Udo Bernhardt, inventor of the MULTITWIST
The Lord of the Pretzels
A machine that produces a dough strand is easy to imagine. Even one that can cut a dough strand isn’t far from the imagination. But, for a long time, it seemed impossible that a modern bakery machine could twist perfectly shaped pretzels. Enter Udo Bernhardt, the inventor and head of the Research and Development department at FRITSCH. Udo has revolutionized plant manufacturing for bakeries and, throughout the years, has kept his recipe for success the same: a passion for dough and building technology that adapts to it.
Mr. Bernhardt, you’ve devoted yourself to technologies for helping bakers produce baked goods for over 45 years now. Can you still be tempted by a fresh, golden-brown croissant?
Absolutely. But my go-to pastry is the buttered pretzel, although I also like pretzels without butter. Most importantly, the pretzel has to be fresh.
Which pretzel tastes better to you, the ones from the industrial baker or the small, artisanal baker?
There was a time that a pretzel’s quality was judged by whether or not it was hand-twisted. However, there’s no difference in who twists the pretzel. The quality of the pretzel always depends on the recipe and the ingredients used. Your team and system also matter tremendously. You want your employees to be well-trained and your process to be well- developed in order to ensure the product’s high quality is consistent.
This industrial process guarantees this consistency in quality. So it can’t really be said that a baked good’s quality is worse just because it is industrially produced and not by the baker’s hand. Rather, automation makes it possible to guarantee high-quality baked goods in industrial production as well.
Your passion for delicious pretzels probably wasn’t the only reason for the development of the MULTITWIST. How did it come about?
My passion goes all the way back to the 1980’s. The starting point was a very good partnership, which still stands to this day, with one of the largest pretzel bakeries in Germany. Back then, we began building twisting machines to move operation more and more towards automation. The company owner kept asking me if we could develop a pretzel twisting machine for him. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, and I’ve been dealing with it intensively since the early 1990s. It went on for several years like that. He would regularly ask when we would finally develop his pretzel twisting machine. (laughs)
„So it can’t really be said that a baked good’s quality is worse just because it is industrially produced and not by the baker’s hand. Rather, automation makes it possible to guarantee high-quality baked goods in industrial production as well.“
Which he eventually succeeded...
In the mid-1990s, we got heavily involved in dough band and pretzel strand technology. The machine was already well developed at that point. We did extensive tests, and thanks to fate, I had the right guy come into the right place at the time. FRITSCH hired a new technical manager who strongly supported this invention and gave me the necessary freedom to refine the technical solution for the twisting machine. Without him, I don’t think there would have been the FRITSCH MULTITWIST.
Of course, the first machine went to our most important customer. It was a really big machine that could loop 12,000 pretzels in an hour. Nowadays that’s not so big but, at that time, it was an enormous challenge to build a machine that could produce at that caliber.
Was that the first MULTITWIST?
Back then, the machine was still called the ASB, for “Automatisches Schlingsystem Brezel” (Automatic Pretzel Twisting System). That was in 1998. It was the first FRITSCH twisting machine on the market. Then came the “Pneumatische Schlingsystem Brezel (PSB)” (Pneumatic Pretzel Twisting System) and finally the “Servomotorische Schlingsystem Brezel (SSB)” (Servomotor-Driven Pretzel Twisting System). With the SSB we achieved our goal of twisting not just pretzels, but other products too. That’s why the twisting system was renamed to MULTITWIST.
What’s special about the MULTITWIST?
From the very beginning we relied on exchangeable tools, so we could twist not only different products, but also different sizes and shapes. It was also important for us to have a system that can twist pretzels or knots without the employees having to touch the pastry again – to stretch the pretzel or tighten the knots, for example. With the MULTITWIST, we can produce any products that are looped with one strand, no matter whether it’s in a braid, ring, twisted, or turned baked goods.
Is there a secret to getting the twisting machine to make pretzels as well-shaped as an experienced baker?
