How to scale up a food production process?

Chemical engineers love scaling up, but cooks might not have such a scale up itch in them though. Coming up with recipes and great products might be more their cup of tea. However, if you’d like to sell and market your fantastic recipe you’ll most likely have to scale up the food production process at some point.

Scaling up a food production process sometimes is as simple as buying three extra mixers or buying a larger bag of flour. However, in a lot of instances, that might not be the case! Scaling up of processes involves a lot of other factors, maybe you need a completely different type of oven or mixer?

Therefore, as a part of the scaling up food production series, we’ll be diving into scaling up the process. This guide is useful for both the cook or chef thinking about going larger as well as food producers struggling with the issue themselves.

Scaling up the recipe

Before you can scale up a process, you’ll have to define your recipe, what goes into the process. In a previous post we’ve already discussed scaling up a recipe. At the end of that post we had: a list of ingredients, their quantities (in percentages or weights), portion sizes and knew a little about the loss of ingredients along the way.

Writing down the current process

Once the recipe is ok, you can start looking into the process. Also here we’ll be starting with describing what we’re currently doing. It all starts with writing down the current process in detail. Be sure to write down all the steps you take (you might want to write down why you do something also for future reference).

So if you’re the one wanting to make a 1000 of your famous lemon and cranberry muffins, it might look something like this:

Be sure that you write down every single thing you do. So if you first soak your cranberry’s in water for 5 minutes, write that down. If you dry the cranberries before putting them into the muffins, write that down as well. To keep my example simple, I’ve taken a very simple process in which all I have to do is mix ingredients.

Block diagram

When thinking about scaling up it is useful to transfer your process into a block diagram. In a block diagram you will write down all the steps in a logical order. It will help you to organize the process.

Take each step from your process and write it down in a separate block, connect the blocks with arrows. You’ve now got a concise overview of your process.

If you have trouble determining what goes into the block diagram and what doesn’t, don’t worry. You can further refine the diagram in a later stage once you’ve got a better feel for it. For now, it’s important to start somewhere. Here’s what we did for the muffins:

 

Think in unit operations

Now that you’ve got the process written out it’s time to look how you’re going to do things, what type of equipment you need, etc. For that we’ll be defining unit operations.

Imagine a unit operation as being one piece of equipment, or one job that has to be done. Unit operations describe one subset of processes. For instance, mixing is a unit operation. It requires a certain type of equipment and follows certain design guidelines. Other examples would be drying or refrigeration.

So have a look at the block diagram you made in the previous steps and define the different unit operations at play here. Again, don’t worry if you’re having trouble here. You will improve this process over time and improve the split of unit operations.

See how you can start seeing what you’ll be needing for your process? I’ll need something to bake, something to dose, etc. Even though this might sound super simple, having these unit operations clearly defined will help you in the future. For instance, once you start looking into the actual production you might notice that baking takes very long (25 minutes here), whereas cooling only takes 5 minutes! That might mean your baking equipment has to be larger than your cooling equipment! Seeing them as separate steps helps here.

Define your scale

Now that you’ve got a nice overview of your process, you’re just about ready to think about scaling up. However, you first have to determine where you want to scale up to! That will define how you will scale up all the unit operations. In other words, how much of your product do you want to make in how much time?

If you want to make 100 muffins a day, you’ll need a larger oven than your kitchen oven, but you can still use a similar concept. However, if you plan on making 1000 muffins an hour, you probably cannot place a tray of muffins in the oven and take them out when they’re ready. Instead, you’ll need a continuous oven, where the muffins go through the oven on a belt.

So, determine how large you want to go. Again, don’t be afraid if you don’t know exactly, make a good first guess. Once you’ve done the exercise one time, you’ll be able to refine it later.

Let’s continue with our muffins, let’s say we want to make 1.000 muffins per week.

Define throughputs

Now that you know what you’re aiming for it’s time to make some simple calculations regarding throughput. These might be slightly complex calculations, but think about how much you want to make and in which time span.

Do you think you’ll be producing 24/7? Do you want to make your muffins 5 days a week during 8 hour production runs? For determining scale that’s important. So define exactly how much time you have to make the products you want.

In our muffin example we want to make 1.000 muffins per week. We want to make those in five regular working days per week of each 8 hours. So, that would be 200 muffins per day and a little over 30 muffins per hour.

See where this is going? You’re getting a better and better feel for where you have to go to and how large your scale is.

You’re ready to start

Yes, you’re now ready to start about practically thinking about scale up. Arrange your thoughts and possibilities. Look at the individual unit operations and start making some calculations.

In our case, we want to make 30 muffins per hour. That’s not too many. Let’s have a look at the unit operation ‘baking’. Since the muffins take less than half an hour to bake an decent oven for 30 muffins at a time should be good enough! Take into account here that you need time to place the muffins in the oven, take them out, etc. I could also do with an oven for 15 muffins here, however, that would mean that my oven has to be full the whole day. That generally isn’t very realistic.

Process calculations

These first few calculations should have given you a good first basis to work on. However, this is just the beginning. From now on it’s time to look into equipment, suppliers, etc. Also, when really increasing size you’ll have to start making some more process calculations. It’s too detailed for this post, but we’ll discuss an example: heat.

Temperature is often a challenge when scaling up. If you have a huge oven making 100 muffins at a time there’s probably going to be a lot more heat that is released from that oven than you’re small kitchen oven. So, you’ll have to be able to get rid of that heat through ventilation. Also, if you mix 1 kg dough in a small mixer, you probablu won’t have too much issues with your mixer heating up. Once you start mixing 1000kg of dough though, quite an increase of temperature can occur and you might need some sort of cooling.

These types of calculations require more expert knowledge.

Copacking

In other cases just knowing how much you want and all the different process steps could be enough. You want to work with a company that makes products for others. For them it’s important they know exactly what you want and how much. They might already have the appropriate equipment.

Get started

Now it’s time to actually start doing the steps mentioned above. There’s probably a lot of questions popping up while doing this. But talk to the experts, connect with suppliers and get going! Suppliers will be able to help you a lot more efficiently once you’ve done this exercise, than when the only thing you’ve got to tell them is that you want to start selling muffins! Good luck!

Leave behind a comment or contact me through the about me page if you have further questions or want more help.

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