George Brace, an engine driver from the Cambrian Colliery in the Rhondda Village of Clydach Vale, decided to open a small bakery and started a business that is now a highly respected plant bakery, still run and managed by his family.

Brace kept his day job, while the rest of his family helped to develop the bakery at Pontllanfraith, until a mining disaster in 1905 claimed the lives of 31 of his colleagues. He never went back and focused instead on developing Brace’s bakery.

Now a large plant bakery, it is run by the fourth generation of the family from two sites in South Wales and turns over in excess of £35m, employing more than 350 people. The business passed from George to his eldest son Ernest and then on to his eldest, Colin Brace, who at 88 is still chairman. But it is Colin’s two sons MD Mark and operations director Jonathan who have taken the business from the local baker with van sales and their own shops to being a regional plant baker the number one brand in South Wales and the West Country, and the UK’s fourth biggest bread brand, according to ACNielsen.

Technology in hand

Brace’s prides itself on investing in new plant and equipment and has grasped new technology with both hands, saying it now has some of the best bread bakeries with the most efficient plants in the UK.

When Jonathan Brace first saw the Benier Mi600 HDS moulder in a European bakery, he says that he instantly knew it was right, and ordered two for Brace’s new high-output bakery at Pen Y Fan, commissioned in 2004. Brace’s was so pleased that, in 2009, it ordered a further two machines for its latest plant at Croespenmaen and, in 2010, another machine for an existing line. Adrian McGrath, engineering manager at Brace’s, who managed the installation programme, says: "We chose to buy the Benier Mi600 HDS again, because of repeatability. It knocks out the same product every time, whether it is 400g or 800g and has the most consistent four-piecing."

The Mi600 HDS is a heavy-duty industrial moulder, suitable for tin or free-standing bread. There are two versions one with retracting belts that drop the bread into the tins, while the tumbling belts let the bread roll into them. Benier uses a ’pressure-based sheeting system’, where the dough sheet is guided on polished stainless steel drums. The dough pieces are stuck to the drum to ensure they stay central and are kept under tension, so they don’t shrink back. The dough can actually be stretched as it is pulled off the drum.

The peeling roller ’peels’ the leading edge of the dough piece off the sheeting drum and puts a lip on the front edge, ready to commence curling at a speed marginally faster than the surface drum. This ensures tight curling, free of trapped air due to poor folding, and some degree of dough sheet stretch between sheeting and curling.

McGrath adds: "The fact that the dough is tightly curled gives it extra strength and the lack of entrapped air leads to a much better end-product. Changing products can also be done quickly and easily, ensuring we can produce a wide range of goods using the one piece of kit."

Benier provides a full back-up service, with engineers from the Netherlands joining forces with the firm’s UK team to support installation. All software was written by Benier to accommodate the Mitsubishi Standard Platforms preferred by Brace’s and the moulders were tailor-made to suit the company’s requirements.

Brace’s has also invested in bakeware from Kaak (a division of Benier UK’s parent company) where the deep-drawn design of the tin means it can be formed in one piece around a tool and mould. This ensures consistency in manufacturing tolerances, aiding bakeware life and sustaining baking characteristics. The quality of the baking surface is also a key factor and Kaak offers a number of exclusive coatings to guarantee optimal depanning for every product and type of pan.

Benier’s UK operation provides back-up support. McGrath says: "We did trawl the market before our latest installation, but none of the moulders we saw had the superior engineering we wanted."