CHG Spotlight: Rising to the Occasion

May 8, 2024

Lead by Engineering, CHG Team Rebuilds Steel Proofer at Mid South Bryan

You won’t find many high rises in Bryan, Texas. Recently, one even had to be torn down to make room for a new one.

That new “high rise” isn’t a hotel or an office building. It’s a bun proofer in C.H. Guenther and Son’s (CHG) Mid South Baking plant in the small east Texas city. This towering grid of aluminum with numerous rows of metal trays stands 20 feet high and resembles a modern high rise under construction, with steel beams framing dozens of floors.

A proofer plays a crucial role in a modern commercial bakery. It prepares hundreds of dough products – buns, biscuits, bagels and artisan breads – for baking. The tower creates the right temperature and humidity needed for dough to rise, helping produce more consistent and flavorful products. At Mid South, the proofer is a key piece of a line that helps the plant produce more than 220 million buns per year.

In manufacturing, when a key piece of a production line goes down, it can create problems for the entire plant and its schedule. After numerous failures and repairs of the proofer over the years, it was time for a fresh start and a rebuild of the tower. Enter Shane Guimbellot, regional platform engineering manager, and a dedicated team of CHG professionals working side-by-side with more than 20 contract workers.

This Project Was Not Your Average Fixer Upper

A typical high-rise building can take roughly three years to build and hundreds of people with various skills to make it happen. However, the Mid South operation could only afford a few days for a full demolition and rebuild of the proofer – a tall order given the number of parts, the timeline, and the large team of professionals and skilled trades needed to get the job done.

“We planned a five-day downtime and we worked 24 hours a day,” said Guimbellot, describing the project. “If we didn’t work 24 hours a day – if we just worked normal hours – the proofer and the production line would have been down 10 to 12 days. You can’t have a bakery down for that long.”

In many ways, this project had many of the elements of a high-rise construction project.

“Internally, we probably had at least a dozen people involved in planning and framing up the project, making sure we covered employee safety, food safety and quality, and various operational aspects.”

Guimbellot has a degree in Electrical Engineering from Mississippi State. He’s been in the industry for more than 25 years, starting as project manager for Malt-O-Meal Brands (now Post Consumer Brands), then leading the corporate engineering team at that company as well as the engineering team for Kroger’s manufacturing division. You might call this project his baptism by fire at CHG. He’s been here only seven months.

Collaboration Was the Key

Guimbellot and his counterpart, Grant Candy, our regional platform engineering manager in Canada, split day and night shifts overseeing the project from start to finish.

The parts list for the project included 4,000 feet of stainless steel tracks, a 4,000-foot long metal chain, 3,800 wire grids, 9,000 nuts and bolts, and seven motor drives as well as insulated metal panel walls and other parts.

“We stripped it down to its frame and rebuilt it,” Guimbellot says, describing the task. “We couldn’t have any issues – missing parts or any big snafus – during the reconstruction. We had five days to do this right.”

As with any project, there were challenges. In one case, materials were planned based on the original design, but the structure had been modified over time. So that section had to be rebuilt and redesigned with parts already on site and parts that could be ordered and delivered overnight.

Then there was the 4,000-foot chain. It had to be assembled into 75-foot lengths with 5-foot pieces. The team realized piecing those links together inside the plant and feeding it directly into the unit would be better than assembling the whole chain outside of the plant. Piecing the chain together would take two days. The change in plans also would require coordination with the food safety, quality, maintenance, operations and sanitation teams to ensure all safety protocols could be met.

“You have a plan and when you get into it you have to be flexible,” Guimbellot says.

Despite the challenges, the team maintained high standards for its work and safety was always a priority. The project was completed on time, on budget and without any safety incidents.

“We did it,” said Guimbellot. “It was very complex and very manual labor – heavy brute force type of work. And we worked at night. It was hot, risky work but we did it safely.

“I really feel the project was successful because of the collaboration of all of those involved – plant folks, corporate folks, the vendors and the contractors,” says Guimbellot. “Everybody had to work together, speak up and support it to make it work.”

— Scott Wudel, CHG Communications

Also read: CHG Spotlight: A Product Manager Can Wear Many Hats

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