Laser Technology
Wednesday | 06 July, 2016 | 1:46 pm

Bread is life

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Babbco's test bakery, above, lets customers test products and provides the oven maker with intelligence needed to tweak its custom designs. Left, the new LVD Strippit Electra FL-3015 fiber laser has doubled Babbco's output.

Oven maker stokes production with automation and laser technology for higher throughput

July 2016 - With a new restaurant opening every four hours, McDonald’s Corp. makes 9 million pounds of fries per day worldwide, according to U.S. patrons of the fast food chain eat more than 1 billion pounds of beef a year and wash it down with 500 million cups of coffee. 

But for custom tunnel oven builder CH Babb Co. Inc., restaurant food production is small potatoes. The Raynham, Massachusetts-based manufacturer, in business over 90 years, serves up eight types of tunnel ovens, final proofers, custom conveyors and turnkey production lines to industrial bakers, wholesalers and the like. Its equipment is used to make food on a major scale at hourly rates that can approach millions of loaves of bread or pastries. 

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LVD Strippit’s software package makes offline programming and communication between Babbco's fiber laser, CO2 lasers and press brakes both simple and fast.

Although Babbco relies on an old family recipe to preserve the integrity of its lines, it has been turning up the heat on its production technology by adopting new laser-cutting capabilities.

“It’s a simple principle,” says William Foran, great-grandson of founder Charles Babb and CEO of Babbco. “We ask customers what they want. We find it’s the best way to build great products and strong business relationships.” Babbco is also the only tunnel oven manufacturer that “can custom-build any oven with any technology and install it in three days,” he adds.

When expansion prompted the purchase of a CO2 laser and press brake, Babbco also recognized the impact the right equipment could have on the end product and its bottom line. “We knew we wanted one source for both the laser and press brake,” says Babbco Production Manager Paul Novello. “Service and software support were also critical components. LVD Strippit demonstrated they had the options that were important to us.”

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At 300 feet long, one of Babbco’s largest ovens is being assembled for mass production of pastries.

Turning up the heat

Babbco installed an LVD Strippit Axel 3015 CO2 laser, PPEB multi-axis CNC press brake and CADMAN offline programming software back in 2001. 

“The saddle on the race horse was the software,” says LVD Strippit Sales Engineer Brian Pastor. “It had the ability to quickly and accurately program machine tools offline with just a few mouse clicks. At the time no other equipment manufacturer had anything comparable.”

A long-term partnership between Babbco and LVD Strippit commenced. In 2010, Babbco increased production space to 75,000 square feet and added a second LVD Strippit CO2 laser [Axel 4020] followed by a third CO2 [Axel 3015] in 2012. 

“We had worked our way out of plasma,” says Novello. “When we saw how clean a cut the LVD Strippit CO2 laser gave us, we loved it. We ran that laser 10 hours a day to keep up with production. We got so busy that if an operator took a day off, we lost valuable cutting time.”

Although the laser systems worked great, “we noticed how much legwork was involved when operators had to unload between sheets,” Novello recalls. “The extra steps were slowing the machine down and we were losing production time.”

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Babbco’s compact tower automation system has six shelves that can each hold up to 6,000 pounds of stainless.

So Babbco has purchased a load/unload automation system for its Axel 4020, which will be installed in August 2016. 

Continued growth also got Babbco’s production manager thinking about fiber laser technology; LVD Strippit was chosen for its automated sheet handling capabilities and “superior software.” 

The oven maker installed an LVD Strippit Electra FL-3015 fiber laser with a compact tower automation system earlier this year. The machine’s 2G acceleration gives Babbco the high-speed cutting capabilities it needs to meet short delivery and installation schedules. 

With real estate that includes an R&D laboratory and a 15,000-square-foot test bakery, Babbco is the largest stainless steel consumer in New England. 

“We cut between 5,000 and 10,000 pounds of stainless steel a day,” says Novello. “Eighty to 90 percent of bakeries employ stainless. We use [grade] 304 stainless for wash-down environments and [grade] 316 stainless for heavy steam environments.”

Improvements realized

The LVD Strippit tower automation system, featuring six shelves that each hold up to 6,000 pounds, improved Babbco’s material handling practices, according to Novello. “Before installing the fiber laser and automation tower, if we needed nine sheets, that is what we ordered. If parts were scrapped, new stock had to be re-ordered. The automated system makes material ordering and handling much easier.”

Processing framework from steel is also easier. “We modified the CO2 we purchased in 2001 to perform all the structural work we used to do in our machine shop,” explains Novello. 

“A software program from LVD Strippit allows us to perform a pre-burn operation on rust and scale-covered steel to achieve clean cuts and eliminate the need for secondary operations. With the software and the CO2, I can process parts in three hours that used to take a week to complete in the shop. And we still had to contend with burrs. The CO2 cuts clean, allowing us to move parts right to the production floor.”

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An automated material storage and retrieval system keeps pace with the fiber laser’s output.

A single oven has 500 custom parts. “Right now we are building five different ovens for five different companies,” says Novello. “That’s 10,000 to 15,000 parts. When you  run so many parts, components look alike and can mistakenly get picked up for the wrong job.”

Software upgrades from LVD Strippit allows Babbco to use the Electra to etch part numbers onto each component. “Operators used to have to lean across the table, look at a piece of paper and write down the number. Now when they remove nested parts, they are already labeled. The software keeps us organized. Otherwise, we’d have a huge break in our value stream.”

Able to run three to four times faster based on material thickness, the Electra FL-3015 also provides higher accuracy and the ability to cut more intricate parts. 

But it’s the software, Pastor confirms, that moves the needle. Using CADMAN, Novello programs the Electra, the CO2 lasers and the press brakes. “As a result, all the machines are communicating with each other,” he says.

Commercial baking evolves like any other industry over time. “When I started working here 23 years ago, pita bread was big,” Novello recalls. “Pita bread gave way to bagels. Pies and cakes followed. Today the focus is artisan breads.” 

Customers come to Babbco’s factory to fully test their products in the test bakery. “We can pinpoint how hot the oven has to be, how long the bake time needs to be, the percentage of moisture required during the baking cycle and other variables that allow us to tweak an oven design until it is just right.“

He credits the fiber laser and CO2 cutting machines with being integral to building custom tunnel ovens. The speed and efficiency of the Electra has already doubled Babbco’s output and is “well on its way to paying itself off.”  MM

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