Mountains, high pastures, and 2,000 hours of sun each year usually come to mind when people think about South Tyrol. The area produces outstanding wines and crispy, fresh wafers manufactured in harmony with nature. So is it really an idyllic mountain range or just a pretty place? According to the Sweets Global Network, the industry association of the confectionery industry, everything’s real – the beautiful and romantic backdrop and the environmentally friendly production methods used at Loacker.
The association has awarded the wafer manufacturer the “Golden Watch of SG,” a prize granted by the association for outstanding service to the confectionary industry – to personalities active in economics or politics or even to a company. Loacker also received the award because of its conservation efforts for its mountainous home. The company has developed an energy-saving system to recapture heat from its production ovens, air-filtering systems for baking procedures, and techniques to cool the wafers more quickly.
Good water, pure air, and natural ingredients
A trip to Unterinn, the Loacker headquarters, shows that the presence of industry does not have to exclude a high quality of life. The air is clear and so is visibility from the 970-meter-high vantage point: green pastures and fields as far as the eye can see. The local mountain peak, Schlern, shines in the rising sun. The aroma of crispy wafers is so enticing that you almost see the baking irons.
In 1925, Alfons Loacker decided to package wafers and bakery products with a long shelf life in his pastry shop in Bozen instead of manufacturing fresh goods. He wouldn’t have to get up so early on the weekends to head to the bakery and would have enough time for his hobby – soccer. Today’s leader of the company, Armin Loacker, has produced a wide variety of wafer and chocolate specialties from natural ingredients, without artificial ingredients and preservatives, since 1974. “Good water and pure air were important to me for the manufacture of my products,” says Loacker. The small wafer production facility in tranquil Bozen has since become an international company with a worldwide brand.
The company’s manufacturing facility has become a large hall with modern equipment, conveyor belts, and large ovens that produce the light and crispy wafers on an assembly line. The dough for the wafers is mixed semiautomatically. The system takes automatically prepared portions of flour and water from large silos; employees weigh only small amounts of ingredients like salt by hand. The dough is then pumped into the ovens.
A batch number for each oven
Loacker produces dough, cream, and fillings in independent steps. Production of the cream for the filling is separate from the baking of the wafers – an average of four tons of cream every hour. The kettles are filled lemon, vanilla, or cocoa – the traditional flavors – or amaretto, coconut, or another new flavor. Employees weigh the ingredients precisely after an internal laboratory has tested their quality thoroughly and released them for production. Carefully and finely ground, mixed, and suffused with oil for maximum unfolding of the aroma, the ingredients wait to used as wafer cream in the spreaders.
So that Loacker can always demonstrate that all processes have run without errors, it works with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, Foodsprint, from cormeta. The solution is based on SAP All-in-One, an SAP solution for midsize companies. It controls and monitors all production processes – from raw materials and semifinished goods to finished goods and packaging. The software automatically creates a batch number at goods receipt and uses it to track all production steps in the system. By clicking on the batch number, employees can immediately see which raw materials have been used in individual production steps in the finished wafers.
For example, when a delivery of nuts is placed in a silo, the SAP software automatically assigns a batch number to the silo. Loacker can then accurately trace the cart that delivered the nuts, when the nuts were delivered, and which order they belong to. Foodsprint also keeps track of the silo’s number and assigns a new number for the cream made from nuts – a number that indicates the container that stores the cream.
Each production step has a production order for the dough, the cream, the wafer block, the individual product, and the finished product that will be sold – and each semifinished product has its own batch number. The ERP application uses the number of the finished product to provide information on who produced it, when, and with what ingredients. Every production step is documented, because the production machines and devices used in production capture operating data and transmit the production status to the software.
But what happens when the wafers come from five different ovens and are sent to a cooling tower by the conveyor belt? Doesn’t that confuse everything associated with the batch number? By no means. Each oven has its own production order that documents each production step. Dough preparation, oven, spreader, cooling tower, and packaging are captured separately, so each can be traced for every batch.
Hazelnuts, cocoa, and vanilla – everything in the right place at the right time
In its two plants in Unterinn and Heinfels, Loacker manufactures 80 different wafer products that ultimately produce variations of 3,000 different items: gift packages, Advent calendars as seasonal items, and specialty items. It’s impossible to plan all that manually. To move the right ingredients to the right production location, Loacker uses a software-supported planning tool. After delivery from Nepal, hazelnuts are roasted in their own plant. Vanilla beans are delivered from Réunion in the Indian Ocean, cocoa comes from the west coast of Africa, and milk is delivered from the Bavarian highlands. Once production starts, all the ingredients must be on hand.
Loacker uses the SAP Advanced Planning & Optimization (SAP APO) component along with Foodsprint to plan production. SAP APO, which is part of the SAP Supply Chain Management (SAP SCM) application, integrates all planning processes: requirements and sales prognoses, production planning, and detailed scheduling. Three elements of SAP software cover all planning periods. Loacker defines operational scheduling and annual planning in the SAP Demand Planning application – based on sales prognoses, market data, and information from its own export offices. The supply network planning functionality of SAP APO is used to coordinate midterm, cross-company quarterly planning. Functionality for production planning – detailed scheduling – is used to coordinate detailed scheduling of production in both plants to the day and week. j & m Management Consulting AG (Mannheim, Germany), a leading firm in the implementation of planning systems and a partner of cormeta ag, successfully oversaw the implementation of SAP APO.
Still 20 hours to production
The planning tasks that must be handled are complex. First, operational scheduling must notify the logistics centers in Milan and Verona of the requirements. The centers transmit their data to the company’s headquarters in Unterinn with ongoing electronic data interchange (EDI). The next step is production planning for the location in Bozen, the commercial center, where Loacker floor displays and mixed packaging are assembled and distributed. The plants in Unterinn and Heinfels must deliver semifinished goods to the logistics centers – and work autonomously with SAP APO to plan their production. Operational scheduling updates planning twice a week for the upcoming week; production occurs in a three-week planning cycle.
Working from the delivery dates, budgets, and setup times for individual machines, operational scheduling determines the order and batch sizes to be used for production. The planning component automatically combines similar types of orders – like cocoa-cream wafers for the American and Arabian markets – even when they are packaged differently at the end of the process. The sliced wafers then go directly to the packaging equipment.
The software then generates the orders for the required raw materials and the packaging. It also determines which intermediate products the plants must exchange. For example, production in Heinfels might need a paste produced in Unterinn for additional processing. Twenty-four hours before the planned wafer production, employees in operational scheduling release the orders in SAP APO if no problems have appeared and the machines, personnel, and raw materials are available. And then it smells like it should: like fresh baked goods, Bourbon vanilla, fresh lemons, or rich cocoa.
Loacker wafers are famous beyond the beauty of South Tyrol. Global retailers like Tesco, Carrefour, 7-Eleven, Ahold, and Dairy Farm (active in Asia) carry the wafer specialties. It’s easy to enjoy Loacker wafers in Mauritius, Dubai, Japan, Canada, or China – fresh from the factory.