Removing products from a baking form can take place by a variety of methods, depending on the product. This can be achieved either by inverting the pans, jarring them to dislodge the bread, or picking the loaves out of the pans by means of suction cups attached to belts or needles.
Grippers are usually used to take a product from one process step and place it on the next one. Certain factory configurations can make it necessary to place a conveyor belt in between processes if the robot is not able to cover that distance directly or another process step is performed while the product is on the conveyor. An example is sesame bread rolls, which might be picked off from the oven by a gripper to be placed top-side up on a conveyor belt and to be sprinkled with sesame seeds before being either rolled from the conveyor belt into bags or picked up again by a gripper to be placed in a bag.
Another good example are pralines, which may be picked up in their raw version by a gripper, in order not to damage their shape, and then be placed on a conveyor belt for coverage with chocolate. Rolling onwards over the belt while drying they ultimately need to be picked up again by a soft and delicate gripper to be placed into the blister packaging.
Obviously with conveyor belts being usually the less complex solution they are also the less cost intensive solution. So anywhere where the product does not need specific careful handling in order not to be damaged, a conveyor belt solution will be used. However, if products need to be placed in a specific position in packaging unit this can only be achieved with a robot and gripper unit – or manually.
The most important thing food manufacturers look for in such equipment is the ability of the machine to handle fragile items delicately enough to eliminate damage while moving them between processes. If too much breakage occurs this may not only lead to loss of sellable products but also have an impact on the whole production by clogging up equipment with crumbs.
In the development of gripping devices for food, Piab specifically looked at how to avoid breakage. This led to a range of different suction cups, able to handle everything from very thin slices of cracker bread to pralines, bread and muffins. The suction cups used for lasagna sheet handling, for example, are designed with an extra-long and thin lip enabling it to handle fragile pasta sheets with special care. Approved for direct food picking, the nimble cups will guarantee safe, secure and hygienic automated procedures for, for instance, lasagna sheets or similar items.
You can read the rest of this article in the Spring Issue of Asia Pacific Baker & Biscuit magazine, which you can access by clicking here.