The equipment bakers use for applying spray coatings and glazes ranges from basic hand-held spray bottles to highly sophisticated automated systems. Spray automation has huge potential for raising production efficiency, reducing wastage of labour and materials and improving product consistency. But do costs rule it out for all except the biggest firms in the industry? Many smaller and medium-sized bakeries may think so and baulk at the prospective costs of automating, or even mechanising, their spray operations.

Family-owned plant baker William Sword, of Cumbernauld, has chosen a middle route - mechanising a spray coating process in a way that brings immediate benefits, while also laying a foundation for simple automation as output expands.

The Sword family, bakers for over a century, still controls and manages the business it founded in the Lanarkshire town of Airdrie in 1895. Employing 100 staff, William Sword now supplies both fresh and frozen product to small shops at one end of the scale and major supermarkets at the other. Traditional lines, such as its Hyrize pastry, feature in a range that includes a wide variety of bake-off products, as well as frozen pastries.

"Using natural ingredients, we aim to make good quality products as close as can be to their traditional counterparts - while operating to the high standards of hygiene required of a food production factory," says MD Douglas Sword.

Last year the company introduced new equipment for applying a pre-bake coating of egg glaze to pies and sausage rolls. Some 30% of total production is baked (and glazed) on the premises. Previously the glaze was put on by hand from plastic spray bottles, a common practice in the industry, but one not universally approved by Environmental Health inspectors. Moreover, atomisation is poor, nozzles drip and the spray can be difficult to apply evenly. To achieve an even coating, William Sword had used two-person teams on busy lines - one operator spraying and the other smoothing with a hand brush.

In June 2007, this was replaced with a new single-operator mobile spray package from Spraying Systems. Mounted on a two-wheeled cart, the assembly includes a detachable stainless steel 10-gallon pressure vessel and a lightweight spray gun with extended reach, as well as pressure regulators, gauges and hoses. With ’plug and spray’ connection to plant air supply, the two units can be easily moved between four production lines.

Advantages include a dripless nozzle, even coverage and less container filling - the vessel holds enough for an hour’s continuous spraying. Also the gun has a built-in clean-out needle, while the whole system is easily flushed through when spraying is over. n