Providing a much-needed service to the bakery industry, GEA technology is enabling customers to switch their existing gas ovens to electric power. The key driver is a more environmentally sustainable manufacturing environment and the need to reduce their reliance on increasingly expensive gas supplies.
Overview and keypoints
In the last few years, says Paolo Betto, Application Manager, Cracker and Hard Sweet Technologies at GEA Bakery, we’ve noticed a growing interest and requirement amongst our global customers to transfer production away from gas fueled ovens to electrical ones. This is being driven by a commitment to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions as much as possible and protect the environment. What they’ve been asking us is whether they can continue to use existing ovens but replace the original gas burners with electric heaters. The answer is yes! With some modifications to their existing ovens, GEA Bakery is able to retrofit electrical heaters into direct gas fired ovens and/or convection fueled versions.
“Our solution is very versatile,” adds GEA Project Manager, Marco Girimondo: “The electrical heaters provide the required radiation energy but our plant also offers additional features that might be needed for specific baking processes.” In the baking chamber, for example, steam can be injected — when needed — through the electrical heaters to mimic the presence of water vapor (as generated by gas combustion). Air can also be introduced in the same way to create any required turbulence. Combined, these features provide a huge level of flexibility and ensure that our customers can reach their bakery goals in terms of product quality, energy efficiency and sustainability.
“Here in GEA, we’ve become experts at converting gas tunnel ovens into electrical ones by looking at two main factors: product quality and the (thermal) baking process. Using electricity instead of natural gas offers many advantages, both for the environment and our customers. They benefit from energy savings, lower maintenance costs, a safer production plant environment and a carbon-neutral baking thermal process,” says Jessica Sforzini, Innovation Manager.
Another important advantage of converting to an electric oven is safety; they don’t require the installation of explosive vents and, as a result, insurance costs are cheaper. In addition, as part of GEA’s commitment to service and support, our experts are always available to guide companies on their journey of transition from gas to electric ovens.
Taking a technical approach
Jessica Sforzini explains that, during the development phase, GEA conducted many tests and trials with the universities of Verona and Vicenza to show customers that the end products that were made with the gas oven were identical to those made with the original electric one.
“One of the most important tools we use to perfect our food production equipment is the taste panel test. This, of course, involves human subjects who sample the products. It’s the gold standard … but it’s also subjective. So, even though they’re incredibly valuable, these results need to be supported by technical data and so on.”
“It’s really important for our customers to understand that there is a scientific basis behind their solution … and not just human interpretation. Many of the companies we partner with have been producing cookies and baked products in the same way for up to 30 years; now, although they’re keen to invest in modern technology, they want to be sure that, really, nothing has changed. It can be unsettling for some people.”
Fabio Favati, Associate Professor of Food Science & Technology at the University of Verona, explains the process: “In co-operation with GEA, we are exploring how changing from gas to electricity affects baked products. Our research activity focuses on three different bakery products: snack crackers, sweet biscuit and rotary molded cookies. We measure the color of the final products with a colorimeter to create impartial data. As such, we have an instrument-derived measurement of the color. At the same time, we’re also using a consumer panel to evaluate how these products look because, in terms of perception, the human eye is very different from an electronic piece of equipment.”
“We’re also looking at the rheological properties of the products and their breaking points. Again, we’re using instrument-based analyses to create the data and provide actual numbers. As well, there’s an ISO-compliant sensory lab we can use in which we’re asking a test panel whether they perceive any differences between sample products. We don't provide any information about how, say, the cookies or biscuits are made; we just give them two different cookies and ask them to give a personal or subjective evaluation according to their own point of view.”
As a consumer, the subjects examine the color — under conditions that are similar to a home environment — and also how the cookie or biscuit breaks. Does it have a nice “snap” or just crumble? “Something else we’re examining is how the product absorbs water. Essentially, it’s a dunk test. We try to physically reproduce what happens when the cookie or biscuit is dipped into milk or tea, for example. It shouldn’t be too soft or immediately collapse into the cup.”
“By acquiring all this physical, chemical and sensory data, we can create a science-based impression of how the two different baking systems affect the products. We want to know if the end products are the same, slightly different or not at all comparable. With this information, we’ll be able to better understand how operators need to use the Retrofit processing line to achieve exactly the same results and create baked goods that are indiscernible from those made on a traditional gas-fueled line.”
“In summary,” says Jessica Sforzini, “in terms of quality, we’ve compared the results obtained using a traditional gas-fired system with those from a duplicate oven that has been converted to electric; objective test analyses have clearly shown that the two products are very similar if not completely identical.”
One of the key benefits is the versatility of the system. Customers can actually switch from gas to electric and back again according to their production needs. The specific requirements of a particular product may define which one of the two systems (or both) should be used to optimize the process. It might also depend on the price of a given fuel in certain parts of the world. What’s of significant importance, however, is that the changeover can be done very quickly to minimize downtime — and should only take as long as regular maintenance.
As mentioned, another critical consideration is safety. Switching to electric means that gas certification is no longer necessary. Furthermore, maintenance is reduced, and the risk of explosion is practically eliminated, making the production plant a much safer place for the operators.
“We’ve invested a lot of time and effort in recent years to develop our bakery knowledge base in terms of process engineering and technological competencies to best fulfill the needs of our customer and design the electrical tunnel ovens that the bakery industry relies on.”
“For anyone who’s looking to try before they buy, or just wants further information, GEA Bakery invites potential customers to use our bespoke simulation tool,” says Jessica Sforzini. “They can come and test the Retrofit in a virtual environment and actually discover just how much money they could save by switching to electric.”
A technology towards a better future
The GEA E-Switch Bake was engineered and developed as part of GEA's commitment to sustainability and resource efficiency. This retrofit kit enables users to switch from high-consumption gas ovens to more sustainable electric options, saving up to 14% of energy in the process, in addition to reducing maintenance and gas expenses, allowing a carbon-neutral baking thermal process, and guaranteeing a safer production plant environment.
These factors grant the GEA E-Switch Bake the Add Better label, developed by GEA and validated by TÜV Rheinland, this label is applied to GEA's sustainable solutions that have a verifiable, resource-efficient impact, and meet strict criteria.