May 2009
SPECIAL REPORT

Lessons In Volume And Speed

When your menu calls for more than 800 slices of golden-browned product per hour, consider a high-volume conveyor toaster. Here’s what to look for when choosing one, plus six models to review.

To see a variety of toasters, click here for the Toaster Gallery.

By Mike Sherer

We all know that making toast is a fairly simple matter: You apply heat to a bread product, moisture evaporates, sugars oxidize and voila! You have a golden-brown product. Seems simple enough.

What may not be simple, though, is choosing the type of toaster you need for your stores’ volume, or which features to look for. If your menu calls for more than 800 slices of toast, bagels or other products per hour, you should be considering the high-volume conveyor category.

In short, high-volume units offer you the speed and precision toasting you need to turn out a lot of product in a short time, but all conveyors are not alike. So we set out to gather the most useful info we could find, as well as models you might want to consider. As you read keep in mind that the best toaster is the one that fully accommodates your stores’ menus, and the best supplier is the one who caters to your after-sale needs.

Conveying The Basics
A conveyor toaster contains heating elements, a conveyor belt, a drive motor and usually a fan, and the typical unit is constructed of stainless steel throughout except for some plastic parts and surfaces. Model differences come from how the basic components are spec’d and configured, and when you’re comparing models there are a few things to look for:

Conveyor belts constructed of heavy stainless wire that are flexible, durable and easy to clean. Your unit should have some sort of belt tensioning device to keep the belt flat no matter what the product load. This ensures more even browning.

Some manufacturers say belt life and reliability can hinge on where the drive chain is attached, the end or the middle. You might want to check with suppliers to see what their service records are on belts. Breaks do happen but aren’t that common, and most are easily repaired.

Most, if not all, models use drive chains to transfer power from the motor to the conveyor belt. Like belts, drive chains are made of stainless steel and usually designed so links are easily replaceable in the unlikely case of breaks.

Heavy-duty drive motors with permanently lubricated ball bearings mean less down time and maintenance. Motors have to stand up to continuous use under high-heat conditions. To protect motors, some models have a limiter switch that shuts off the motor if it gets too hot, either due to the heat of the toaster itself or a belt jam that causes the motor to overheat.

At least one manufacturer uses a stepper motor to resolve potential problems like belt jams. Unlike typical electric motors that rotate continuously, stepper motors rotate in a series of steps, as their name implies. A key advantage is that they stop running when a belt break or jam prevents the drive shaft from rotating.

Conveyor units use one of two types of heating elements: calrods or quartz radiants. Metal-sheathed calrods are essentially unbreakable and very reliable, but they take several minutes to warm up. Quartz elements, which emit infrared radiation, heat up very quickly but are more fragile. Most manufacturers use calrods, but at least one continues to use quartz elements in several models.

While a few models still use mechanical controls, most manufacturers are moving to electronics because they offer better control of a toaster’s operation. Some electronically controlled models also have digital displays and controls instead of knobs. All are reliable, and which you choose will depend largely on your operation and the products you use.

Powering Up Performance
While some smaller toaster models are available with 110V power, high-output conveyor toasters require either standard 208V or 240V service. (A couple of manufacturers also offer 220V and 230V models.) In most cases, you simply order the model that matches the electric service your operations are wired for, but one model gives you more flexibility by offering a detection feature that automatically adjusts to incoming voltage.

Obviously, the higher the wattage, the more heat these units will put out. You’ll find that the wattage of models we’re talking about here—those with capacities starting at 800 slices/hr.—generally are in the 2800W to 3300W range. Note though that some high-volume conveyor toasters can range up to 1,200 slices/hr. and even 1,500 slices/hr., and those models will come with much higher wattage inputs.

Forced-air convection in these conveyors offers a couple of advantages. By directing air to the front of the unit, incoming product dries more quickly so it toasts faster under the heating elements. The forced air also cools the unit, protecting components from heat damage and preventing exterior surfaces from causing burns. Most units are thermostatically controlled so the fan continues to run and cool after the toaster’s been turned off.

Now the two ways to control browning in a toaster are time and temperature. Different models allow you to control these variables in different ways.

First, almost all models give you control over top and bottom heating elements so you can do one-sided toasting (for bagels, Texas toast or other products). Some models also allow you to adjust the intensity of the heating elements.