Lye pastries have to be produced under a certain tension to make sure the lye doesn’t penetrate into gaps and discolor the entire pastry. The pastries are twisted under tension. When you watch a person performing this twisting process, this important aspect is not explicitly recognizable. The moment the person presses on the ends, they pull the pretzel apart again and bring in the tension so that the knot becomes tight. This is an essential point in the production of lye pastries, which of course must first be understood and internalized. The MULTITWIST follows this process during the entire twisting procedure. That’s how we get a nice, consistent pretzel shape.
Certainly there were other companies besides FRITSCH doing in research and development in this field. How did FRITSCH manage to come out on top?
There were competitor companies who were also working on the development of twisting machines. That’s why I asked myself in the early 1990s whether it made sense to continue investing in this development. There were machines on the market that purported to be able to twist 3,000 pretzels per hour. The problem was, however, that they had to split the loop into individual steps, which meant that the tension was lost and they didn’t get the knot tight enough.
As has been said, I solved this problem. But beyond that, we were also able to come out on top because of our expanded automation options. We could and can offer our customers complete packages – from dough band production to processing. We have machines for each individual process step.
Why doesn’t FRITSCH have any competition for this invention on the market?
Because we were simply in a constant state of development. We have constantly increased our services and level of automation, with the aim of mastering the complete technology and creating versatile products.
„Udo Bernhardt is a forward thinker. He’s been my boss the entire time I’ve been with FRITSCH. And in those 18 years, I’ve never seen a situation where he didn’t know the solution to a problem. He always knows when good dough comes out of the machine. He grew up in his father’s bakery. He was born with the sense for the perfect dough.“
Alfred Ströbel (Dough Technology Research and Development)
Just how did you become an inventor of bakery technology? What do you find so fascinating about the industry?
My father had a bakery. I grew up in the industry and dealing with dough has always been a part of my life. I’m still fascinated by the variety of types of dough. No dough is the same.
And yet you didn’t become a baker...
That’s because I learned in my youth that machines are sometimes gentler with the dough than humans. I’ll never forget when my father worked the rolls himself. Later, he worked the dough with a Fortuna grinder – and the rolls were much looser. You don’t forget something like that. Everyone knows that the feeling of an experienced baker still can’t be replaced by a sensor. But machines can process a piece of dough much more evenly than a person.
So can we say that technology doesn’t work without craftsmanship?
Yes, that is definitely the case with dough processing. There’s still no sensor technology that can determine the degree of ripeness or consistency of a dough. In some cases, measurement methods are used that only capture snapshots. Don’t forget: The dough is always working. Once yeast is included, the dough is unstoppable.
What about the MULTITWIST has been further developed since its launch?
A lot. For example, the camera technology for measuring and regulating dough strand lengths. It’s typical in our industry to use the camera to detect the proximity and location of products. We also do measurements to carry out outward transfers, among other things. That’s how we increase the degree of automation.
We’re also increasingly working with ultrasound and sensor technology. The integration of RFID (radio frequency identification) helps our customers mount tools in the MULTITWIST properly. The MULTITWIST is actually a type of robot: It can be equipped with various tools such as grippers. If the customer inadvertently installs the wrong tool, it could theoretically result in individual tools colliding with each other. When the machine starts up, the RFID chip checks whether the combination of tools fits together. This technology was also introduced by FRITSCH.
Sounds like baking 4.0...
We are leaders in robot technology. Their use enables us to constantly increase the degree of automation of machines and systems. Whether it’s the twisting of pretzels or the bending of croissants in connection with the correct final layer: robot technology has given us a decisive, unique selling point in our industry. We can offer all kinds of types of bends, and at high speed.
Innovative & brave right from the start
Udo Bernhardt played a crucial role in the successful development of FRITSCH – and not just with the invention of the first fully automatic pretzel twisting machine. In January 2018, he was honored for 45 successful years of service. Bernhardt still remembers his first visit to the company well. He actually just wanted to see what his brother had to do in teaching. When he returned home, he himself had signed an apprenticeship contract as a technical draughtsman. Supported by the trust & personality of his then-technical director, Udo Bernhardt & his team also ventured into technological challenges previously considered unsolvable. He is still convinced that it’s important for a company to accept these challenges, because as Udo Bernhard puts it, “the world belongs to the fast ones.”
The MULTITWIST by FRITSCH