Many favorite confectionery products travel either through a conventional panner or a belt coater to obtain a consistent coating. Coatings could include milk or dark chocolate, yogurt, or hard sugar. Being able to efficiently engross and then polish nuts, raisins, small solid chocolate spheres, and large lentils allows for better product consistency along with making the product more resistant to scuffing and melting. In the confectionery world, ‘shelf appeal’ is very important for customers, so identifying the best equipment for the process will make a difference.
Decades ago, confectioners used to tumble their products by hand and cover them in chocolate or another coating. While the overall concept has not changed much over the years, equipment improvements and automation capabilities have enhanced the process and products by increasing production output, efficiency, and consistency.
Both panners and belt coaters can produce a coating layer – so how do you choose which piece of equipment is best for you? It is not necessarily a straightforward answer as there are a few factors to consider. As you think about your process, consider:
- How much product are you aiming to produce?
- How many batches?
- Do you have different products?
- Do you have trained operators able to work?
- How much flexibility do you need throughout the process?
considerations for conventional panners
Conventional pans (also called panners or pans) can be round or tulip shaped and are typically integrated into a skid system of single or multiple skids. In some cases, one skid system of panners will be for coating or engrossing and another skid system of panners will be for polishing. They can have manual or automated discharge valves.
If the conventional panners are manual, operators will need to be properly trained to run the panners, which can add to labor costs and increase the risk of lost time or product due to operator error. However, panners offer a quality piece of equipment at a lower cost of entry. Companies entering the marketplace may find this option to be more feasible. Automated features, like air handling, conveyors, and tray handling, can be added to the machines once the recipe and process are proven successful.
Panners are best suited for crystallizing coatings, like products that are going to grain. Products can be kept separate with automated traditional panning, and batch traceability is possible as well. Typically, batches range from 160-225 kgs. or 350-500 lbs. While production time might take a bit longer, the conventional pans offer versatile and economical options. The bed depth consistency will vary along the axis depending on the weight, so product can move about differently than in a belt coater. Smaller bed depth in a panner can alleviate issues for flexing when soft centers are being coated.
considerations for belt coaters
Belt coaters feature an endless belt that moves and causes the coatings (often chocolate or yogurt) to fall back onto the product. These machines are engineered for easy access inside the machine and constructed for complete washdown for the highest degree of sanitation. Coaters produce higher volumes, with batches of 225-450 kgs. or 500-1,000 lbs. The smaller bed depth will prevent the crushing of centers.
Candy makers often choose belt coaters for non-crystallizing coatings/grainings. Even very small products like seeds or quinoa can be effectively coated in a belt coater. The path of travel allows products to have a very linear path and is consistent with the amount of force that the product will experience throughout the process.
Belt coaters are more niche, and it is unlikely that a belt coater would be more economical for smaller batches except when using a lab scale coater. Coaters will be more efficient when engrossing is done on a larger scale. For instance, employing one operator to oversee multiple automated belt coaters would be cheaper than having multiple operators manage five conventional panners. However, friable or fragile pieces will withstand coating better in a belt coater. WIth an automated system, there is no operator intervention, leading to lower labor costs and better product quality.
The finishing touches – polishing
When it comes to the polishing step, conventional panners tend to do a better job because there is more movement of the pieces in the pan. Since panners rotate at the axis, there is a good distribution of the polish with pieces having more contact with the panner wall.
Belt coaters are more linear in movement, so if they were used for the polishing step, the operator would have to manually reach into the coater to move the product around and see the progress.
The polishing process works best when it is highly automated, keeping the humidity levels consistent. Good operators will be trained on adjusting based on the weather and environment.