This article was published in the May 2024 issue of Pet Food Processing. Read it and other articles from this issue in our May digital edition. 

The production of pet food and treats is a multifaceted process that involves a range of processing systems, starting from the time ingredients are combined all the way to when finished product is packaged. Every stage of the process is essential to producing the diverse array of products available on the market today, including the large variety of dry pet food and baked treats on the shelves.

The effectiveness and cost efficiency of many of these operations heavily hinge on the functionality of their baking systems. Present-day providers of baking systems go beyond basic ovens; today they are offering comprehensive solutions tailored to streamline production for processors. 

Advancements in baking systems for pet food and treats encompass several trends. These include the incorporation of energy-efficient technologies to diminish environmental impacts and decrease operational expenses. Additionally, there’s a growing trend to embrace automation and robotics to elevate efficiency, uniformity and accuracy during baking, and diminish the reliance on manual labor. 

Furthermore, there’s a focus on creating multi-functional equipment capable of executing various tasks such as mixing, shaping, baking and cooling within a unified system, thereby optimizing both space and resource utilization.

The industry has also seen a rise in advanced monitoring and control systems using sensors, data analytics and real-time feedback mechanisms to ensure product quality, consistency and safety throughout the baking process.

Baker Perkins’ TruBake oven system for pet food processors

Baker Perkins’ TruBake oven system offers a modular design which allows for rapid installation, as well as easy and accessible sanitation. 

Source: Baker Perkins Inc.

Baker Perkins recently developed the TruBake Oven Series after realizing the need for a baking oven that was modular for rapid installation anywhere in the world. The oven also provides more output in a smaller footprint, offers uniform and consistency in products, reduces energy consumption, provides quick product changeover via recipes, and is easier to clean and maintain.

The TruBake oven includes large doors at every module to allow easy and accessible sanitation during downtime. The oven has been redesigned to move the maintenance of burners and blowers so these are accessible without requiring maintenance to get on the oven roof — instead, they can be monitored and maintained at the side of the oven.

“Baker Perkins and our sister companies offer complete baked treat lines from ingredient handling, mixing, dough feed and baking ovens,” said Mark Glover, product manager for baked products and extrusion for the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company. “This equipment is traditionally used for a full range of dog biscuits, but by adding our servo topping technology, our customers can create unique biscuits similar to human food.”

The company also offers extruded and co-extruded pet treat equipment and can extend its confectionery line of equipment into the pet treat market to offer deposited pet treats.  

“With our current baked treat equipment range, our customers see the benefit of increased output in a smaller footprint,” Glover said. “Our TruBake oven offers more production with less energy. Adding co-extrusion to our SBX range of extruders extends the pet treat product range to unique shapes and fillings.”

The TruClean equipment and TruBake oven were developed as a hygienic design and simple operation so product changeover does not require tools, allowing workers to perform this function versus requiring maintenance.  

“Controls have been upgraded with recipe functions on HMI screens for repeatable and simple adjustments,” Glover said. “Baker Perkins has implemented Industry 4.0 so we have included screens for manuals, monitoring downtime, uploading to customer’s operating systems and maintenance functions.”


Green baking

Embracing sustainable practices in baking system design and operation, such as using renewable energy sources, reducing waste generation and implementing eco-friendly packaging solutions, is something more suppliers are striving toward.

Dulcinea Freymoyer, vice president of marketing for Reading Bakery Systems (RBS), Robesonia, Pa., noted the industry is talking about alternative fuels for baking.

“The goal is to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy that minimizes or eliminates any impact to the environment that greenhouse gases can cause,” said Dulcinea Freymoyer of Reading Bakery Systems.

“Electric ovens will play a huge role as the market for baked goods such as pet treats and pet food grow, to help make the world a better place,” she said. “The goal is to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy that minimizes or eliminates any impact to the environment that greenhouse gases can cause.”

RBS has filled these requests by offering electric energy options for its ovens in an attempt to become more “green.” 

“We designed our ovens to bake with either natural gas or electricity,” Freymoyer said. “Even if you purchased an oven today or in the last five-plus years that currently runs on fossil fuels, you can simply replace penthouses, converting your source of energy for our ovens from gas to electricity.”

