Exclusive: Anatomy of a Cake Line

Cake production lines must address all process stages, from batter and cream preparation, to baking, filling, decorating, and cooling. Here are the innovations providing solutions for each, explained by experts at GEA, Auto-Bake Serpentine (Middleby Corporation), and Tonelli.

GEA configurations

Let us look into a standard configuration setup of modules for cake lines, and possible add-ons, with the help of one of the largest suppliers for the food processing industry, GEA. Marco Gandini, Vice President – Head of Bakery Applications, elaborates: “Usually, a turnkey solution for cake production is a ring layout line where products go along on baking trays,” adding that it can be configured to include:

  • Mixing section – “It’s a very important stage of the process, where the batter has to remain consistent in terms of ingredients and mixing time.”
  • Tray washing machine – Trays must be perfectly clean before the beginning of production.
  • Oil sprayer – “Optimal spraying on all alveolus surfaces is required to avoid product breakages.” It is used to produce cakes where oil is nebulized to allow the detachment of products from trays after baking (no cupcakes).
  • Paper cup denester – to deposit paper cups in the indented trays when cupcakes are produced. “GEA machines can deposit from aluminum foils to small or big paper cups.”
  • Volumetric pistons depositor for high accuracy dough depositing. “GEA Comas is leader on this technology and can handle different kind of batter mixes with precision. We can deposit dough with chocolate or fruit inclusions, for example. Working on dough density, it is possible to make them float into the cake or cupcake. Brushless motors help to further increase the precision as they are controlled electrically.”
  • Topping depositor – for decorations with small dry or crushed products like almonds flakes or sugar crystals.
  • Baking tunnel oven – “GEA Imaforni can design and build high efficiency ovens with different heating systems, including electrical ovens for zero impact solutions. Individual chamber controls allow moisture and color adjustment that are essential to obtain appealing and tasty products. We can also offer consistent energy savings closer to 40% respect to a traditional tunnel oven.”
  • Buffer tower – to hold trays with baked products in case of emergency. “It absorbs the excess product during technical stops and eases line operation.”
  • Volumetric pistons injector – to inject cream, chocolate or jam into cakes and cupcakes. “It’s also possible to co-inject two different types of filling. Weight precision here means savings, especially when fillings are expensive.”
  • Depanner – to pick up products from baking trays and release them as required (2-3 rows, spread, etc.) on the cooling conveyor. “For maximum flexibility is also possible to use a robot as depanner.”
  • Cooling section – consists of a straight conveyor normally or a cooling spiral if space is not long enough (it should be 1,5 times the oven length). “Freezing spiral is an option in case products have to be frozen. This will permit a longer shelf life and avoid waste.”
  • Packaging machines – to seal the products in the desired package. “This phase is very delicate, as it is usually done at very high speeds, so it’s important that products are perfectly aligned.”

Customizations by GEA

Customizations can address some key factors in cake production, Marco Gandini tells us. The type of product is among core aspects: “We can produce different types of cakes and cupcakes, filled with creams and jams, and marble cakes.” GEA provides support with recipe development, at the group’s two Bakery Experience Centers (BEC) consisting of technological and testing labs which can accommodate this. Production capacity also determine customizations: “We can build complete plants to produce up to some tons/hour of products and bake them in tunnel ovens up to 4mt wide,” says Gandini.

Industrial and/or compact turnkey by Auto-Bake

Osvaldo Demin, Director of Business Development Auto-Bake and Scott McCally, Auto-Bake President, tell us how the company’s solutions work: “Our line is an integrated system that has, in general, six modules. These modules allow you to do all the phases of the process to produce cake products, without human intervention.” The most frequent customization is to mesh design capacity with available space, they share. “Beyond that, packaging arrangement” can also come in various setups. The six modules are:

  • Infeed – “the module where the butter or dough is deposited in trays, plus any other operation that is required for this stage, like paper cup denesting, tray oiling, topping, etc. The length of this module depends on the number of processes that are needed before the product feeds into the oven. Timing and smooth operation are critical for target accuracy between the transportation and various infeed systems.”
  • Oven – “This is the heart of our system.  While our lines are very flexible, the oven type and size are determined by the main product being produced. The rest of the production will be relative to this. Nevertheless, each line is designed with additional capacity for future flexibility.”
  • Inspection station – “This module allows the operator to inspect and remove products to control the baking. Because of the small thermal mass, our ovens have quick reaction.  Allowing the operator to make subtle changes as necessary to improve the quality of the product.”
  • Cooler –“This modulecan be designed as passive or forced-air ambient cooling, refrigerated, frozen or any combination thereof. The size and shape of these modules depend of the type of product, final product temperature requirement, and configuration of available space.”
  • Outfeed –“The main purpose of this module is de-panning of the product, but also for injection filling if required. Configuration depends on the type of product, plant layout, etc.  For that reason, the outfeed shape and size vary in each project. Like the infeed module, synchronous operation between the transportation and other affixed systems is critical for accurate performance.”
  • Washer – “This module is needed when butter is deposited directly to the trays. This module is fully integrated in our lines and uses the same transport system. This advantage prolongs the working life of the trays. Our washer is also designed for maximum efficiency within minimal space.”

Shaping cakes

Cakes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. How do lines accommodate production of various ranges? “The shape, size, and volume of the product is created by the pan mold.  For cakes that require special cutting, this is performed prior to packaging using various technologies,” the experts from Auto-Bake share. “For a new project with any variety of products, we request the customer to identify the ‘Design’ product, which becomes the limiting factor for all the others.

One of the great Auto-Bake thermal advantages is the lack of flash heat, which allows our customers to build custom batch sizes or product runs without compromising consistency or quality.”

Italian point of view: Tonelli Group

We’ve considered the Italian equipment specialist’s solutions, for their expertise of cake production. “The Tonelli MultiCake Lines are totally automatized, from mixing ingredients to packaging. They are designed and made to ensure an excellent standardization and quality of the finished product. Each line can produce several types of products, by simply changing settings: from layer and multi-layer cakes, swiss and mini-rolls, cakes, cupcakes, chiffon cakes, “mamon”, fig bar, chou or éclair,” I learned from Tonelli’s Communication Manager, Carmen Bruno.

She added: “A single line can host different stations for the make-up of different products; in this way, it is possible to reach a high flexibility, because the processing bench can be equipped with a maximum of seven stations, specific for each type of product, for a total length of 25 mt. max (even if the ideal would be a bench with two or three stations). It is also possible to have solutions settled on two floors.”

A typical configuration by Tonelli for a simple line for two-layer cake, for example, comprises: “batter preparation unit (mixer, buffer tank and continuous aerator), dosing unit, oven, overhead cooling conveyor, longitudinal cutting unit, wetting unit, cream preparation unit (mixer, buffer tank and continuous aerator or heat exchangers), filling unit, overlapping device, transversal cutting unit, decoration or enrobing, packaging,” Bruno tells us.

You can read more in our print magazine Asia Pacific Baker & Biscuit (Autumn 2017)!

More on process monitoring and module synchronization, cake decoration solutions, and equipment safety, will follow in part II, to be published in the Winter edition.  

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