Robotic solutions are gaining in popularity in the baking industry due to their flexibility and the solution they present to labor shortages. Bakery products, like most food items, vary considerably in terms of shapes, recipes and packaging formats. This growing product-mix requires flexible automation to be able to quickly change and adapt to each product run.
On the labor topic, robotic solutions address the shortage of labor that the bakery industry is facing but also enable the execution of dangerous and repetitive tasks that often expose employees to injuries and repetitive strain injuries. The integration of robotics enables to free the operator and re-assign him or her to higher value tasks.
One downside is that as human-robot collaboration on a certain application increases, productivity usually tends to decrease. This is due to speed limitations imposed to the robot when an operator is close to guarantee his or her safety.
Harpak-ULMA is an equipment manufacturer that offers a wide range of connected bakery packaging solutions. Among those, cobots (Collaborative robots) are developed in collaboration with Universal Robots.
Baking producers’ unique automation needs stem from an inherently wide variety of product sizes and forms (raw or baked, wrapped or not) as well as delicate products that require extra gentle handling, the company says.
Product variation determines how a product is picked and placed, and in what condition, posing many challenges to traditional robotic technologies. Cobots introduce cost-effective bakery automation for product movement and palletizing efforts since they can work with even the most fragile products of virtually every size, shape, weight and form.
Cobots are designed for easy setup and rapid deployment/repurposing, sans reprogramming or retooling. They operate safely alongside human counterparts without guarding or special environments, optimizing production floor space.
John Weddleton, Harpak-ULMA’s automation product manager, explains: “Cobots combine fast set-up, easy programming, redeployment flexibility and amazing safety characteristics with an ability to handle even the most delicate packaging chores. We’re seeing an aggressive upsurge in demand from our customer base since there really isn’t anything else on the market that provides such a cost-effective solution to repetitive, menial production tasks.”
Harpak’s partner, ULMA, is itself a global leader in bakery packaging, offering a wide range of solutions from manual packaging machines to turnkey systems.