Applying automation to baked goods production

Automation Integrator Guide: Pattern toppings applicator, pie makeup machine, and snack cake and snack pie lines added consistency, speed, and flexibility with smart integration of automation.


Pattern topping applicator, part of a new cake production line that produces 18-30 cakes per minute, applies an even spread and volume per product of delicate toppings like chocolate curls, pecan pieces, and candy pieces. Round, elliptical, square, and reIn separate baked goods projects, smart integration of automation added consistency, speed, and flexibility to pattern toppings applicator, pie makeup machine, and snack cake and snack pie lines. Details of each project follow.

Toppings: Pattern toppings applicator

Applying toppings by hand added extra costs to finished products, and the customer wanted to better use employees. Applying toppings by hand labor is expensive and can be inconsistent. Unevenness of toppings and the varying volume of materials on each product caused quality appearance and inventory issues. Trying to keep pace with the production shift only increased inconsistencies.

Production goals

Graybill Machines’ and their customer analyzed the desired production goals and operational outcomes for incorporating a pattern topping applicator on their new cake production line. Graybill conceptualized and designed a machine functionality to repeat patterns of toppings on products at production speed. The topping applicator applies an even spread and volume per product of delicate toppings like chocolate curls, pecan pieces, and candy pieces; round, elliptical, square, and rectangular patterns are easily done. Registration adjustment while running, quick changeover, and easy wash-out are standard features when this servo-driven applicator is permanently installed on Dean style machinery. The customer was already having a new cake line designed and built by Graybill to produce 18 to 30 cakes per minute.

Consistent toppings, faster

For every cake makeup cycle a topping is applied. Appearance improvements are consistent from product to product at production speeds. Toppings inventory is more manageable, and a more accurate cost per product is possible. Topping application labor costs have been eliminated. The overall machine perspective is that it is a stand-alone operation with the exception of loading product supplies. The topping applicator is on-target accurate with very little spill-over. Gains in cake makeup production line efficiency will make future production demands more manageable, attractive, and profitable.

Pies: Pie makeup machine

Automated pie-machine works in-line, is variable-speed, is product flexible, is “on-the-fly” adjustable, handles two lanes, and recycles its own dough scrap. Courtesy: Graybill Machines Inc.The customer’s machinery was very maintenance intensive with the main drive components buried underneath, making routine preventative maintenance time consuming and difficult. The production line was unable to meet production demands, and reconfiguring old machinery for speed was not practical because of its heavy construction. This machine was limited to one lane of product at one-speed, and very limited from a flexibility perspective. The overall reliability and production capacity of their machine was the major concern.

Integrated efficiencies

Graybill Machines’ and their customer analyzed the desired production goals and operational outcomes. Graybill conceptualized and designed a new pie makeup line that integrated process efficiencies and flexibility throughout all stages (to precisely and swiftly sheet, shape, and cut the dough, integrate the customer’s existing fruit fillers, apply top crusts, seal and crimp) and met written production goals and pie specifications.

The new machine is built on a rugged stainless-steel tubular Dean-style open-frame design that provides easier access for preventive maintenance and washdown. The new in-line machinery is variable-speed, product flexible, “on-the-fly” adjustable, two lanes, and recycles its own dough scrap. The new line can run two-crust fruit pies and pie shells simultaneously; pie size and crimp-style is interchanged as well. It can adjust weights, deposit start and stop points, provide dough centering or stretch, and change flavors, by way of Graybill's Convenient Control human machine interface (HMI). At 120 to 250 pies per minute, the pie machines make everybody’s favorites by the truckload.

