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Setting Up Pilot Plant Facilities for Biscuits – Crackers

Setting Up Pilot Plant Facilities for Biscuits – Crackers

1 Introduction

It has been a constant challenge to identify which would be the most cost effective solution, either the In House Research and Development or the outsourced R&D. Νevertheless it has been a common sense that both set ups are requiring a well organized in house Pilot Plant Unit, preventing the Enterprise from constant stoppages of the regular production, especially when new products are relying within a conceptual base.

Hence in order to overcome the necessity of constant shut downs and relevant start ups, which are having high costs for the Enterprise, regardless if R&D is outsourced or it is existing in house, a well established in house Pilot Plant Unit would be a must.

In terms of the Overall Cost of Ownership depending on the level of processing adjustments, the final Cost would vary, allowing the Enterprise in a return of the Investment coming from the equivalent shut downs which are often needed in order just to test a new idea, which is more often related to a concept and its relevant application in the main Line.

The query which is more often arising from product samples which are coming from a Pilot Plant and those which are coming from the Processing Line, would be, how far the product is from the one which is manufactured in the main Biscuit Line.

The relevant answer is more likely to arise from another question, related to how far would it be needed for a Pilot Plant prototype product, to exist between the Production prototype and the product which is requested.

By experience as a rule of thumb, each product which is manufactured in a Biscuit Test Plant is deviating from the product prototype in terms of hardness in the first bite as well as crunchiness and crispiness, allowing a rather safe assumption in terms of the final taste and the aftertastes. In simple words what is manufactured in a Pilot Plant is inferior than what is manufactured in the processing Line, owing to deviations in the corresponding forming process as well as the Baking Process which is applied in the Main Line.

Then a question is arising. Does it worth it to invest on Pilot Plant facilities and if yes, upon which extent a relevant dedication of funds is having a positive result.

The answer would be that the highest the throughput of the main line, the highest the costs of deliberate shut downs for product testing, therefore the most justified would be a relevant Investment.

2 Investing on a Pilot Plant

If it would be needed to classify the machinery needed for a Pilot Plant we may very well diversify the necessities in first stage as well as second stage.

The most critical thing would be to determine if the Enterprise is having the In house expertise needed in terms of an R&D Team, since the existence and maintenance of such a team is closely connected to the fundamental basics of a Pilot Plant consisting of:

  1. A short scale Hobart type Mixer with different blades complying to each product category which is needed to be resembled. Most frequently such a Mixer is serving well in cases of Wire Cut, Rotary Moulded, or deposited Biscuits. The range of capacities would rely strongly on the type of the forming machine which is followed right after, having as baseline a capacity between 2 to 5 kgr,Hobart type Mixer with different blades
  2. A Z Blade Mixer in case that the main product category of each Organization would be based on Hard Biscuits and Crackers. It would worth such an Investment in terms of  Z mixer having jacketed bowl, in order to imitate the utmost the Mixing procedure which is done in reality
    Z Blade Mixer
    Investment upon a Rotary Moulding Ring
  3. In terms of the downstream equipment related to the forming it really depends on the level of processing imitation which is needed to be applied, being connected to the level of product matching in terms of the product prototype. Generally speaking an Investment upon a Rotary Moulding Ring with multiple engravings is often justified having an acceptable return of the Investment.
    Moulding ring
    Investment upon a Rotary Moulding Ring

    A reasonable disengagement of the Processing Line would be accomplished justifying the relevant Investment which with the existence of the proper personnel would be leading to a significant product matching, having the needed flexibility in terms of shape accomplishment.

  4. For Hard Dough as well as in most complicated cases of Crackers an oscillating Sheeter as a starting point would be accepted, having a final result dependent on the correctness needed to be applied, based upon the existence of an Expert in terms of simulating the real process with the accomplished one.
    oscillating Sheeter

    In most cases the well skilled personnel would be minimizing the differences in terms of texture between simulated product and the real one which is achieved in the processing Line. The specific shaping and forming could be achieved by passing the rolled piece of dough batch, from a test cutting roller with which the shape would be reflected, while in case of minimized investment the shaping can be also done by hand. The latter would be increasing drastically the amount of time needed for final shaping, which would be influencing the final texture which is obtained with this method, maximizing the relevant deviations.

    In cases where an exact imitation would be needed then an increased investment would be required in terms of a short processing line, which should be necessarily be accompanied by a small Tunnel Oven.
    Sheeting Line

  5. Trying out to cope with the main sources of discrepancies between real life and simulation of the Processes, we are reaching to the main source which is the Oven.
    Normally what is commonly used would be a Static electrically heated convection Oven or even in best cases a Convection Oven with hot air recirculation with a rotating platform.
    Convection oven with hot air.
    Oven with hot air
    In case that a more accurate simulation result is the case, then an Investment in a small scale Tunnel Oven would be the most ideal solution being divided in a DGF first zone having the last zones of Indirect convection heat.
    small scale tunnel oven
    Tunnel Oven

    It is far scarce within Biscuit Manufacturers having Processing Lines below 800 kgr /h, that they would have a Pilot Plant being equipped with the most sophisticated solution of a small Tunnel Oven, but such a Technical solution would be disengaging the R&D Work from the constant necessity of product testing in the main line.

    What would be needed for sure would be the creation of a business plan based on the amount of new products which would be needed within a five year Investment plan, in order to enrich the existing product portfolio, hence the amount of time needed for shut downs of the main line, quantifying the relevant downtimes, not to mention the amount of time within which the main line is occupied, as well as the cost of raw materials.

    The relevant Investment is needed to be connected with the existence in house of well skilled personnel, having a deep understanding of each process, being highly educated in terms of Ingredients’ technology, as well as NPD processing.

    Setting down all the figures it is comprehended that In house R&D needs to be disengaged by the main processing line, understanding that the Operational costs would be significantly lowered by an In House Pilot Plant, at least of the one classified as Stage 1.

  6. Accurate Balances for scaling of both minor and micro ingredients especially flavors as well as additives would be needed, as well as a Fermentation Chamber in case of Crackers, which is normally placed below the Convection Static Oven. A fridge for sensitive raw materials would be needed, as well as facilities for chilled and hot water, a washing station as well as a Washing machine for Utensils. Small Units for closure of packaging samples would be required within the wrapping material which would be also needed to be tested in terms of shelf life.
    Small Units for closure of packaging samples
    Photo source:
    Units for closure of packaging samples

  7. An Aging test thermo chamber in which product samples would be stored under stressed storage conditions in terms of temperature and relative humidity,  would be also required, in order to perform accelerated shelf life testing. The final shelf life of each product would be determined by a relevant Protocol with which accelerated shelf life testing corresponds to a storage in ambient conditions.
  8. Finally sufficient storage area would be required for product samples which ought to be encoded and labeled with the identification of each formulation and production date. A well established database should be in place in terms of the overall variety of product samples, their formulas as well as the Processing conditions which have been followed in the Pilot Plant. It would be often a case of organizational issues related to the variety of products produced in the Pilot Plant and the corresponding formulas, accompanied by Sensory Evaluations by expert panelists. 

Pilot Plant

3 Conclusions

In general the overall estimation towards an Investment upon a sophisticated Pilot Plant, relies on the extent within which a final product’s compliance is assured, with the final product which is obtained by the processing line. In cases of investigation of new product concepts a Pilot Plant of Stage 1 would be sufficient but in case of larger capacities of the main processing line as well as covering the necessities of a Market research, then an Investment upon a Pilot Plant of Stage 2 would be justified.

Overall the existence of well skilled personnel being guided by experts in Biscuit Technology would be needed in order to enhance the overall operational result.

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