The final proof

Dale Automation can boast that its equipment processes 8.5 million loaves of bread and 1 700 tons of chicken a day.

It is estimated that the first bread was made around 10,000 years BC or over 12,000 years ago. This bread was more than likely flatbread, similar to a tortilla, made simply of ground grains (flour) and water that was mashed and baked. The first tools and implements used in the making of bread are dated to about 8,000 years BC.

Egypt is attributed with popularising the art of making bread. Egyptians are considered to be the agricultural pioneers of the old world, probably benefiting from interactions with Samaria.

The closed oven was invented circa 3,000 BC and allowed for more varieties of bread to be produced. It is around this time that leavened bread is first described – bread with yeast added so that it would rise during production.

Biblical era

Around 1000 BC the Mosaic laws were introduced. These laws, in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, contained instructions to the nation of Israel regarding proper food preparation.

When the Hebrew people fled Egypt during the legendary Exodus, they were forced to make unleavened (flat) bread in their haste. Leviticus declares a feast commemorating the exodus using flatbread.

Early Greek

In 400 BC, around the time when Socrates was providing sage dietary advice, Plato imagined an ideal world. In this world, men would live to a ripe old age. Their main source of sustenance would be whole grain bread from local wheat.


Picture courtesy of The Baker magazine

168 BC saw the establishment of baker’s guilds in Rome. Bread even played a major role in politics when, in 40 BC, as part of a campaign, it was decreed that bread should be freely distributed to every male adult.

Middle Ages

In 1202 AD, English laws were passed to regulate the production of bread. While many people are aware of the differences between whole grain (brown) bread and white breads, few realise that it caused quite a stir in 1307 when the white bread bakers and brown bread bakers split to form separate guilds!

It was not until two centuries later, in 1569, that the guilds were reunited and called the “Worshipful Company of Bakers.”

The age of refined bread

As early as 1826, the whole grain bread used by the military was called superior for health to the white, refined bread used by the aristocracy. In fact, the term refined today comes from this fact.

Before the industrial revolution, it was more labour consuming (and therefore costly) to refine bread, so white bread was the main staple for aristocracy. This made them “refined”.

20th century

In 1910, Americans were eating 210 pounds of wheat flour every year. The commercial bread-slicing machine was invented in 1912 by Otto Rohwedder, and unveiled in 1928.

The 1930s saw the United States pursue a diet enrichment program to begin fortifying breads with vitamins and minerals after their discovery in the late 1920s.

In 1941, calcium was added to help prevent rickets, observed in many female recruits to the military. In 1956, it became the law to enrich all refined breads. By 1971 consumption of white bread had dropped to around 110 pounds per year, but by 1997 (possibly due in part to the low fat, high carbohydrate craze and the food pyramid) consumption was up to 150 pounds – still 60 pounds shy of the fit, trim Americans at the turn of the century.

Today, bread is as varied as the different people who inhabit the earth. Due to a worldwide fusion of cultures, consumers are presented with a large variety of breads to choose from: from mass-produced standard and fortified breads, to instore and speciality bakeries that supply anything from a French baguette to a pita bread from the Middle East. But variety is the spice of life and bread certainly has come a long, long way to prove it.

Plant baking

Bread making has also changed with the modern era of electrification and mechanisation. Competition in the plant baking industry in South Africa is fierce with billions of Rands invested in new state of the art bread production facilities around the country. Industrial bread making is all about producing a standard, consistent loaf that attracts the consumers’ attention. The major producers in the country include Sasko, Albany, Blue Ribbon and Sunbake.

A plant bakery is a business in its own right entailing production, procurement, human resources, administration, finance, repairs and maintenance, transport / fleet management, sales, security, health and safety, quality control and training.


The Amada HD2204NT press brake has a bend length of four metres and a 220 ton press capacity. To simplify forming tasks for operators Dale Automation purchased a sheet follower, which is used in combination with the press brake. It is the first to be installed in South Africa

First and foremost there is a need for the right equipment. Equally important is quality ingredients ensuring a proper production process. The most important part of equipping a plant is to ensure that all necessary processes are in place. Bread making consists of four basic steps – mixing and developing, shaping, proving and baking.

Dale Automation

When it comes to equipment the success of any manufacturing business is the reliability and quality of its capital purchase. This is no different for the sliced bread manufacturers mentioned previously.

A survey has revealed that about 66 percent of US consumers eat sliced bread on a daily basis or at least several times a week. The usage of sliced bread is versatile: toasted, as a sandwich base or both ways. Bread texture evolves on the shelf as it can dry, crumble and stale. Notably half of US consumers want their bread to taste fresh for a week and another 25 percent for two weeks. Consumers also have clear preferences for certain type of breads and brands throughout the country.


The Amada FO M2 RI 3015 laser cutting system with rotary index

One of the main equipment suppliers to the sliced bread industry is Dale Automation, which began operation in 1999.

Christopher Dale is the Managing Director of the highly successful manufacturing firm and his wife Jill, whose background lies in marketing, ably supports him.