Easy as pie

Snack cake and snack pie machines include safety features aimed at preventing employee injury, saving product materials, and avoiding catastrophic breakdowns, in addition to producing snack cakes at up to 1000 cakes per minute, and snack pies at up to 30,The customer can now mix special ingredients; load the dough, the fillings, and press “go”; and watch this hands-free machinery craft quality pies ready for ovens or freezers. This results in lower labor production costs with greater flexibility and higher material usage. The company can introduce new products more quickly with a flexible production line. The customer’s machinery is a well-crafted and robust stainless-steel tubular frame outfitted for years of repeatable and dependable cycles. The new pie makeup machinery is designed with quality components, fully functional, and tested before delivery and installation.

Flexibility improvements include:

  • Ability to run multiple products simultaneously with some changes made on-the-fly
  • Changeable pie sizes and shapes, crimping styles—large and small
  • Gains in production scheduling flexibility
  • Adjust pie makeup from one HMI location: weights, volumes, stretch, rate, etc.

Efficiency improvements:

  • Higher dough usage rates because of scrap recycling
  • Total “scrap to product rate” ratio improvements because of fewer changeover shutdowns
  • Two-lane configuration doubles customer capacity potential
  • Easier maintenance and washdown accessibility encourages proper machine care.  

Snacks: Snack cake and snack pie lines

The customer wanted to maintain the same signature snack products and processes but modernize production lines. Some products cost more to make and are not profitable because some required complex hand work assembly (dough handling issues). Production could not keep pace with growth.

Preventing injuries

Graybill Machines’ and their customer analyzed the desired production goals and operational outcomes for modernized production lines. Graybill conceptualized and designed new machine functionality to repeat complex product makeup to optimize handwork (to precisely and swiftly sheet, shape, and cut the dough; deposit fruit fillings; inject cream or jelly; and apply top crusts, wide and striped icing, sealing, and crimping) according to the customer’s written product specifications. The new machinery is built on a rugged stainless-steel tubular Dean-style open-frame design that allows easier access for preventive maintenance and washdowns. Graybill designed in safety features aimed at preventing employee injury, saving product materials, and avoiding catastrophic breakdowns. An easy-to-reach, length of machinery, “E-Stop” safety-chord is installed, and finally a quieter generation of technology. The new production lines are variable-speed and continuous motion.

From loading dough, injecting fillings and toppings, and all the way to the oven, no human hand touches the product. The customer’s new machinery produces “Grab-N-Go” snack cakes at up to 1000 cakes per minute, and snack pies at up to 30,000 per hour. Continuous operation delicately guides and decorates the snack cakes, and makes-up two-crust snack pies ready for their oven. Controls enable “on-the-fly” adjustable filling weights and volumes, icing and topping deposit starting and stopping points, and more. Skirting and polycarbonate safety guards are positioned for employee and product protection. Emergency-stop button devices are strategically positioned along the machinery at all functional process stations and covers.

Special ingredients

The customer can now mix its special ingredients; load the jellies, creams, and toppings; set a topping pattern, and watch Graybill’s baked dessert confectionery snack cake lines craft its signature icing-topped, jelly- or cream-filled favorites by the truckloads. The machinery was designed with quality components, and was fully functional and tested before delivery and installation. Benefits included:

  • Easier and more accessible lubrication and sanitation
  • Safer production operation
  • Reduced return on investment (ROI) time line to half of the expected outcome; efficiencies in processes credited
  • More manageable production line with on-the-fly adjustment capabilities
  • Increased speed efficiency having machinery assemble products
  • Products organized into rows and lanes for next steps, maximizing transfer of product to oven and packaging
  • Fewer hand touches address food safety concerns.

This customer’s production went from a two-shift per week schedule to 6 days of 3 shifts per day and increased production efficiencies and product quality, and made unprofitable products profitable.

- Ric See does business development for Graybill Machines Inc., custom machinery designers and builders based in Lititz, Pa. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, mhoske(at)


Key concepts

  • Automation improves quality, throughput of baked goods.
  • Automated machines improve safety, decrease risk.
  • Return on investment (ROI) was half the estimate.

Consider this

Re-examining manual or semi-manual processes may reveal opportunities for consistency, speed, and flexibility gains, while reducing employee risk.

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