From idea to innovation:
How FRITSCH develops new technologies together with its customers
In the trend towards healthy eating, customers are increasingly demanding breads and rolls that are free from additives. Producing these Clean Label products, means having to process doughs that have a higher water content and long pre-proofing times as possible, which are accordingly softer and therefore more prone to sticking to the machines.
With the Soft Dough Sheeter (SDS), FRITSCH has developed a machine that, given precise portioning and positioning, creates a continuous sheet of dough even when working with extremely soft doughs. ead of the FRITSCH Technology Center Uwe Benz, Head of the Research and Development Department Udo Bernhardt, and Senior Technical Manager Josef Hoos explain in an interview how they developed the SDS by talking with customers.
How did the idea for the SDS come about?
Hoos: It started when several customers expressed interest in producing breads and rolls on our machines from softer doughs than before, with as high water content and long pre-proofing times as possible. The new products should not only taste good and look authentic but should also have a pleasing pore structure and be easier to keep fresh. Also, the amount of waste dough would have to be kept to a minimum and the final product would have to be reproducible with greatest possible weight accuracy, which becomes notoriously more difficult to achieve the softer the dough is. Those were the customer’s demands, which were becoming impossible to meet with our previous machines, given the ever-softer doughs they wished to work with.
Benz: The weight accuracy is especially challenging, during dough resting, many bubbles of all different sizes develop and so their density is not so easy to predict. But, ultimately, it’s the density and cutting dimensions that decide the weight of the final product. For that reason, the dough must be processed very gently and portioned very uniformly.
Hoos: That meant the dosing system was the first thing to be improved, because the fill level of the hopper has a direct influence on the outcome of the dough. The fuller it is, the more the dough compacts under the pressure before it is formed into a dough sheet. In order to keep the fill level as consistent as possible, we converted the hopper into a conveyor belt design to maintain the same fill level over the rollers at all times. Light barriers control the fill level over the rollers and the dough is fed in from the side. Because the dough is actively carried on the belts in a controlled manner, the dough sheet finds its way to the middle without undergoing as much mechanical deformation. This results in less waste, which also contributes to greater weight accuracy of the dough sheet.
How long did it take to get from the first idea to the implementation of the SDS?
Bernhardt: It took about one year to develop. That is not so very long, but we had the customer demand to drives us on. The main problem was that the previous dough sheeters work with pressure, which the customers can adjust on the machine. This method smoothes out unevenness in the dough sheet mechanically, which is exactly what you want to avoid for soft doughs, for the reasons already mentioned, but is completely normal when working on those lines. Plus, the dough sheeters have raised side-walls along the edges, which soft and unfloured doughs will stick to very easily and tear. On the SDS, the dough sheet is floured, and we have done away with static side-walls; instead, everything is continually moving together. Furthermore, the modified type of dough feed cannot exert any pressure at all, meaning operating errors can be almost completely ruled out.
When did you realize it would take a fundamentally new principle of dough sheet forming to be able to process soft doughs, and did you have to abandon any ideas?
Bernhardt: Oh yes, we had other ideas, but the way the SDS works now was definitely our most promising approach. We looked into cutting systems for portioning the dough, for example. We even tried them out, but the problem was that the surface didn’t look particularly healthy or artisanal in the end. Basically, the machine does exactly what the master artisan does if he squashes off the dough by hand or with a scraper. And so we gave up on the idea of cutting relatively early on. Instead, we focused on the process and tested out what we could improve in the details. That is how we came up with the idea for the belt, among other things, for which we have applied for a patent.
What kind of cooperation with customers did the process include?
Bernhardt: We took each of the individual development steps together with our customers. We repeatedly invited them to join in and so received important feedback because, of course, they always know what our competition is doing. After all, it is completely legitimate for customers to keep an eye on who is offering the machine with the best price/performance/economy ratio. This also meant we learned a lot, for example, about what we are good at and what our customers say we still need to do better to meet their wishes.
Benz: Our customers also know that we offer outstanding testing opportunities here at the FRITSCH Technology Center, which not every competitor can offer. And they know we can bring in experts from different departments and form teams to solve their problems. Having intermeshed sales – which is often the first place to experience customer problems – with research and development and the FRITSCH Technology Center is certainly one of our success factors.
Testing new things, and even perhaps trying out things that seem crazy at first, is the quintessence of research and development. The customers’ critical feedback also helps prevent tunnel vision because, even after you have solved a problem, the customer will ask things like whether you have thought of easy maintenance and cleaning.
When were you sure you had found the right solution?
Bernhardt: We knew when the uniformity of the dough sheet was achieved so well that we could no longer discern the transitions between the individual dough portions.
All three of you and your teams put in a lot of time, devotion, and understanding into the development. What does it mean to you, personally, to have successfully concluded a project?
Benz: No development is ever really over. (Laughs.) A great moment, though, was the presentation at iba 2018 in Munich. We had many customers visit our stand, where we were able to present something entirely new with the SDS. A customer is gained through the product. By that I mean, when a customer can deliver something good to his end consumers using our machine, then he is sold on it. That is why we handed out the finished products right there at the trade fair.
Bernhardt: A baker once told me that every machine is good, as long as it never comes into contact with the dough. That was until we provided him with one of our first electronic ROLLFIX and he then said to me it was the first thing to properly convince him otherwise. Artisanal bakers have their very own, unique opinion of technology. In the 1970s, people would still say the dough had to be adapted to the machine. Today, of course, it’s the exact opposite. Nevertheless, a product should never look like it obviously came out of a machine.
Hoos: For me it means pride and great joy to have successfully accomplished a challenging mission. When we started developing the SDS, our principle was to develop a process that would never need any oil spraying. Thanks to the fold-up and elastic belts we developed, we can process the dough sheet using flour instead of oil. That has numerous advantages for our customers.
How do you promote innovative thinking among your employees?
Benz: There are four tenets to this. The first is to steer clear of the “everything used to be better” mentality. The second is to forget the phrase “it’ll never work”. Third, every idea is worth considering – there are no thought police. And fourth, thinking outside the box is explicitly encouraged.
Bernhardt: When it comes down to it, innovation is a continuous process. I hear about problems the customers are having, or what could be made to work even better on a machine. It is a constant process of driving the technology forward, even if only to stay one step ahead of the competition. The nicest complement I have heard from a customer was when he said we had already fixed things when installing and commissioning his line before he would have noticed any errors. Responding quickly and making improvements like this is very important these days for satisfying customers. So that’s why I tell the young people who are just starting out with us today: get out into the real world, get into production. It’s the only way can you acquire a feel for dough; you can’t do it without it.
Soft Dough Sheeter: The art of processing very soft doughs
The new Soft Dough Sheeter (SDS), a dough forming system handling extremely soft doughs up to a dough yield of 190. The extraordinarily gentle system works with a very low amount of oil thus setting the standards with regard to processing soft doughs. Just to mention a few advantages: on the SDS falling heights have been systematically reduced and a solution for spreading flour on all sides of the dough sheet has been developed.
FRITSCH Technologie Center: All our know-how at one place
The FRITSCH Technology Center offers a fully-equipped, 4,600 m² baking center to our customers. FRITSCH's complete line and machine programme is naturally at your service – from the smallest ROLLFIX to the industrial production lines from the FRITSCH IMPRESSA programme. This means baking technology at its best. This is how the FTC, coupled with the expertise and passion of its employees, offers our customers the best possible support.