Relatively new to food industry applications, robotic solutions bring smart baking to a whole new level and are quickly becoming an integral – and highly-efficient – part of the manufacturing plants. Applications are expanding and the opportunities are promising to turn fiction into science at work.
In 2018, global robot installations increased by 6% to 422,271 units, worth USD16.5bn – without software and peripherals, according to data from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). Out of this, robots in food and beverages account for 3% (approximately 12,680 units), with the observation that, for 19% of the robots, there is no information on the customer industry. This figure is five percentage points higher than the year before. Various processes in a bakery can benefit from robots performing not only accurate, repetitive tasks, but also learning to be flexible and switch routines as needed, with applications in industrial operations and craft bakeries alike as they are usually compact constructs. Moreover, as IoT features are used and enabling real-time information exchange between various technologies and operators, manufacturing lines are exponentially increasing their efficiency to changing needs. This makes processes stable and flexible with the help of AI, to which robots are a perfect extension. The advantages are numerous: increased sanitation is a given since they are specifically built to handle food, accuracy is guaranteed constant, and flexibility is possible as they can detect and learn new operating parameters.
Robots have successfully entered bakeries and are rendering them effective. EnSight Solutions shared with us the difficulties in integrating robotic automation: “The biggest problems I see and have experienced, as an automated bakery owner, are some product irregularities and, when pre-baked, the tenderness of the raw product, especially proofed product. UNproofed is less an issue, but still a concern. After or post-bake breads and rolls have very tender crusts and can be crushed if not handled carefully and gently. But automated bakeries can be producing at rates of very high speeds,” Gary Seiffer, sales representative at EnSight Solutions, said. Staubli Corporation provides the robot manufacturer’s perspective when it comes to robotic arms for baking lines. Challenges arise from ensuring a hygienic design on a small footprint and providing flexibility between low throughput to high throughput solutions.
“Staubli created the HE line to meet these requirements,” Sebastien Schmitt, North American Robotics Division manager (Staubli), told us. “This specific range of 6 axes, Scara, and FAST picker offers our traditional fully enclosed structure but also added features like a particular case design, which prevents retention area (and therefore the proliferation of bacteria), special seals, resistance to temperature changes, and optional pressurization of the arm. All connections go through the base; the entire arm has IP65/67 certification and the wrist – IP67,” he explained. These features make Staubli’s HE robots the perfect robotic solution for processes requiring full hygienic compliance, washdown compatibility, optimized footprint and performance like the baking industry. Bakers and system integrators should look for these elements when purchasing a robotic arm for their projects in primary environments, Schmitt recommends.
Processes that can use robots include greasing, handling pans, cleaning, or turning. Some processes, however, can not: “Raw dough is not 100% like playdough. It can move and roll over, miss-align for downstream movement. Often, bakers have guide bars or panels to control this. Depositing into pans is also done by clam-shell depositors or roller bars to control placement – no robots here,” Seiffer illustrated. “People inspect for rejects and manually remove substandard products to trash bins or other disposal systems like our Likwifier for reclaim. Some companies (in bread especially) may not remove un-sellable products until the slicing room, before shipping. A lot of wasted energy by this point. If we could gauge via camera for color, weight or even shape, we could eliminate some of this problem before proofing or before the packing room,” he adds.
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