At first glance, the baking industry fails to present itself as an optimal candidate for a digital process transformation keen on implementing industrial automation solutions. The nature of industrial bakery production is such that it is batch-orientated with a strong emphasis on handcrafted goods.
The considerable lag-time between steps like proofing and requisite baking increments seems incompatible with most existing automated operational systems. Nevertheless, recent technological advancements in automation are just now influencing a protracted change of opinion when it comes to mechanizing procedures in the industrial baking industry.
Because bakers have been demanding better automated products for years, the automation industry was compelled to respond with more advanced equipment. More often than not, these innovations brought about industrial mechanization solutions that were previously inconceivable at a time when the industry was ready to abandon all expectations for improvement.
As one might expect, automation in larger, high-output facilities has been in place for decades. But smaller industrial baking venues are starting to recognize the upside to automating as well. Because most bakeries aim to grow, more business owners are seeking to further mechanize aspects of their production line that would otherwise require routine upgrades anyway.
What’s more, the ongoing changes in the staffing landscape, particularly the current labor shortage and the challenges it brings, have only accelerated the rate at which small bakeries continue to invest in automation.
Streamlining the core aspects of industrial baking procedures has become more frequent as the supply of available labor continues to contract. Consequently, finding new and more efficient automated solutions became a top priority for the entire food manufacturing sector.
Processes like robotic dough dividing have, indeed, become increasingly more common in medium and small-sized bakeries in recent years, as the need to automate becomes more pressing. Most industrial baking companies are now moving away from manual rack loading and depositing devices, favoring semi-automatic (or fully automated) equipment.
Most food manufacturing analysts estimate that the worker shortage may continue for some time. It is, therefore, crucial that bakeries consider adopting an emendated staffing model that permanently reduces any labor required to perform manual tasks that could otherwise be automated.
Implementing automated technology
Vision systems, check-weighing, servomotors, and robotic depositing equipment are just a few solutions among several that can vastly increase the quality and efficiency of a bakery’s output. While these technologies have been around for some time, bakers have been somewhat hesitant to take them up the processing side.
Small bakeries, in particular, haven’t adopted these technologies largely because servomotors that make automatic adjustments to 200 pieces per row and complex robotic vision devices for a high-speed croissant system are simply too robust. At a typical “mom and pop” local bakery, there’s just no need for that kind of extreme processing speed.
However, for smaller operations looking to scale their businesses into a medium or larger industrial facility, automated check-weighing for packing systems and dough distribution is vital. A well-automated check-weighing process ensures product consistency by facilitating its uniform weight.
Done manually on a large scale, the process of check-weighing is entirely cost-prohibitive. Likewise, given the current labor market, any attempt at filling such a position would undoubtedly prove difficult to the point that significant disruption to a facility’s line operations is almost a given.
It’s doubtless, automating can increase the efficiency of an industrial baking facility and ensure the consistent quality of its goods. However, the best practice is to implement automation operations in stages.
As previously mentioned, in baking, the batch steps are slower than others line processes. So the challenge to automating any baking facility is synching these initial steps up with events that happen much faster downstream.
Heavy strategizing is required before deciding how to begin automating a bakery production line. A facility might consider starting with a manual process at the head of the line before later integrating into it a pick-and-place system only after encountering a reliable solution to speed up the process downstream.
To offer another specific scenario, if your automated bagging equipment operates at a faster rate than the injection line, this creates an inevitable line disruption. And this makes it harder to coordinate equipment upstream.
While there exist several automated solutions that can delay production upstream to account for a slow batch process, it’s important to identify the prospective obstacles in advance. Forestalling any potential pitfalls along the line is the best way to avoid incurring unnecessary costs as the automation upgrades are made to a baking facility.
As with any food packaging facility, the efficiency of a bakery’s production line comes down to properly managing an often tricky batch-orientated process. With baking especially, batch-timing is pronounced because operators simply can’t speed up the time it takes to bake a given product.
Batch-processing is an immutable factor in the baking process. And it’s an immensely challenging one, given that batches can take a long time and differ vastly from product to product. The key to facilitating this known obstacle usually occurs upstream by ensuring that your equipment has adequate accumulation capacity.
In other terms, it is critical that the upstream equipment can handle multiple products to avoid interruptions from a stop-start process that halts continuous flow along the line. Historically, such changeovers have been done by hand, leading to a substantially decreased efficiency compared with a facility that’s properly automated.
The final takeaway
Bakeries in the past have been slow to automate because the equipment has either been prohibitively expensive or, more often than not, too difficult to find. Likewise, finding the right strategy to implement an effective automated digital transformation isn’t easy.
Nevertheless, more new technology continues to emerge as innovations in automation for the food production industry evolve and accelerate. If you operate an industrial baking facility, you might be asking, “are there industrial automation companies near me?” Well, EZSoft is a leading East Coast provider of Information and Control Systems for multiple process industries with comprehensive knowledge in industrial batch controls unique to baking facilities.
If you are a business owner in the food manufacturing industry, consider starting your facility’s digital transformation now by filling out EzSoft’s inquiry form online. One of their experienced industry representatives will respond promptly to explain how their automated solutions can improve your processing and packaging operations in no time.
Alternately, give EzSoft a call directly at (484) 568-5040 to get started on automating your business today!