But models vary in how they regulate (and let you control) the toasting process itself. Some let you set both the heat intensity and speed of the conveyor, giving you almost infinite control so you can find the perfect setting for the bread or product you use in your operation. These are likely the best to use when your menu offers a variety of toasted products, but they require more employee training to make sure the settings are right for each product.

Other models let you set the intensity and the unit takes over from there, automatically controlling the toasting process by adjusting the conveyor speed. Most models with this feature sense the product load by monitoring the temperature of the toasting cavity. When the temp falls too low, the conveyor belt slows; if it increases due to a light load, the conveyor goes faster.

Some models offer factory pre-programmed or programmable presets that give you two to four different intensity levels (for bread, bagels, muffins or “other”) and a manual override for special products or single orders. Units like these are advantageous in applications when customers are toasting their own breads or you don’t want to give employees the ability to change settings indiscriminately.

Most models now come with a power-saver feature that lets you put the toaster in standby mode. On units with calrod heating elements, standby mode typically gives you 50% power savings. Models that use quartz tubes can save 75% in standby because they take less time to heat up when full power is needed.

With many models you have to manually activate the standby mode by flipping a switch. A few units, however, either automatically go into standby for a predetermined time or can be programmed to go into standby. Programmable models let you set both the time you want the toaster to idle before going into stand-by and the power savings in 10% increments.

Capacity And Output
Like your toaster at home, conveyor toasters are countertop units that don’t require special ventilation. But these units do get hot, and clearance requirements vary. Many models vent from the sides and require 2” to 6” of clearance to give them breathing room. Others vent from front, back and even beneath, so you may need clearance from the wall. Check these clearances before you settle on a model so you don’t end up with one that doesn’t fit the space you had in mind.

Speaking of heat, while most models now have forced-air convection that can cool exteriors while it speeds toasting, models with insulation will do an even better job of preventing surfaces from getting too hot to touch. They’ll also keep more heat in the box, meaning cooler ambient temps and faster toasting.

Most units are stackable so you can double your volume in the same footprint, but be sure to check with the manufacturer before you assume the model you want can be stacked. Again, clearance, or at least good ventilation, is going to be an issue with excess heat. For those who don’t want to stack and have the footprint, one supplier offers a double conveyor toaster in one unit so you can toast two different types of bread at the same time.

The typical width of the opening of a conveyor unit is 10”, which gives you plenty of room for two slices of bread side by side. A few models have slightly wider openings of around 11” for those with over-sized bread products.

Opening height is important, too, and many models are available with 2” openings for most breads or 3” openings for bagels, Texas toast and larger products. Some units simply offer the larger-load opening as standard without another option.

Most conveyor toasters also give you the flexibility of front or rear (sometimes called “pass-through”) product delivery. On some models, you have to specify which you want. Several, however, let you change from front to rear delivery fairly easily for different dayparts or product applications.

Remember that no matter what capacity a spec sheet says your toaster can handle, the type of bread you use, its thickness, moisture content and the load at any given time all will affect performance and capacity—your throughput, in other words. You may want to experiment with a couple of different makes and models using your products under varying load conditions to determine if they’ll give you the kind of speed and volume you need in your operation.

Conveyor Options And Maintenance
Conveyor toasters do their job so well they don’t have a lot of bells and whistles. Standard on virtually all models are a stainless feed guide, removable crumb tray and some sort of product landing area, often heated.

Legs are an option on some models, giving them a little elevation on the countertop and providing more ventilation around the unit. As mentioned earlier, other options may include a kit for changing the unit from front- to rear-delivery, and a stacking kit.

Cleaning is simple. Your staffers empty and clean the crumb tray daily, wipe down the exterior surfaces and the air intake vents, and clean the conveyor belt with a brush.

Conveyor toasters don’t require any special maintenance. Warranties are generally around two years on components like heating elements, belts, chain drives and the like. Check with your supplier for specifics.

In most cases, units are designed for easy service if it’s ever required, with easily accessible control panels and conveyor belts. Even heating elements, whether calrods or quartz tubes, are usually pretty easy to replace.

Today’s high-capacity conveyor toasters make it easy to get perfect toast every time. And with a little care, they should give you trouble-free operation for years to come.

Toasting Tips
Conveyor toasters can make it easy to get perfectly toasted product if you follow a few simple tips.


To see a variety of toasters, click here for the Toaster Gallery.