Here’s the problem: Americans like, want and demand more individualized baked products, especially if they evoke handmade artisan goods, and they’re looking for a good value, too. Yet producing such items consumes time and labor, hardly the most economical of bakery inputs.

The baking industry today faces new needs to differentiate products in customer-oriented ways, notes Patrick Nagel, technical department, sales and customer service for Fritsch USA. “All this is in a market that is changing faster and faster,” he says. Low-price premium products are a particular challenge requiring the baker to react quickly to new requirements. Such products put demands on equipment. Nagel describes these necessities as a combination of great flexibility, gentle dough treatment and high output per hour.

John Giacoio, national sales director for Rheon USA, summarizes the need: “Our whole philosophy is about designing and building equipment to be able to make products that replicate the handmade standard.”

Sheeting is “a natural” for a wide range of baked foods from flatbreads and ciabatta to hearth goods and pizza crust. That’s where automation enters the picture in the form of sheeting systems, especially when those machines can deftly handle the wet, sticky, porous, delicate doughs. The fact that such sheeting lines can also produce hearth breads, pizza crusts and more comes as a welcome bonus to a baker wanting maximum flexibility from his investment.

And the basics of baking apply, too. “Controlling time and temperature and process is the most important part of processing doughs on a sheeting line to get consistent weights and product shape,” observes Patricia Kennedy, president for WP Bakery Group USA.

Moving sensitive doughs from hopper to belt calls for equally sensitive handling. Reiser looks to its flow dividing technology to make very thin, even sheets across the width of the band, explains John McIsaac, vice-president, strategic business development for Reiser. “Some of our customers use our sheeter to sheet pizza dough for calzones and then use finish rollers to get to final thickness. It is a real space saver in a plant,” he says.

WP Bakery Group uses a patented S-shaped roller on its Kemper Pane line. “This is a very gentle, even dough-band forming process using 10 rollers, an infrared sensor for fine adjustments and our new DSC dough stress control technology,” Kennedy says. “We also have a new Kemper guillotine that employs rocking knife motion allowing it to handle very wet doughs so they won’t stick to the guillotine.”