While automation is hardly new to industrial baking, it has made significant inroads lately. From packaging to production, many commercial baking facilities are rapidly turning to new industrial automation solutions to ensure their bakeries flourish well into the future.
How to begin preparing
The first critical step in starting any automated digital transformation is to instigate a top-down evaluation of the baking enterprise. Transitioning any bakery from a largely manual operation to a highly automated one poses several challenges. The process, for one, doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a lot of sophisticated strategizing from both the maintenance and operational sides of an organization.
Where do you start the process?
Once you’ve established a reliable roadmap to your bakery’s industrial automation solutions, it’s time to start implementing the technology. Analysts at EzSoft, one of the leading full-service integrators of process control systems on the Eastern Seaboard, concur that baking facility owners should focus on starting their paths to automation in the processing and packaging departments.
Most small to medium-sized bakers still manually pack finished products into baskets, boxes, and corrugated cases. Manual packing at a small bakery involves up to three staff members dedicated to that one task alone. That’s precisely why automating the packaging process remains at the forefront. Implementing automation solutions in packaging is usually where food manufacturing owners find the fastest ROI as well. Automating allows them to reduce the number of overall workers while ensuring a safer environment by eliminating menial, repetitive motion tasks.
Starting the automation process in packaging works. The evidence is observable in the many large-scale bakers who implemented these changes many years ago. As these organizations grew more confident in utilizing automated technology, they were better prepared to acquire more advanced tools and hire the appropriate staff to maintain these systems.
Sourcing the right technical talent
While automation reduces the need for low-skill workers, it also requires a transition toward higher-skilled staffing. As operations become more dependent upon highly technical equipment, business owners must refocus their scope on finding qualified technical labor, specifically with a background in automation.
Industrial bakeries must, for obvious reasons, operate in a sanitary environment. The key to sustaining such a facility is the proper maintenance of the automated systems in use. Subsequently, as your operations permanently leave a collection of low-skilled manual positions behind, it must pivot toward developing a strong group of technical workers who understand programmable controls, robotics systems, and can troubleshoot complex mechanical failures.
All high-performing industrial bakery facilities taking advantage of automation can benefit from a skilled in-house technical team. With that mentioned, no bakery has gone fully automated as of yet. The industry is far from seeing “lights out” facilities that operate on automated procedures alone. You can anticipate a substantial supply of manualized line procedures to remain in place for several years to come.
Reducing your operation’s footprint
Baking facilities still heavily invested in manual operations command 10-15% more real estate, on average, than a well-automated one. The reason why this is true is obvious -these manual processes necessitate more people. If three or four people are needed to load finished products of the conveyor and onto trays, this fundamentally commands more space than an automated procedure that doesn’t require those same workers to be present at all.
A leaner staffing model
It’s no secret the reason food manufacturing professionals are seeking to automate now more than ever is attributable to the recent labor shortages. While, for most bakeries, labor is the most significant expense, it is also one of the hardest costs to minimize and control. This problem is only compounded as essential roles, often low in skill and pay, become increasingly difficult to fill.
Automating is shown to be the most effective way of addressing the emergent challenges to the current labor force. Not only is automation more efficient, but the equipment also ensures a consistent level of production accuracy that even the most highly skilled operations can’t match. Because many new automated systems now perform multiple functions, automating your facility can save on labor costs along multiple stages of the line. Not dissimilarly, substantial time savings are rendered because materials are transferred from one workstation to another at a much faster pace.
Return on investment
While the upfront cost of automating any food manufacturing company can seem daunting at first, it’s important to remember that such an investment can pay for itself in droves after just two years. How quickly investment automation pays for itself depends on a few factors, such as a bakery’s guidelines for capital investment payback, which is unique to each industrial operation. In general, facility owners can expect the investment to pay for itself over three years, if not sooner.
To calculate RIO, you must factor in the direct labor savings, increased uptime efficiency, faster changeovers, and reduced worker compensation payouts. The best way to ensure the lowest upfront cost possible is your homework and prepare for a seamless installation of the equipment. Establishing a skilled project management team and qualified technical staff beforehand goes a long way and can save you thousands in the long run.
Implement automation stages
A well-strategized step approach is the soundest method to approaching an industrial baking facility’s automated transformation. The risk of making a drastic, sweeping transformation to an operation is considerable. Current staff may not be prepared for a swift transition and may even resist it. Even more, you’re placing all the risk upfront instead of spreading it out over time.
Undoubtedly, the early stages of planning invite more key questions than clear solutions. To start with, you might be wondering, “Where do find industrial automation companies near me?” Look no further than EzSoft. Located just outside of Philadelphia, they represent a cutting-edge, industry-leading provider of process control systems and industrial automation solutions.
Consider filling out their form or contact EzSoft now at (484) 568-5040 now to learn how their team of dedicated specialists can help minimize risk while providing superior testing protocols for your next automated technology installation.