier.  A few types of rotary cracker cutters include; UHMW plastic rotary cutters, stainless steel rotary cutters, solid bronze rotary cutters, segmented rotary cutters, and rotary cutters with replaceable plastic or bronze panels.  PTFE release coating is typically added to bronze cutters to assist in release.  The materials in plastic cutters have lubricity built-in.  Depending on the type of cracker, air-assisted cutters are also an option.  Because not every bakery has the same equipment, nor the same product, each has unique needs and specifications.  There are a large amount of possibilities in cutter construction.

We suggest you seek the guidance of a Bakery Consultant to help you navigate the design of your dies, especially with such a detail oriented operation.

Want to learn more? Join us next month as we conclude our series by discussing the “ins and outs” of cookie production and die development.


Rotary Cutters for Bread Products


by Rich Kowalczyk


F&S Engraving, Inc.

Now that we have completed our series on automation, let’s focus on the die design for rotary cutters for various baking products. We’ll first introduce you to rotary cutters for sheeted bread products, such as pizza crusts, pitas, tortillas, donuts, bagels, dinner rolls, breadsticks, hoagies, and buns.

A rotary cutter is designed for bread products in many ways. One way would be making an improvement on an existing rotary cutting system, perhaps to increase output, improve the end product, or change the material of the die for durability or release purposes. Another way is to create a die to match a product, which may or may not be rotary cut already. Two examples of this is when a baker produces a handmade product and wants to automate it for mass production or a baker wants to mimic an existing product in the market.  Both these applications are becoming more and more popular among bakeries.

There are many materials in die production for bread products, such as stainless steel, bronze, aluminum, Ultra High Molecular Weight (UHMW) plastic and High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). Plastics are the most popular because of their low cost and their ability to be manufactured quickly. Stainless steel is usually the highest quality but is, therefore, the most expensive. All metal dies can have a polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) release coating, which assists in the product release.

UHMW plastic has built-in release properties which make it ideal in many baking applications. It’s a great start off for test purposes, since it can be used for virtually any shape and is easily affordable. For R&D purposes, some bakers order sample or test dies in order to test the cutter, which can be a stamp or rotary handheld cutter. This allows them to make improvements on the design before a production die is created. A test cutter allows for the testing of the shape, weight, and appearance of the end product.

The shape of the product plays a key role in the development of a die. Almost every shape can be rotary cut.  Depending on a customer’s preference, the product can look either hand made or standard.  A very popular trend for bakeries is the goal of utilizing automation and creating a product that has the shape, texture and consistency of a hand made product even though no hands have come in contact with it.  One important factor to consider when developing the rotary cutter is the amount of scrap that the cutter will produce.  Depending on the design, some patterns will yield heavy scrap and some will yield none.  Round patterns will always produce scrap.  Designs that are geometrical can be made scrap-less.  The percentage of scrap, although uncertain with some patterns, is controllable.  If there is scrap, a system to remove it must be implemented, whether it’s removed by an employee or a conveyor belt.

More complex shapes, especially shapes with sharp corners, have a tendency to have difficulty releasing.  To help with this problem, you can add air assist, PTFE release coating or a latex sleeve to the cutter. Adding air assist is a method of utilizing air pressure to help eject pieces out of the cutter. When the cutter has air ports in the cavity, air is let in and forces the pieces out of the cutter. These processes help with release and are sometimes a necessity, especially with very small or oddly shaped products that have difficulty releasing from the cutter.

There are many factors that impact die design. Many bread products change when they are cut. The shape may not change dramatically but, it greatly affects the rest of the production process. When the dough is sheeted out, it is stretched. When it’s cut, that pressure is released, resulting in a term known as snapback, which is retraction of the dough. You must also factor in the fact that most bread products are proofed before they are baked, and some designs might be distorted or erased altogether in that process.

Before you decide what route to take in designing a rotary cutter for your bread products, it is crucial to discuss your current production with a Bakery Consultant to save your time, money, and headaches.


Operation Full-Automation


by Rich Kowalczyk


F&S Engraving, Inc.

In our last article, we discussed introducing semi-automation into your baking process. This allows you to implement automation at different points in your baking process in order to make your operation more efficient. We’ll now introduce you to a fully-automated baking process.

To recap, full automation is when the baking process is handled, from beginning to end, completely by machinery and involves no human intervention. There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to implement a fully automated baking process.

