Selling a concept and delivering a tailored product best describes what Spooner Industries has done successfully for over 80 years. Problem solving for customers is the operational norm, delivering pioneering engineering and manufacturing excellence through tailored solutions for many industries including food. The unique forced convection technologies of Spooner have been developed and adapted to suit the needs of a variety of industrial processes requiring the movement of air to heat, prove, bake, cool, dry or cure products. They incorporate high performance airflow and control technologies together with energy efficient measures throughout.
All custom designed and manufactured to a very high standard, Spooner baking, proving, toasting, drying and cooling solutions have a reputation for quality, flexibility, ease of control and reliability across an extensive range of food applications.
In 2000 having re-entered the food market, Spooner Industries began to step up its investment in test facilities. The increasing competitiveness particularly in the bakery sector called for continual innovation whilst the need to enhance production and energy efficiencies pushed the boundaries on NPD and manufacturing improvements. To meet these demands and avoid unnecessary delays and potential production downtime for manufacturers, the importance of R&D is now well recognised together with the significant part it plays in both product and process development. The Spooner test facility now caters for extensive applications across many industries but essentially is based on any process that involves forced air convection. It houses dedicated test machinery for food and other markets such as converting, metals and paper including processes such as flotation.
Spooner continued to upgrade the test centre, reconstructing the whole facility as a dedicated R&D Centre when the company moved to brand new purpose-built facilities in 2008. Equipment upgrades included new control panels using the latest PLC systems and HMI touch screen control options whilst facilities were scaled up with the installation of a dedicated food pilot line. This continues to remain unique to Spooner today.
Completely adaptable to model customer processes across a wide variety of applications, the pilot line can facilitate the development of new, variations and testing on a huge variety of bakery products and prototypes. It also provides the opportunity to demonstrate successful operation of Spooner technology as each project is custom designed and manufactured to meet specific customer requirements. Apprentices – essential to future business success – derive invaluable benefits from test procedure observation which promotes understanding of machine operation, base design, modifications and why/how these may be necessary. For customers, pilot line testing is an invaluable tool. Providing significant data and avoiding costly downtime, it validates new and enhanced products at a fraction of the cost of developing these on a full production line. In addition with settings already identified and validated during trials, on-site start-up times are considerably reduced.
R&D is now an integral part of Spooner Industries. Headed up by Dan Kirk, his team of engineers is supplemented by test centre staff and Spooner specialists (sales, engineering design, project or on-site technical personnel for example) who have the necessary experience relevant to the particular project in hand. Commencing with robust exploration of a project, details are meticulously specified based on the job required – equipment modification, new process to customer or Spooner, new product, optimisation etc. Trials can take from as little as ½ day to 4 weeks (or sometimes longer) and may involve other suppliers to ensure the customer process is truly replicated for reliable results. The Technical Library at Spooner holds over 60 years of test records, affording an excellent reference point whilst validating the experience and technical expertise that remains exclusive to Spooner and complimented by the specialist knowledge of the R&D personnel.
The facility can adequately cater for up to 10 people and provides a viewing gallery and dedicated meeting room for customers. It houses a High Speed Coating Line, Through Air Dryer, separate test Bakery area including a batch oven for lower quantity sampling, amongst other smaller pieces of test equipment. In reality the centre has extensive test rig building capabilities and can be re-engineered and configured for most technical processes and to mirror specific customer processes.
The Bakery area houses pre-bake equipment to mix and prove; post bake equipment including an impingement cooler and chiller cabinet; alongside facilities for data logging product heating/cooling curves. The three section travelling oven is direct gas fired and also has options of steam, gas fired infrared and forced convection/radiant style operation. Independent temperature and airflow controls are a feature of each section providing total flexibility to optimise bake times/profiles.
Due to the range of products tested, the experience gained has led to technological advancements such as the high-temperature Spooner ribbon and infrared burner. Devised specifically for crisp bread products which require a very specific baking profile, this new heat source variation was originated through the significant test work undertaken by Spooner at the R&D Centre. Improving the speed of heat up and cool down, providing greater controllability and switching power sources to gas from electricity has also resulted in the provision of significant energy efficiencies on many projects. Lowering energy consumption, improving costs and increasing production capabilities are common themes from customers who seek to optimise processes without compromising the quality of their product. Other bakery projects have covered prototyping hot plate ovens and testing bake times, temperatures, airflows and cooling on an extruded cake bar line.
The Spooner R&D centre is available to new and existing customers; whilst the availability of unique equipment has also led to approaches from industry that have gone on to use the facilities for exclusive research. The company has for example worked with Universities collaborating with industrial engineers on postgraduate studies and on energy saving initiatives with the Carbon Trust.
Technology partnerships are also encouraged and currently a new initiative between Spooner Industries and a local specialist R&D facility presents a unique service to the snack food industry. With the increasing popularity of ‘healthy’ savoury snacks, emphasis in production has changed to baking instead of frying. With specific process knowledge of extruded baked snack products, the process does not rely on the use of premium grade ingredients, thereby lowering raw ingredient costs. No additives are necessary and the speed of the process maintains nutrients within the finished product, all contributing to a healthier product.
Michael Lomas, Food Sales Manager said:
“Spooner has always been about developing new technology, so this collaboration opens up a whole new avenue of enquiries where we can offer snack producers something genuinely unique that will contribute towards their own business success.”
Combining resources provides direct access to technology delivering fresh snack innovation and opportunities to increase profit margin and faster sales growth; plus experienced manufacturing capabilities for bespoke ovens, dryers and coolers for a full snack range including potatoes, tortillas, cereal, granola, cookies, snack cakes and crackers.
For the future Spooner has plans to expand the R&D facility again, to provide an exclusive customer facing Technology Centre. Testing facilities will be extended and continue to cater for many industries, together with the added capability to build prototypes. A wish list also includes a full bakery line including pressurised high speed mixing, moulding and sheeting together with a tunnel prover. The aim is to house a facility that not only tests products but develops them based on the innovation and technology on which Spooner has built its success.
Dan Kirk, Research & Development Manager said:
“Developing technology is inherent in the Spooner culture. The customers we work with are constantly striving for a competitive edge through product or process improvements, and our expertise helps them get there”.