Replacing older ovens in production can easily reduce gas consumption by half, she explained, as these newer RBS ovens are easier to operate for optimal baking curves, eliminating all dampers for better operator control, and offering thicker insulation to reduce energy loss.  

“Newer oven sales will often include an RBS Scorpion oven data logger,” Freymoyer said. “Our data logger can graph the temperature, heat flux, humidity and air flow throughout the tunnel oven giving our customers a better understanding to define the optimal baking curve and maximize throughput for an oven system.”

Baking systems are designed to produce a range of pet foods and treats in a variety of shapes, formats and formulas

Baking systems are designed to produce a range of pet foods and treats in a variety of shapes, formats and formulas.

Source: Baker Perkins Inc.
In most cases, replacing ovens that are more than 20 years old alone can significantly reduce gas consumption, as most older ovens were built back when gas consumption was not a concern and gas costs were low.

 “This is just the first step,” Freymoyer said. “The next step, when the infrastructure is in place, is to replace the penthouse for each zone on our ovens changing from gas to electricity. This flexibility enables you to select the best option for today and tomorrow.

“Each zone for an RBS electric oven comes with five set points: top heat, bottom heat, top air, bottom air and exhaust. Each standard zone comes with two blowers, one for top and one for bottom, whereas most of our competitors will try to utilize a single blower and several dampers to control the air flow.

“Dampers over time will become stuck and operators will forget the proper positioning to achieve the ideal baking curve and efficient bake,” Freymoyer continued. “The controls for the top, bottom and exhaust are all set from 0% to 100%, making it very intuitive. Of course, the temperature is set as required. Each zone as well as our dryers are set up this way, making it easy to train new operators and developing the optimal baking curve for your product.”


Space is key

Maximizing available real estate on the production floor is a priority for all processors including those in the pet food space.

BAK Food Equipment's spiral oven solution for pet food processing

BAK’s spiral oven solution provides processors with an answer to the footprint challenge. The system utilizes vertical space instead of taking up a large amount of space on the production floor. 

Source: BAK Food Equipment

“The footprint of your solution, and how to maximize production with limited floor space, is almost always an introductory call question that we receive, and it can often be the deciding factor,” said Zack Olson, manager of growth strategy and innovation for BAK Food Equipment, Burr Ridge, Ill. “We have responded by carrying the main industry-leading options for baking systems that take limited floor space into account.”

That includes both an in-line solution and a spiral solution, which add to production capabilities by utilizing both floor and vertical space. Both range in capacity and capability, but most importantly, the company can fit either into practically any footprint the customer has available.

“In reference to our in-line and spiral baking solutions, the spiral units are built to the customer’s specifications, so no two units are the same,” Olson said. “The client can specify exact parameters that need to be met in terms of footprint, baking surface area/space, throughput and operational controls. From there, we will build a machine that achieves those parameters.”

BAK’s in-line unit features modular solutions, which allows clients to add capacity without having to purchase an entire line by simply adding another node. All types of products can be produced on either unit — from dried cat treats to baked dog biscuits, these units cover a wide variety of products within the pet food industry.

“All of our equipment is built to seamlessly integrate into existing facilities with no headache,” said Zack Olson of BAK Food Equipment.

“All of our equipment is built to seamlessly integrate into existing facilities with no headache,” Olson said. “We can build an oven to hook up to an existing proofing spiral, or we can design an in-line unit that feeds a blast freezer, among other applications. Our control systems can be discrete/stand alone or connected to larger IT control systems.”

Maintenance is also taken into account with the oven solutions. All applicable BAK equipment comes with clean-in-place systems that drastically reduce the maintenance needed and increase the longevity of the equipment, according to the company. 

“We also choose best-in-class components and materials to maximize quality while reducing the chances of cross contamination and other concerns,” Olson said. 

These trends reflect the industry’s ongoing efforts to innovate and adapt to evolving consumer preferences, regulatory requirements and sustainability concerns in the pet food and treat market.

Find more articles about the latest pet food processing technologies on our Equipment page.