Cream industry, developments and technology solutions

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The main leitmotiv underlying technology evolution in the field of creams for confectionery industry may be summarized as follows: modern machinery, aimed at increasing production profitability. Considering only cost-benefit analysis, however, would be restrictive, because in this area several considerations are to be made. First of all, it is not possible to ignore the potential risks for human health associated with the consumption of hygienically unhealthy creams. In this regard, a particularly pressing legislation allows such considerations to be properly inserted in plant design. R&D departments are mainly working in this direction. The problems of the industry, however, are also affected by consumption trends: modernization of confectionery industry lines makes sense if the business works. In this regard, according to data provided by Aidepi (Association of Industries of Italian Sweet Products and Pasta), 2011 performance of the Italian confectionery industry confirms the anti-cyclical nature of industry compared to a situation of crisis virtually affecting all productive sectors. The confectionery industry has recorded a turnover of about € 17 billion, accounting by 13.5% total. Of these, 4.6 billion Euros (more than 20% total) are generated by exports. The trade surplus of the confectionery industry was therefore kept positive, with € 1.5 billion (+10% compared to 2010), but, for a complete and truthful scenario, it should be added that the confectionery industry has closed with a drop (-1.4%), as well as special occasions (Christmas and Easter): -2.3%. Good results have been registered for spreadable sweet creams (+3.1%). In other words, positive performance in the sector is mainly given by cereal-based snacks and pastries stuffed with cream. To sum up, the development analysis in terms of plant innovation should take into consideration a number of aspects strongly related to the intrinsic characteristics of the final product. Therefore, if on the one hand the improvement of the production process should be taken into due consideration both in terms of product quality and optimization of resources, on the other hand one should consider the health and hygiene standards. Moreover, operators are strongly convinced that the design of the ideal plant should also have predictive capabilities. In this way, it would be possible to know in advance the evolution of consumptions which, as it is noted, are not exclusively at the mercy of the crisis. A further factor must be added to customers’ lower spending propensity, which causes customers not to buy sweet products, especially stuffed ones and with cream: attention to diet, and all that goes with it, certainly has a negative impact on the sector. Another sector must-have, therefore, seems to be the consumption containment of fats and sugars in these products. In other words, the lightening of the sweets is a goal which many companies are willing to achieve. How? The goal can be achieved by reducing the overall portions and calories intake. That is why many confectionery industries are changing their strategies: according to Aidepi data, products are being reformulated, this involves a rearrangement of production lines, possible only with expensive investment operations. So, down with waste, down with money waste, up with security and plant monitoring, up with precise dosages, capable of reckoning the caloric filling intake. But there is another factor to be considered. The discussion is about particular products, and therefore the market tends to require versatile and customized machines, able to cope with the different needs of the confectionery industry. Different applications and especially different product variants considerably increase the number of variables and problems with the production cycle and clearly affect the relative technical choices to be implemented in order to accomplish product production and packaging in the most efficient way.

The importance of monitoring

The increased complexity of production lines and, at the same time, the sector regulations related to sanitation aspects, call for the implementation of standardized and repeatable systems as well as rapid and simple control of the lines themselves. In this area (perhaps even more than in others), it is necessary to act in accordance with the strict traceability rules. Therefore, the most suitable are the production lines which allow a complete monitoring of the entire production process, by making it possible to trace at all times all information relating to the product and its ingredients. In this sense, monitoring softwares are increasingly widespread, as they make a series of fundamental operations possible. The plant is under control in all its parts: valves, engines, pipes and all other components are constantly monitored. Operators must, therefore, intervene only if the software detects anomalies. In addition to continuous plant monitoring, the most sophisticated software allows analyzing data and advanced reporting activities. In other words, at any time it is possible to view the production trends and be provided with trend graphs of system performance. Needless to say, these controls would make it possible to intervene in a proactive and timely manner against the occurrence of any alarms. Furthermore, these systems permit the historicization of all variables involved in the process (selections of weights, times and materials) and the creation of a centralized recipes database, so as to allow each production manager to set the machines according to constants and default parameters. The software controls all stages of product processing, from mixing to product refinement and the creation of the cream and storage in tanks. The possibility of real-time controlling the entire production process has of course several advantages. Any deviation from the preset values is immediately detected, thus making an instantaneous and targeted intervention possible precisely at the point of the line where the alarm occurred. Moreover, monitoring the production line enables complete food traceability, according to sector regulations. All phases and production parameters are stored thus it is possible to trace back the whole product, by identifying its individual components.

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