A manufacturer of high-speed equipment for the production of bread and soft rolls, AMF Bakery Systems focuses on innovation. As Rachel Hartman’s profile indicates, this concentration enabled the Virginia-based company to attain – and then maintain – an industry leading position.
AMF Bakery Systems manufactures equipment for high-volume bakeries that concentrate on breads and soft rolls. But that only hints at the company’s enormous impact. Tim Cook, the company’s vice president of sales, marketing and product management, provides a broader perspective: “We are the only company that can supply an entire line for the production of pan bread, from mixing the ingredients, to baking the bread, and to packaging and distributing the shipping containers to the dock door.”
He further underscores AMF’s enormous influence: “Around the world, virtually every McDonald’s hamburger bun is produced either wholly or partially on our equipment.”
Within the wholesale baking industry, it can’t get any better than that. But that’s just one aspect of AMF’s multi-dimensional operation. When it comes to bread, AMF equipment is involved in the manufacture of nearly every loaf of bread placed on U.S. grocery shelves. In addition, bakeries using AMF equipment provide bread and soft rolls to restaurants, cafeterias and other institutions.
It comes down to touch: Many consumers imprint their fingers and thumbs upon products that roll out from company equipment: loaf bread, hamburger rolls, dinner rolls, submarine sandwich bread, hot dog buns, English muffins and even tortillas.
CELEBRATING 95 YEARS
The company’s roots date back to 1915, reveals Cook. But birth date is nowhere near as important as what occurred in ensuing decades, when AMF Bakery continuously developed and expanded its product line. “We’ve made the journey from being a unit supplier of equipment to a full systems provider for the production of wholesale bread and soft rolls,” he notes.
Today, the company is headquartered in Richmond, Va., the location of its 150,000-square-foot production facility. It also has a plant in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, that contains 125,000 square feet for manufacturing operations.
Recently, AMF Bakery set its sights on growth in the international market. Relates Cook: “We’ve built upon our base in the Asia Pacific region by adding a manufacturing site in Tianjin, China, as well as a sales, parts and service office in Beijing. These facilities complement our longstanding Singapore office.”
Further, to cover the European market, the company has had an office in Leeds, England for many decades. In addition, it has satellite offices that cover Latin American (Mexico, Central America and South America) and the Middle East.
The company’s core strengths reside in innovation and reliability, and it follows these up with “Total Life Care” of the equipment after installation. It starts with ingredient mixing. “Our horizontal bowl mixers handle up to 3,200 pounds of dough per batch,” says Larry Gore, director of sales and marketing.
To produce a quality product while working with such large amounts of dough, the company pioneered a technology that helps control the mixing process. Called the Dough Guardian, this electronic system monitors inputs and analyzes the mixing process, giving the baker more control over the process. Control leads to consistency from batch to batch. Observes Gore: “Historically, many companies mixed for a certain period of time, but new electronic systems allow us to mix to energy. We can look at a graph on our Dough Guardian system and tell when the dough has been fully developed in the mixing process, whether that be eight, 10, or 12 minutes.”
Also relating to the mixing process, AMF designed components to control dough temperature, including chilling systems inside of the bowl itself and cooling methods that operate through the internal mixing components. “With different cooling options in our mixer, our customers have the ability to control the temperature,” explains Gore, adding, “if it’s 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the plant, it may need a different cooling profile than if it is 70 degrees in the plant.”
In the AMF dough makeup systems (which divide large batches of dough into individual shapes ready to be baked) the company has designed an innovative extrusion dividing process. Variation in the dividing process of competitors’ equipment is often two to three percent, but AMF’s is 0.5 to one percent. Through reduction in product giveaway, this adds a significant amount of money to the customer’s bottom line. This leads Gore to correctly conclude, “AMF is the market leader in extrusion dividing for bread and buns, as we offer the market’s most precise scaling.”
Also, in the dividing process, AMF recently redesigned and improved a technology that had been in the industry for a significant amount of time but was inefficient in terms of speed and portion accuracy. “We just introduced a new ram and shear divider called the Servotech,” says Cook. “It approaches the speed and the portion accuracy we’ve been able to achieve on extrusion dividers.”
With this, AMF can now offer customers two options for extruding and dividing dough: extrusion or ram and shear. Whereas ram and shear dividing lagged behind extrusion in terms of performance in the past, both options now produce similar results.
When it comes to ovens, customers find that AMF products offer an innovative design to control the temperature through the oven, providing a consistent baking process. AMF ovens are also the most energy efficient on the market. “We’ve come up with a new technology that allows our ovens to be up to 20 percent more efficient in the amount of gas used per pound of product produced,” Cook explains. For customers running systems for multiple shifts (up to seven days a week) savings quickly add up.
After the baking and the cooling, AMF-designed automated equipment slices, packages and robotically places product in a shipping container. The robotic element indicates how the company has been able to increase production efficiency for its customers. “We can load bread faster and stack and unstack pans in a much more efficient fashion,” says Cook.
In addition to reducing the amount of damage done to product and pans, the robotic systems also allow bakers to use employees in less labor-intensive positions that don’t entail highly repetitive motions – an important consideration, as highly repetitive tasks lead to physical deterioration in workers’ hands, arms and backs.
AMF is a robotics innovator, as it has designed a universal end-of-arm tool (EOAT) to give customers more options. “It can automatically be set to load whatever products and patterns you have coming to it,” says Cook.
Ultimately, customers benefit from having one tool that can perform a variety of tasks for a wide range of products.
AMF recently designed a machine that combines the slicing and bagging process into one unit. With this new design, a loaf of bread enters the machine, gets sliced, bagged and finally exits the machine. This increases the efficiency, safety and sanitation in the slicing and bagging process.
Looking toward the company’s future, Cook envisions two main focuses. “To better serve our ever expanding customer base, we’ll continue to increase our global footprint at the same time that we seek to expand and innovate our product line,” he says.
For instance, the wholesale bakery industry is very dynamic and customers continually come up with new production challenges and new requirements in their quest to be innovative and competitive, observes Cook. “One of these areas involves designing equipment that will allow customers to run a wider variety of dough and produce a wider variety of products on a single production line,” he relates.
The ability to provide innovative solutions that truly benefit customers has brought AMF to the head of the pack, and the company plans to stay at the top. After all, it has led its industry in new products, designs and solutions. That’s its bread and butter, and don’t expect anything to change.