Maintenance emerges as the key issue as bakeries invest in their future

This light at the end of the tunnel is definitely a train when it comes to maintenance. Competition for skilled mechanics is intense, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, as bakeries seek to automate more to increase capacity while adjusting to a growing labor pool. decrease.

And if the situation is difficult today, how will bakeries maintain their equipment while investing in the new technologies of tomorrow?

“If I said that no bakery is prepared for the future the way it needs to be, I’m pretty sure some maintenance managers would be offended because there are probably flagship bakeries that have ‘great maintenance systems,’ said Holly. Gilbert, vice president of operations at Awakened Foods, a maker of better-for-you snacks based in Loveland, Colorado. “Then there are others who work to achieve a certain status, but on the whole bakeries are not sufficiently prepared for the future.”

Failure to properly maintain equipment eventually leads to breakdowns and repairs that can directly impact profitability.

“If a bakery can’t operate efficiently and has high downtime, what usually gives is volume output, which reduces sales,” Ms. Gilbert observed. “The pressure to run a plant efficiently is probably at its highest these days due to rising costs. If a bakery has capacity, maybe it can get away with some downtime. At other bakeries, it comes down to sales, because they can’t make that much in a seven-day work week. »

Rowdy Brixey, Founder and President of Brixey Engineering Inc., pointed out that maintenance is considered overhead billed at cost of goods sold.

“A company can lose its competitive advantage if the maintenance department fails to keep lines in good working order and at a cost comparable to its competitors,” he explained. “Cutting orders, inconsistent quality, high waste and high maintenance costs can all be the death of the bottom line.”

He added that the average maintenance technology is aging and changing demographics are often correlated to a service’s performance.

“I remember factories that had 25 to 30 years of overall average experience in their maintenance teams, and now some of those same factories are down to three years of experience,” Mr. Brixey said. “If you look at their waste and their downtime, these plants have gone from being one of the best bakeries in an entire company to the bottom 20%. It’s just a matter of knowing what to do.”

Hiring and retention are two parts of the equation, but bakeries often have no control over the uncertain labor pool in various markets.

“Capacity constraints and labor shortages have made work more difficult, but the bakery’s equipment is unaware of such occurrences and still requires the same service,” Mr Brixey said. . “Let’s face the facts: it’s hard work even when a bakery is staffed entirely by experienced associates, but if it starts to fall behind, it can become nearly impossible to catch up without help.”

Bakeries can establish the systems to run a lean maintenance department if they provide the tools that allow their technicians to troubleshoot.

“It starts with leadership, not just at the plant level, but at the corporate level to understand what’s important to keep these bakeries running efficiently,” Gilbert said. “It starts with having a solid foundation and understanding the vision of what needs to be done to cover all the bases of a maintenance service. It requires an open mind to technology to stay ahead of breakdowns and think outside the box by hiring technicians who can adapt to automation and systems.

That’s a tall order for any baking and snacking operation.

This article is an excerpt from the October 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the full maintenance article, click here.