The look of love

It’s a proven fact that if there’s a perfect apple on the supermarket shelf next to a slightly misshapen one, the vast majority of consumers will pick the perfect fruit, even though they know that both will taste exactly the same. The lesson is that appearance is important, more so when it comes to cakes, confectionery and other non essential items, where consumers can choose to buy nothing at all rather than a product that simply doesn’t look inviting.

With most food products, much of the finished appearance is determined during the manufacturing process, but that’s not necessarily the end of the story. For many types of products, especially baked goods like cakes and doughnuts, an additional process at the end of the line can turn a boring, unexciting item into a big seller – and a big profit maker.

This additional process usually involves the application of some sort of finish, such as icing, a glaze or a dusting of sugar. The key to adding this extra touch effectively – and, of course, economically – is to choose the right type of depositor or dispensing system.

The go-to solutions for making baked goods and desserts as tempting as possible include volumetric food depositors and robotic dispensing systems. Suppliers of these systems can even offer advice on building bespoke equipment that integrates vision systems for higher accuracy and greater versatility. This means that products such as children’s birthday cakes or even Christmas puddings can be greatly improved by the addition of decorations and even writing. This can make it possible to sell products at premium prices with enhanced profit margins.

Wet or dry?

One of the first choices to make when selecting dispensing and decorating equipment is whether to work with wet or dry materials.

Wet dispensing is normally used to apply materials such as glazes, sugar syrups or alcohols via spray nozzles, shower dispensers or injecting heads. They ensure even coating and are ideal for covering larger surfaces with the same type of substance. In the manufacturing of doughnuts, for instance, this would be the shiny top glaze that is first added to the freshly baked treat.

On the other hand, dry dispensing machinery is used to decorate products with materials such as sugar, desiccated coconut, crushed nuts, chocolate, flour, oats, sugar beads or candy. In the case of our doughnuts, crumbly sparkles or chocolate shavings could be added on top of the plain sugar glazing.

Customised equipment

With the decision between wet and dry made, users must next decide whether off the shelf decorating equipment available as standard is suitable for their application and, if so, whether it can be easily integrated with their production processes. If the answer to either question is no, the next step should be to approach an automation specialist with experience of designing, manufacturing and installing finishing equipment for food production.

The complex requirements that may make customised equipment the best solution include: adding icing to both the tops and sides of cakes and baked goods; high precision smooth icing or decorative icing; placing sweets and other confectionery on the finished products; and adding decorative finishes and embellishments – like much coveted Disney icing figurines on children’s party cakes, for example.

Automated systems

A good automation supplier will also be able to implement 2D or 3D vision technology, allowing the machine to produce the same quality finish regardless of any inconsistencies in the size and surface of the cake or product to be decorated, with auto-locating of the item on the conveyor system.

This is a great benefit for manufacturers producing the same type of goods in different sizes, as they don’t have to reconfigure the entire line if they switch, for example, to the ‘personal’ or ‘bite-size’ version of a 10-slice cake.

From simple icing to more intricate decorating features, automation equipment can offer the perfect finish every time, reducing waste and, in turn, reducing overall manufacturing costs. By using intelligent machines that can easily adapt to a wide variety of products, manufacturers can enjoy the benefits of systems that can be reprogrammed for each new batch of products at the touch of a button.

Another aspect that must be considered is throughput. Upmarket cakes or chocolates with intricate decorations will always be slightly slower to produce than low price, mass produced items. Even so, automated decorating or dispensing systems are invariably much faster, more reliable and more cost effective than human operators.

Another potential benefit in choosing automated and customised systems is that they can support full product traceability. To do this, however, they will need to connect directly or indirectly to a factory network to allow communication with other production machines and supervisory systems. While not necessarily difficult for those with appropriate technical knowhow, establishing the necessary connectivity is, once again, best left to an experienced supplier if dependable results are to be obtained.

Piece of cake

Well designed decorating and dispensing systems can also deliver other benefits, such as dependable product hygiene. The equipment can be fitted with self-cleaning and washing features, which not only means hygienic operation is assured, but also that the same machine can handle different types of products and even switch between working with potential allergens, such as nuts, and allergen-free products.

As we have seen, well designed decorating and dispensing systems, implemented by an experienced food industry supplier like Stelram, have much more to offer than incidental benefits. In fact, for those manufacturers of baked goods wishing to stand out from the crowd (or should that be supermarket shelves), customised decorating equipment can prove a reliable and indefatigable sales tool that will pay dividends with every slice of cake.


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Food and Drink Technology