It is best practice to master semi-automation before venturing into full automation. It’s beneficial to measure potential with semi-automation and focus on customers and quality before full automation. It is seldom wise to go from no automation to a fully automated process. It’s possible that your end product will be different if it has been done by hand since the beginning. A fully automated baking process will yield a different texture than a handmade product or even a semi-automated product. You’ll need to determine if these changes will be acceptable or if a change to the formulation of your recipe will be required.

The feasibility of full automation comes down to affordability and whether your current output needs make it worthwhile. The start-up cost for full automation is significantly higher than semi-automation. Full versus semi-automation varies by product. Full automation increases output and reduces labor cost and overhead. Depending on the type of product, a semi-automated baking process may only yield 1,000-10,000 units per hour while a fully-automated operation can yield 12,000-15,000 units per hour.

The biggest drawback of full automation is the potential downtime. If one step of the process breaks down, the whole operation is affected. People are easier to replace than machinery and the potential decreased output during downtime could come at a significant cost.

Determining if you should move from a semi-automated to fully-automated baking process requires a cost benefit analysis of your process. It is wise to bring in an experienced baking consultant to guide you through such an important decision.



Operation Automation


by Rich Kowalczyk


F&S Engraving, Inc.

In our last article, we provided information on how to determine if the time is right to introduce some level of automation into your operation. We posed the question, “How do you know when it’s time to take the next step . . . and what is it?” Let’s assume that you determined that, in fact, the time is right to take that next step to better meet demand. That makes it time to move on to the second part of the earlier question: what’s the next step? 

Well, it turns out, there are many from which to choose. But let’s start with a definition:  Full automation is when a process is handled, from beginning to end, completely by machinery and involves no human intervention. The term full automation typically applies to the entire baking process, from input of ingredients through packaging.

For the purposes of this article, we will be addressing semi-automation, the less expensive option of partially automating aspects of the baking process. So, let’s look at where automation can be introduced into the baking process:

·         Mixing: Automated mixers come in different capacities, different styles (vertical and horizontal) and with options regarding the shape of the mixer arm.

·                                Sheeting: Reversible dough sheeters, for stretching and evening out the dough, can be found in both countertop and floor models

·                                Cutting: Add a moveable cutting die to a sheeter table

·                                Baking:  Automation of the baking process can include automating the infeed system.

Determining the appropriate point or points at which to introduce automation includes an analysis of your current operation in order to understand the choke point(s) being experienced. As mentioned in our last article, it may be worthwhile bringing in a bakery consultant to help you assess the best way to approach semi-automation of your line.




Is the Time Right for Automation?

by Rich Kowalczyk


F&S Engraving, Inc.

Last month, we talked about how to upgrade your operation by going from single hand cutters to rotary hand cutters.  As you’ll recall, implementing this change results in either:

·         Reduced costs:  If the plan is to keep the same level of production, then with the use of the rotary hand cutters, it is possible to use less labor for the cutting process.

·         Increased production: If, on the other hand, the goal is to increase production, the time savings that a rotary cutter generates can be used to create more product.

But what if these changes aren’t enough?  How do you know when it’s time to take the next step . . . and what is it?

Let’s consider the first question—what are some of the indicators that suggest a change is imminent? Answering these questions will give you a good picture of what’s happening in your operation right now:

1)  Does your cost of labor keep rising?

Are your employees working longer hours?

Even having moved up to rotary hand cutters, have you had to hire additional personnel so that you can meet the demand for your product?

2)  Are you running out of work space?

Have you added more sheeting tables?

Do you need room for another oven?

3)  Are you dissatisfied with the time involved in your overall baking process?

Is the process, from beginning to end, too slow to allow you to get product packaged and shipped to meet deadlines?

Are you unable to replenish your bakery shelves in a timely fashion?

4)  Are you experiencing unmet demand?

Are you unable to accept contracts for new business due to lack of capacity?

Have you had to turn retail customers away because you’ve run out of the goods they wanted?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions in items 1 – 3, then chances are that you answered “yes” to one of the questions in #4, and that means that you are leaving money on the table.  Worse yet, your customers may be turning away and looking for a bakery that can meet their needs, whether it’s for a couple of donuts or for private label cookies to sell in their own store.

The next step, in answer to the question asked at the beginning of the article, is introducing semi-automation into your baking process. But is the time right? Answering some of the above questions may suggest it is, but to be sure, you need to do a cost-benefit analysis. If finance is not your forte, seek out a bakery consultant to help you assess the right next move.


Rotary Cutters Help the Dough Roll In

 by Rich Kowalczyk

F&S Engraving, Inc.

