It’s a fairly tricky ask, reinventing the wheel - possibly as challenging as reinventing that bakery stalwart, the divider moulder. "There’s a lot of old equipment out there that’s just brought back with a facelift," is the assessment from Interbake’s David Dunne, which would be a somewhat downbeat way to open an article on innovations in this area of the machinery market. Thankfully, he adds that the bits that have been developed in recent times are simple tweaks to make day-to-day operations easier. That can mean anything from safeguarding against manky dough festering around your kit to cutting out the need for multiple machines for different-sized dough pieces.

At one time, machines would be restricted to a certain weight range, but Dutch supplier Daub Bakery Machinery has made a stab at overhauling this, by offering interchangeable heads. So instead of having two or three different machines doing a range of weights, you can have just one. The firm has even put it on castors, so you can move it around to clean. "Immovable machines become health hazards, with bits of dough fermenting around them unseen," says Dunne, who supplies Daub in the UK. "As a consequence, they’re absolutely minging underneath. Having it on castors is not rocket science, but little improvements can make a big difference."

The range of equipment encompasses both hydraulic and volumetric dough dividers. And because the parts are coated with teflon, it prevents dough from sticking. "These are just a few of the features that have been thought about with care, to make it practical in use," he says. "Another feature is that you used to have to cantilever the head over to clean it. But because they were top-heavy, the machines would come crashing over! Now you just take out the pin and the whole thing swivels round. You don’t need to be an 18-stone gorilla to clean the machine - a little girl could do it."

Techie spec

l Daub’s Slim Divider is claimed to have a gentle action on the dough; this is due to a pressureless measuring system that’s based on a vacuum method, which prevents the dough from being compressed

l There are three models, ranging from 80-700g, 200-1,400g and 300-1,700g

l They can produce between 700-1,100 pieces of dough per hour

l The Teflon-coated hopper has a 90kg dough capacity.

While Dunne believes the Daub is equal to manual dividing, craft bakers are sometimes suspicious of using dividing and moulding technology for artisan breads. The argument is that you lose the attractive open-crumb texture of some traditional breads by machining the dough. But Gregory Moutry, a French baker and sales manager of French flour supplier Moul-bie, says times are changing.

At the Baking Industry Exhibition in April, he helped demonstrate the Bongard Paneotrad divider and moulder on behalf of Mono Equipment, which he believes overcomes the problem of damaging the dough. He says you can use the machine to divide baguettes, half-baguettes and petits pains and then personalise them with your own cuts and twists.

"Paneotrad can make lots of French kinds of bread, and it will divide the dough for you without damaging the open structure of the bread," he says, adding that it can handle anything from white flour to brown flour, sourdough or poolish. What’s more, he says, it can manage different kinds of dough, from very wet to very tight. "We tried it out with 80% water, and the dough can still go through the machine without problem," he recalls. "We also used it to make a lot of brioches. It doesn’t press the dough too much - the dough stays soft - and it doesn’t break the texture inside. Before, you could use a machine but not have the open texture, because it was too heavy on the bread - it’s a new technology."

Techie spec

l The Paneotrad comes with three dividing trays and a forming die and there are options for a number of forming dies, for making anything from baguettes to brioches

l Loaves are divided in less than a minute

l It comes supplied with a table-top depanning device, with an optional mobile tub storage table and flour duster.

Another development in not overworking the dough has come from Reiser, with its updated Vemag bread dividers. The machine has a ’positive displacement pump’, which basically means it’s 100% efficient - anything that goes in comes out. "With some machines, when the product is pumped forward, some product flows back on itself and starts to create problems with the dough becoming over-worked," says Reiser UK managing director Peter Mellon.

He says it is a unique piece of equipment, because it can be used in a single-lane configuration for dividing standard 800g portions of bread dough while guaranteeing weight accuracy. Then, with an attachment, it can be changed over to a multi-lane configuration for bread rolls. It can also handle standard bread doughs through to multi-grain varieties without any changes to the machine,

But possibly the most attractive benefit in these cost-conscious times is the potential savings from not having to use mineral oil to stop dough sticking on the cutting parts. This, alone, he says, could save in excess of £15,000 a year on a bakery running 24 hours a day. "That’s a huge cost for the baker, so it’s quite a substantial saving," he says. There are also smaller models available for small to medium-sized bakeries, which again can run multi-lane for rolls via an attachment or can be used for cookies, muffins or bagels.

"It can even sheet brownies or flapjacks, so we believe it is one of the most versatile machines on the market. Bakers no longer want a piece of equipment that can do just one thing. They want to do shorter runs of multiple things."

Techie spec

l The Vemag comes in models suited to small, medium and large capacity production

l Smaller portioning applications would typically feature a Vemag Robot 500B with a 4" guillotine cut-off attachment for achieving precise weights and portions, even for fluid or viscous products

l For larger capacity, the double-screw pump of the HP 25E provides high levels of portioning accuracy at rates of up to 300 loaves per minute, both for open and tight crumb structures.


=== Bolder moulders for bigger bakers ===

Another unit that requires no lubrication or greasing, making it cost-effective while protecting the dough quality, is the Mondial Forni Pico divider-rounder, which is a wheel-mounted unit that has been developed to clean and maintain easily. Furthermore, the dough rollers and scrapers are removable, and the excess dough is simply removed from the drawers beneath.

The stainless steel hopper, lined with a non-stick Teflon coating, holds up to 10kg of dough, whether it is made with white flour, rye flour or has a high water content. The divider-rounder features a control panel with up to 50 programmes, specifying piece weight (30g to 130g), production capacity and rounding requirements. There are options for a powered unloading belt or a two-belt unit. This model, now available from CBES Food Systems, is said to produce anything from 1,500 to 3,500 pieces per hour.

Topping that on the volume stakes is the latest version of the two-pocket König Mini-Rex, The Futura, which is claimed to produce up to 4,000 dough pieces an hour. It has a small footprint and can handle a wide range of doughs, with a gentle dividing and rounding action. Enhancements to the design of the dividing and rounding system on the machine mean the weight range has been extended to 25g-140g dependent on the dough. In addition, the recently improved design of the pistons and rounding system is said to give a bolder mould to dough pieces. This can also store 50 product settings, controlling dough piece weight, stroke speed, run quantity, rounding speed, rounding pressure and rounding action.