Worker supply shortages and rising labor costs have many bakery owners looking into automation solutions to help bridge the gap. As the bar for entry into automation has ostensibly lowered in recent years, many food production facilities are beginning to see new opportunities to benefit from automation, especially given the current labor market and supply chain situation.
Whenever business owners start thinking about bakery plant automation, the first thing they’re focused on is return on investment (ROI) projections. However, this approach might be quickly outmoded because the shortage of available manual operators presents a unique business continuity challenge. Without workers, bakeries find themselves hard-pressed to keep the doors open at all.
Automation equipment manufacturers are responding to this shift in the food production industry through an active campaign to make their hardware and technology more accessible. With so many bakeries putting their automation projects on hold due to financial obstacles, leading automated solution providers are intent on adapting to the changing finance models they are observing. Yet withal, as many companies are having a hard time finding the necessary employees, business owners are reticent to wage the hefty upfront investment required for comprehensive automation upgrades.
On the whole, however, more food production facilities remain open to spending money on industrial automation solutions than in years past. Businesses are essentially faced with the choice of rolling the dice on a dubious labor market or exercising the financial discipline to follow through with the automation improvement initiative they’ve been keeping on the back burner.
As automating food production facilities increasingly becomes more of a necessity than a value-add proposition, many companies are in the process of determining the most economically sound approach to getting started. Some solutions, for example, that might’ve seemed cost-prohibitive just a few years ago, might make more financial sense under the present market conditions.
Start your automation improvement initiative early
While it’s important to maintain a realistic outlook on your available capital and what you can accomplish with it, you should expect that most of your expenses will continue to trend upward for the unforeseeable future. With that in mind, it makes better sense to start taking action now as opposed to holding off until later, when both labor and equipment are even more costly.
Upon estimating your ROI, you have to imagine that the labor wages you are paying now, to include all the overtime, will invariably rise year-over-year. The rate of increase, of course, depends on the location of your bakery and the conditions of the surrounding market. As the cost of labor continues to surge, presuming you can encounter the right employees at all, so do health care expenditures.
Automation is increasingly attractive to employers because, while it reduces soaring labor costs for years to come, it also enhances site productivity, worker safety along with product accuracy and quality. No two bakeries are alike, however, and almost every operation has its way of doing things. The companies that possess the most original approach to baking also tend to be the least automated. It is these companies that struggle to find a launching point for their automation improvement initiatives. In this case, the best strategy is to isolate the areas where your bakery particularly excels and be honest about its weaknesses. As you think things through, this will help make an accurate determination of which aspects of your business will benefit most from automation.
Another key consideration as you decide when to automate is the cost of fuel and transportation. Not only are receiving ongoing deliveries from vendors and paying various shipping costs of your, you employees paying an ever-increasing premium for their commutes into work. Rising energy costs only complicate the troubled labor market and account for a less than obvious contributing factor as to why bakers are now turning business away for the first time in their careers.
When bakeries can’t find employees, they’re unable to add shifts and take on more volume. Automated equipment, on the other hand, doesn’t commute your site daily by car, won’t take random sick days, never get injured on the job, and scarcely even needs a fifteen-minute break, excepting, of course, the occasional routine maintenance.
Even before the global health crisis, the baking industry found itself challenged to attract and retain new workers. Some regions struggle more than others. But irrespective of the health of your local economy, highly automated bakeries have a clear stake in the future of the food production industry. Employees may appreciate the added overtime for a stretch. But after a while, they start seeking a better work-life balance elsewhere. Bakery owners, therefore shouldn’t haste in implementing their automation plans much longer.
What is the most effective way to start automating?
Finding the right equipment manufacturer and software controls provider who understand your bakery’s processes is essential. They can offer customized solutions to meet your company’s needs better than the typical retailer that only sells equipment off the shelf. When it comes to software controls, EZSoft helps you look at the pros and cons of several solutions across a range of technologies so you can make an informed decision about which technologies benefit your bakery the most.
Working with companies that offer adequate testing capabilities is another key factor for success. Automating your baking process on the production capacity of your facility means you can take on more orders. But with that increase in volume comes more responsibility and liability. You want to ensure that your system is set up the right way the first time to avoid frustrating your trusted partners and potentially losing business after making a considerable investment in automation upgrades.
EZSoft is a full-service integrator of process control systems that develops leading software solutions for the food processing industry. Are you interested in learning more about automating your baking facility? To get started, call (484) 568-5040 today.