Baking a Difference: The Impact of Sensor Technology in Bakeries

The implementation of advanced sensor technology in modern food production facilities is crucial for maintaining consistency, quality, and efficiency. Sensors are integral to monitoring and controlling various stages of the baking process, from mixing and proofing to baking and cooling.

Temperature sensors, such as thermocouples and resistance temperature detectors (RTDs), are essential for regulating oven conditions. In proofing and cooling stages, humidity sensors, often capacitive or resistive types, measure the air’s moisture content, directly impacting dough fermentation and shelf life. Maintaining optimal humidity levels ensures uniform proofing and prevents crust formation or mold growth during cooling.

Pressure sensors, utilizing piezoelectric or capacitive elements, measure the pressure exerted by the dough in mixing and proofing chambers. Real-time data from these sensors can adjust mixing times and proofing conditions, ensuring the dough develops the desired gluten structure and fermentation characteristics necessary for the final product’s quality.

One of the latest advancements is the integration of optical sensors for dough quality assessment. Specialized companies have developed optical sensors using light scattering and image processing techniques to analyze properties such as size, shape, and surface texture. These non-invasive sensors provide real-time data, allowing for dynamic adjustment of processing parameters, which ensures consistent product quality.

The benefits of employing advanced sensors in the bakery industry are extensive. Sensors provide high precision and control, translating to consistent product quality, essential for maintaining brand reputation and customer satisfaction.

Complex Sandwich Processing Aided by ‘Smart’ Sensors

In many automated processes specific information is essential to ensure the smooth running of systems, typically provided by optical, inductive, ultrasonic sensors, or cameras. However, a more versatile, lesser known alternative are smart 2D profile sensors, such as the OXM 2D sensor, developed by sensing and instrumentation specialists BAUMER.

A good example of where these smart sensors have proven to be very effective is on a fully automated sandwich and filled rolls production line at a German company Weber Maschinenbau. The company specializes in developing slicing systems for food industry applications and their latest production line accommodates over 70 sandwiches rolling off the line every hour, perfectly topped with sausage or cheese.

For this application, precise edge control, margins and positioning data is essential to smooth operation. Information such as the exact position of the sandwich or filled roll on the belt, its height and if the shape of its edge is even, are required. For example, the robot in the roll section needs to know roll height and center (lengthwise and crosswise) and whether the roll may not be properly aligned on the belt. Basically, the question is if one sensor can provide the entire measured value calculation, and also deliver the calculated coordinates correctly in the units (millimeters) required.

The OXM sensor delivers all this information thanks to integrated measurement and evaluation functions. In other words, the entire measured value calculation is provided by the sensor including the calculated coordinates in millimeters – as specifically required. The sensor also measures the bread height and every edge to calculate the center of the roll, which enables suction pads to gently lift off the finished product without causing damage.

On the sandwich line, the sensor also determines the lateral position and height of the sausage and cheese slices on the belt allowing the gripper to position the slices accurately on the bottom half of the sandwich. Weber Maschinenbau exploits this functionality not only on its sandwich lines but also on the slicers that cut and portion cold cut optimally prepared for packaging. Here, the sensors deliver the position data required for precisely aligned slices of salami, ham or cheese, which is essential for allowing the finished product to always be placed in the same position in the packaging process.

Read the rest of the article in the May-June edition of European Baker & Biscuit.

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