The two of them have built up a R150/200 million a year business but it was not always an easy ride. Of British decent and a qualified engineer, Chris (53) worked for a British company manufacturing spiral systems. The position took him to countries including Australia before he was seconded to South Africa to facilitate the installation of three systems in the local industry. After nearly two years with the company in South Africa, Chris decided to start his own business producing spiral conveyers that he designed himself.


Owner Chris Dale with Operations Manager Japie Breitenbach

“We had no track record in the industry, or with the banks. Our first order was funded by personal savings, which were nearly depleted once we had completed the installation,” said Chris.

The company, which was then known as Dale Spiral Systems and Bakery Equipment, later diversified into the baking industry with an order for two double drum spiral cooling systems, utilizing refrigeration which was a new innovation that Chris and team designed. Today the company is the only company in South Africa which manufactures spiral cooling systems for the food industry.

“The spiral cooling system is an important step in the production of bread. All ingredients need to be stored in cool, dry conditions, away from hot zones, in areas where there are no big temperature fluctuations as this can affect final loaf quality. Once the dough making process is completed, assuming that the dough is properly mixed to the right recipe work level, vacuum and temperature, the way in which it is handled from the time it leaves the mixer to the time it gets into the tin and then into the oven are all important to the process.”


Before its latest Amada capital equipment purchases the company already had an Amada press brake and an Amada CNC turret punch press

“Ovens vary greatly in their baking characteristics but certain points are universal. Steam can be introduced at the very early stage of baking while the dough surface is still cold to give bread a glossy crust appearance. If good slicing is to be achieved and the final bread is to be microbiologically sound then bakers should regularly check the internal crumb temperature achieved ex oven, which should reach 96°C. Under baking can result in excessive rope spores surviving the baking process and a lack of resilience in the crumb of the loaf, which will not slice well.”

“From the oven the bread proceeds to our spiral cooling system. The purpose of the cooler is simply to cool bread down to an internal temperature of approximately 30°C, which is optimal for slicing. Coolers are run at very high humidity levels to ensure minimum weight loss during cooling. Thus it is normal to run a cooler with an RH of 90%, which may be achieved by spraying water into the air stream at its inlet to the cooler but more commonly by recycling the outlet air and making use of its inherent humidity. Slicing and wrapping is then fairly straightforward, which is, these days, highly automated.”


Dale Automation also has a machine shop that includes a couple of Takisawa lathes and a Quaser CNC machining centre that were supplied by F & H Machine Tools

“With our coolers, the typical weight loss from a 700g loaf when cooling from 96 to 30°C in under 70 minutes is an average 12g. Shelf life can also be extended by up to three days, since the bread remains moist and soft,” says Chris.

With over 120 spiral cooling systems installed in South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, UK and Australia, Dale Automation has certainly achieved its vision of becoming a world leader in the baking industry.

Other food freezing and chilling applications

However, Dale Automation’s spiral cooling systems are not just suitable for the baking industry. The company has sold and installed well over 30 spiral systems for poultry freezing and chilling applications, another seven for meat freezing applications (burgers, pies, etc.) and three for other applications (a wafer bar conditioning spiral for Nestlé, a sushi freezer, and a chiller for Parmalat cheese tubs).

An interesting example is in the poultry industry. In December 2009, Dale Automation commissioned a brand new six ton/ hour spiral conditioning system at Rainbow Chicken’s Rustenburg factory. The system is 9,3m tall, with 44 tiers and 1,060mm belt width. The equipment includes a centrally mounted, compact planetary gearbox. A comprehensive clean-in-place and belt washing system was also specified for the high risk fresh chicken application.


An oven manufactured by Dale Automation

Chris says the installation is freezing about 20% more product than that of the competitive system located in the same building. While Chris is very proud of the throughput, such high performance systems are nothing new for the 13-year-old company. In fact, says Chris, in 2009 the company installed some of the largest spiral freezing systems outside of the US for chicken producers in Delmas and Botshabelo, capable of processing up to seven ton/ hour.

This year saw the largest chicken freezer installation in South Africa and possibly the world, an eight ton an hour spiral freezer using Dale’s own plastic modular Blue Belt with over 1.2 kilometers of belt on it, installed at Grainfields chicken in Reitz, Free State.

“Our company has been acknowledged in the poultry industry as the manufacturer of the best spiral freezer in South Africa,” says Chris. “Of the 38 poultry systems currently operational, 14 are massive six ton/ hour installations. Add in the pair of seven ton/hour and the eight ton/hour systems and it’s clear to see that South African poultry producers trust Dale Automation with their expansion requirements.”


An oven loader loading dough into oven

Although the initial business was founded on the production of spiral conveyers that include the well-known Dale Blue Belt, which can be used with both heavy and light products or those which are already packaged and are especially suitable for transporting bread due its unique optional lane divider design and then spiral cooling systems, it wasn’t very long before Dale Automation decided to supply complete production lines for large plant bakeries, including provers and ovens.

Initially a relationship was entered into with British company Spooner Vicars, and two major plant bakery contracts were done using Spooner technology. Thereafter Spooner was liquidated, but in South Africa Dale continued to offer large bakery systems including its own improved oven and prover technology based on the Spooner Vicars equipment.