Retail bakeries bread and butter, so to speak, is breakfast sweets – donuts and sweet rolls of all kinds. For many bakeries that means rolling dough out on the sheeting table and then using individual cutters to create the different shapes needed for the assortment of breakfast goodies. It’s a time consuming and labor intensive process, begging for an upgrade, and yet automation is an expensive undertaking that may or may not pay off. What about an interim step?

If you are looking for a way to increase your capacity or reduce the hours spent in production, a good solution might be migrating from single cutters to a rotary hand cutter. Using a rotary cutter can reduce your cutting time for donuts in half.  What can that mean for you?  Consider:

-  In the same time currently spent cutting donuts, long johns, bismarks or cookies, you can double your production.  Are you currently selling out of certain items and disappointing customers who come in after the last long john is gone? Using a rotary cutter can keep more of your products ready on hand for hungry customers—and that means more revenue.

-  Using a rotary cutter results in less scrap than using single cutters. With less scrap, you get more donuts from the same amount of dough—and that means more revenue, too.

- Using a rotary cutter can also increase the efficiency of your sheeting table. By finishing the cutting process more quickly, your turnover on that table increases.  This can preclude the need to purchase a new table as you increase production.  Increased production without the expense of another table and without having to use valuable floor space in the back of the shop—that means cost savings.


 But, how do you determine if the rotary hand cutter is going to work in your particular situation? And how do you know if a stainless steel cutter will work best with your ingredients or if you should use the UHMW version? Consider testing a sample rotary cutter for a couple of days on consignment.  This will allow you to determine which version will give you the release properties you require.

In short, adding rotary cutters to your production process can help the bottom line by increasing revenue and controlling, or even reducing, costs. That adds up to a win-win for the retail bakery owner.


Accidents Happen . . . and so Does Maintenance

by Rich Kowalczyk

F&S Engraving, Inc.

Your cookie line is up and running, humming along smoothly when, all of a sudden, a nut comes loose and damages your cutter. Your line is now shut down while repairs are made to the die.  You’re not going to meet your production schedule and the company stands to lose revenue.  Sound familiar?

And it’s not just accidents that can take your cutter out of action.  Routine maintenance is needed to keep edges sharp and release coatings working efficiently. Sending the cutter in for re-working takes it out of commission, too.

How do you prevent these losses in production time? Do what major bakeries have been doing for years . . . have a back-up die on hand.

Consider that routine maintenance can take anywhere from a few days for applying release coating to two weeks if re-engraving of the design is required. And if the die has to be sent in as a result of an accident on the line, repair can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to complete.

Now do a quick calculation of the value of the product you are not producing when your molder or cutter is not on the line.  You’ll probably find that it doesn’t take long to cost justify the expense of a back-up die. If you’re cutter is stainless steel, you can also consider a UHMW plastic version as the back-up die.  This makes having a die on standby an even more cost-effective option.

If you’re in the process of buying new cutters or molders, consider having a second one made at the same time.  Otherwise, it’s worth your time to investigate having your back-up die made.  With one in place, there’ll be no lost revenue coming off your line!


There’s More to Perfect Shapes than Just the Cutter

 by Rich Kowalczyk

F&S Engraving, Inc.

When it comes to making quality cookies and snacks, there’s the recipe for the dough, the best ingredients, the proper mixing procedure, baking it at the right temperature and getting it to release from the cooking surface.  But before it ever hits the ovens, the dough has to be cut and molded so that it looks exactly like the designer envisioned—and the consumer expects.

Of course, quality die cutters are critical to ensuring that the end product is properly shaped and uniform. But the other essential element is making sure that the dough is released from the cutter without leaving behind a dirty cutter and negatively impacting the production line. One of the toughest balancing acts is finding the release coating that sticks to the dough long enough to imprint it, but also affords a clean release.

Of particular concern in the industry right now is creating a coating that works on dough that contains a level of oils in the mixture that results in it sliding off the roller without holding the imprint. Non-stick is great, but no-stick . . . now that’s a problem. Some bakeries have tried having the coating removed from the cookie molder, thinking that the release coating is the cause of the too-quick release. Others have asked for a release coating to be added, hoping it would solve the problem, only to find that it made the cutter too slippery and the end result was the same.

The trick to solving this problem is using a textured release coating. Creating the coating with just the right amount texture for the given job will allow for grip AND release, enabling the cutter to function as desired by creating the perfect shapes and molds. The optimum texturing can also be created so that it is as durable as more conventional coating, leading to the requisite efficiency on the line.

Just like quality cookies start with the right recipe so, too, does the right release coating.


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