IBR's automated blending system features two rows of eight ingredient dispensers. Although only one dispenser is activated at a time, the dual rows are accessed alternately, minimizing processing time and space requirements. Source: Ingredient Masters.

Your assignment: increase production by 250 percent. You cannot hire any additional staff. You cannot add production hours. And, you can have only a small increase in space on the plant floor. That was the challenge Integrated Bakery Resources' Director of Operations Mike Lengacher faced. Based in Lake Oswego, OR, Integrated Bakery Resources (IBR) develops and blends proprietary mixes for bakery products. It maintains about 70 active formulas, 95 percent of which were developed for customers in its own labs. In fact, the blends can be so complex that many require more than 100 different ingredients.

Last year, the company planned to increase its production from 20,000 lbs. of blended product per day to 50,000 lbs. per day. There would be no change in the company's single, five-day, split-shift operation, which blended and mixed product in the morning and bagged and packaged product in the afternoon. Crew size-three workers on the blend line and three on the packaging line-would stay the same as would the total number of hours worked. And, the 30-day raw materials inventories standard would not change.

"Ingredient Masters had manufactured our existing manual blending system," says Lengacher, "so we consulted with them for a solution." As it turned out, Ingredient Masters had built an automated system for a pharmaceutical company that had a change in plant requirements. "They told us it would be available quickly and could be re-engineered and adapted for our purposes," continues Lengacher.

The Ingredient Masters automated blending system features 16 free-standing bulk bag unloaders, 16 bag-lifting frames, 16 receiving hoppers and a robotic cart equipped with a gain-in-weight scale system. The system's modules are computer controlled and electric eyes ensure the cart stops where the recipe specifies. In addition, each hopper has an icon indicating the weight of the powder inside and visual alarms activate when replenishment is needed. At the start of the cycle, the system checks the hopper content to ensure there's sufficient raw material.

To further reduce manual operations, instead of 50-lb. palleted bags, 2,000-lb. bulk bags are used to charge the ingredient dispensers. This has enabled the plant to achieve greater efficiency since batches rarely require an ingredient in increments of exactly 50 lbs. Previously, an operator had to manually break the 50-lb. bags and weigh the material to achieve the specified total. "The savings in time between manually breaking the bags, measuring the material and verifying its weight-as opposed to simply suspending the bulk bags in the frame-has been significant," says Lengacher. "There's also a great ergonomic benefit since we've eliminated manual handling."

The switch from a manual blending system to the automated blending system from Ingredient Masters has enabled IBR to increase its efficiency and production-and meet its aggressive 50,000 lbs. per day goal. "Sales are increasing," says Lengacher, "helped in part by our ability to go from product concept to market in 30 days, if the customer circumstances are right." u

For more information:
Scott Culshaw, Ingredient Masters; 800-345-4729; www.ingredientmasters.com