Syntegon explains the process of minimising product loss during biscuit processing with automated solutions.

Once biscuits and cookies come out of the oven, their journey ahead to the primary packaging machine holds a number of challenges. The longer the transportation belt, the less likely the sensitive products will make it to their destination safe and sound. Along the way, biscuits and cookies can accumulate and break or crumble. However, manufacturers can counteract product loss by investing in automated solutions that put gentle handling first.  

Automated solutions have been on the rise in the baking industry for good reason: By automating handling processes along their packaging lines, manufacturers are able to increase their output and minimise contamination risks at the same time. The higher the degree of automation in a packaging line, the smaller the number of points of contact between operators and product and less potential for contamination. Additionally, automated solutions work uninterruptedly at a much higher speed than their human counterparts and can take repetitive and monotonous tasks off operators’ hands. By relieving them from tiring manual handling tasks, manufacturers allow their operators to focus on more complex processes and tasks such as format changes, cleaning, and supervision of the line.  

No way around gentle handling 

However, it does not matter how smooth an automated handling and packaging line runs, and how perfectly the cookies leave the oven, if only broken pieces and crumbs make it to the packaging machine. Gentle handling along the entire line is essential to safely transport sensitive products all the way into their tray or slug pack – and uphold highest quality standards.  

When deciding to implement gentle handling solutions, manufacturers can opt for or even combine two technologies to ensure a gentle transfer from the oven to the packaging machine: pick-and-place technology or conveyor systems. Each of them is suitable for different tasks along the packaging line: Conveyor belt systems are often the technology of choice for distributing the product stream from the oven onto packaging legs. Pick-and-place solutions on the other hand are ideal for placing sensitive products from the transportation belt right into the primary or secondary packaging machine or onto the infeed belt of flow wrappers. Both technologies can handle a variety of different products and formats and are therefore a reliable option for contract manufacturers, who need to perform frequent product and format changes while keeping downtimes low. 

Distributing biscuits and cookies with minimal mechanical stress 

Once the cookies and biscuits have been baked in the oven, they cool down on the cooling conveyor. Only then do they enter the packaging process via a conveyor belt. Straight out of the oven, the products are prone to breaking and crumble easily. Syntegon’s newest discharge station Distribution Continuous Slide (DCS) is a conveyor system that puts gentle handling first and reduces mechanical stress to a minimum. The modular discharge system consists of one or more stations that can be arranged one behind the other. Each is equipped with belt slides and runs entirely without format parts. The fragile cookies are neither dropped nor pushed but simply slide over its belts. This format-free design avoids product breakage and loss which enhances not only product quality, but also the overall line efficiency.  

In addition, the simple design makes the system particularly flexible as it allows manufacturers to process products of varying shapes and sizes – operators can easily perform format changes at the push of a button.  Adjusting the belt’s processing speed is just as easy: Once the right command is entered on the integrated HMI, the belts change their speed accordingly. The faster its belts move, the more cookies are distributed onto individual packaging legs. On the legs, an additional belt slide arranges the straight product stream into an S-shape. This ensures that the cookies and crackers are evenly distributed across the entire width of the belt, preventing them from wedging or overlapping and breaking.  

Handling fluctuating output automatically 

In case more cookies or biscuits leave the oven than a singular DCS can handle, multiple stations work together to process the product surplus – and they do so without the operator’s help. The system automatically increases discharge capacity of individual stations and discharges fewer products onto the overloaded packaging leg. At the same time, it distributes the product surplus to the following stations. All legs can continue to operate continuously, until the product storage is empty, and the product build-up has been safely processed. The automatic feature counteracts product loss by minimising the number of cookies on each packaging leg, reducing the probability of breakage and minimising food waste.  

Robots handle with care 

Linear motors ensure smooth and gentle movement  

Once the cookies have been distributed successfully, it is often pick-and-place robots that perform the following processing step. If the products have not yet entered the packaging leg, the robots pick the cookies individually from the transportation belt and place them into the infeed of flow wrappers. Alternatively, they can pick the products from the transportation belt of the packaging leg and place them directly into trays. Additionally, they load pre-wrapped products into cartons for secondary packaging. Specifically developed End-of-Arm (EoA) tools are the key to their versatility:  By switching out the EoA tool, operators can ensure their automated helpers are able to process different products and formats in varying sizes and shapes.  

Whether it’s robotic solution or conveyor systems, that manufacturers opt for, both technologies rely on integrated linear motor technology to ensure smooth movements. The motor’s smooth and slow movements reduce mechanical stress on the cookies and prevent breakage and product loss. Linear motors can be operated individually, ensuring highly precise handling processes. Integrated into infeed modules for flow wrappers, for example, they perform exact portioning and increase the packaging lines’ output when combined with smart acceleration: Once an individual infeed mover takes hold of a cookie or a grouped cookie stack such as a slug pack, it accelerates automatically and transports the products into the wrapper.  

Often, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In most cases, manufacturers opt for an application- and product-specific combination of conveyor systems, pick-and-place solutions as well as infeed modules that allow for maximum efficiency during cookie handling. Packaging equipment experts like Syntegon then support them in realising their full potential in terms of efficiency without sacrificing gentle handling in the process. With decades of manufacturing know-how and industry knowledge under their belt, they help food manufacturers develop tailor-made solutions for their applications – so that biscuits and cookies make it into to their final destination whole and in one piece for the customer to enjoy.  

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Editor: Kiran Grewal