It is frequently said that the biscuit factory must be designed around the oven, because the limitations of this device affect nearly every other operation in the bakery. The bakery equipment found in nearly all large biscuit factories include some form of band oven, a type of oven that is ideally suited for rapid and uniform processing of small pieces of dough. Small operations may use reel ovens, deck ovens, rotary ovens, or just about any other kind of baking equipment. The following discussion will concentrate on the band oven.
The band oven consists of an endless steel belt passing through a baking chamber that can be heated directly or indirectly. The band may be a solid strip of steel or a belt of woven steel wire. Perforated steel or wire-mesh bands allow steam to escape from the bottom of the dough pieces. This helps to prevent gas pockets and retard spread and other distortions in the finished baked good.
The baking chamber consists of a series of modular units (eg, 10 ft long, 7 ft wide, and 5 ft high). Heating means are supplied above and below the band. Thick insulation covers all surfaces that are not occupied by air input and output ducts, ports, and other fixtures. In direct-heated ovens, heat is often provided by ribbon burners above and below the band. Open-flame or surface combustion (ceramic) elements have been used, but the former type is more common. Gas (methane or propane), oil, or even diesel fuel is burned, depending on the limitations of the heating system and the market price of fuel. Electrically heated ovens function satisfactorily but are economically impractical in most locations.
Indirect-heated ovens burn the fuel in a chamber separate from the baking tunnel, and hot air is transferred to the band by fans and convection. The length of the oven is divided into zones, which permits different temperatures to be applied to the product during different stages of baking.
Electronic ovens, of both the dielectric and microwave varieties, have been used to bake cookies and crackers. Microwave heating has demonstrated considerable success in finishing or drying, after baking in a conventional oven. This form of energy application enables the manufacturer to reduce moisture in a cracker, without undue browning of the cracker's surface. New designs in oven technology have led to the development of hybrid ovens, which combine conventional hot air and microwave technology.
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