Dale Automation has now installed over 50 bakery applications for large South African bakeries as well as for a number of large overseas bakeries. The company also offers robotic handling of product and introduced Yaskawa Motoman robots to the South African bakery industry. This technology is also available for other process industries.


A 6.5 ton an hour spiral freezer under construction on site in Delmas


An 8000 loaf an hour oven under construction


A 4 ton an hour spiral chicken freezer being assembled in the Dale Automation workshop

The latest feather in their cap was the awarding of a contract for the robotised, automatic conveyor system for a state-of-the-art new bakery that was erected in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal.

The installation included a complete, robotic system for automated lidding of bread pans, de-lidding of pans, de-panning of bread, and stacking. It incorporates a Güdel stacking system with Eclipse magnetic heads. It also includes Dale’s own patented basket loading and stacking system, which has the capacity to load and stack 8 000 loaves per hour.

Manufacturing equipment

The paradigms of today’s business environments have changed. Outsourcing has become a buzzword in the global business arena, where your supply chain factors in production elements from across the globe. Companies are able to minimise costs and focus on their core competencies.

What companies fail to realise, however, is that a simple fracture in the supply chain can leave a business paralysed. Whether it’s a major earthquake on another continent, a fire in a manufacturing plant or a piece of manufacturing equipment that breaks down, with the supply chain broken, the finished product cannot be produced, a situation that affects relationships with clients. More importantly, your company’s operating revenue and profits will have a massive negative impact.

Dale Automation has recognised this fact, especially as they supply equipment to the competitive food processing industry and clients cannot afford to have a fracture in their supply chain or manufacturing process.


This year saw the largest chicken freezer installation in South Africa and possibly the world, an eight ton an hour spiral freezer using Dale’s own plastic modular Blue Belt conveying system with over 1.2 kilometers of belt on it

From small beginnings in a 380m² facility in Laser Park, Honeydew, Gauteng the company has moved 4 times with the last move into its 5 200m² purpose built production facility in Cosmo City Business Park, Kya Sands, north of Johannesburg, just over a year ago.

But the company has not only invested in bricks and mortar, it has also spent a sizeable amount on capital equipment with the introduction of an Amada FO M2 RI 3015 laser cutting system with rotary index and an Amada HD 2204 NT press brake, equipped with a sheet follower.

Bringing outsourcing home

“A sizeable amount of our component and sheetmetal work has always been outsourced. This is still the case for certain components and ancillary products such as motors that are used on our equipment. We have been spending over a R1 million a month on our sheetmetal work and it reached a point where it became more feasible for us to purchase our own equipment. So we overhauled the business model and put an end to nearly all of the outsourcing in this area of the business” said Chris.

“The option of not just being a fabrication and assembly shop was appealing because it meant that we could increase our sheet metal and manufacturing capacity, but more importantly take control of our costs and quality and reduce production times.”

“An example of this is the manufacture of a spiral cooling system which could take up to about 4 000 man hours. This has now been reduced to less than 2 000 hours. There are a number of reasons for this but it is mainly because of the new modern equipment and the fact that we have control.”

“I must admit that it has been a steep learning curve for us but if you take into account the production time saved and the improved quality it is all worth it.”

“The Amada FOM2 3015 NT RI laser cutting system is engineered to include an innovative rotary index with the power and speed to efficiently cut mid-to-thick materials. As an integrated unit, the rotary index allows the cutting head to be positioned near the chuck thereby minimising the dead zone. The innovative design expands fabricators’ process range capabilities to cut round, square, rectangle, C-channel, and angle iron, providing unmatched versatility and ease of use.”

“The Amada HD2204NT press brake has a bend length of four metres and a 220 ton press capacity. Featuring a host of innovations, the HD range provides users with greater precision plus reduced running and maintenance costs using Amada’s new ‘eco’ hybrid drive system. This is complemented by enhanced bending accuracy from the new ‘Automatic Reactive Beam’ system – an innovation that is patented worldwide.”

Sheet follower – first in South Africa

“In simplifying forming tasks for operators we have also purchased a sheet follower, which is used in combination with the press brake. We believe it is the first to be installed in South Africa. The reason we purchased the Amada SF1548H sheet follower is because we want to eliminate any crimping of the sheet when bending. It assists the operator when performing precise bending movements on especially heavy metal workpieces. This ensures perfect bending accuracy even with for the largest components. The sheet follower is moved by two or four axes, each of which is equipped with an ACOPOS servo drive.”

Over the years, Dale has expanded its technology to include the majority of equipment used by plant bakeries.


A 3D drawing of bread conditioner

Continuing this drive to offer complete, outstanding quality solutions to the industry, Dale recently introduced the forced convection, travelling oven and swing tray, box type final prover to the extensive range of equipment that it manufactures.

Dale Automation prides itself on being responsible for design, construction and project management of each installation, whether it be in the bakery industry or the food processing industry. Each project is unique to the client and involves a bespoke solution, according to Chris.

The company has a staff compliment of 85 but this is bound to increase as Dale Automation endeavours to make inroads into the rest of Africa and the UK where it also has an office and access to a full manufacturing facility.

For further details contact Dale Automation on TEL: +27 (11) 462 0044 or visit