Baking & Snack - February 2021 - 93

EQUIPMENT
Robotics

CO-WORKERS

Advances in robotics - in size, vision, artificial
intelligence - help them progress further upstream
in bakeries and into more complex applications.

by Laurie Gorton

R

Robots, which first earned their place in bakeries 20
years ago, may now take on new roles, thanks to advances in size, mobility, adaptability, vision, controls and
end-of-arm tooling. These improvements are so significant that robots installed just five years ago are being replaced today.
Emerging in importance are collaborative robots wellsuited to address labor shortages and repetitive motion
tasks at medium to smaller wholesale bakeries. Quality
control methods, approaching that of artificial intelligence and machine learning, are being incorporated into
large and small robots alike. These developments enable
flexibility not previously available.
" Bakers don't just make one product, " said Dennis
Gunnell, president, Formost Fuji, " and their product line
can vary day to day and season to season. In the past,
robots were not quite so adaptable, but we are able to
overcome this today. "
Because all robotic systems change the workforce
skills required to run and maintain such machinery,
training and pre-installation prep is essential and now
supported by the test facilities operated by many equipment manufacturers.
" Much of what drives the increasing use of robotics is the inability to find enough skilled people to
staff bakery lines, " observed Craig Souser, president,
JLS Automation.
The current pandemic makes this situation even worse.

" For the most part, upstream applications have been
ignored, " Mr. Souser observed, " but the challenge is that
with today's staffing shortages, upstream usages must
be considered. "
As Mark Finneran, sales business development manager, Niverplast, explained, bakers are finding it hard to
expand from one shift to two or even three shifts as demand for their products expands.
" The rising expense of recruiting reliable people and
training them makes it cost-effective to bring in automation, " he said.
Robots are tireless workers. They run at a steady pace,
don't require downtime for breaks as human operators
do and are not prone to repetitive stress injuries.
" Robotics are being interpreted in different ways than
before, " Mr. Gunnell said. " Robotics can do those repetitive tasks that are difficult to staff these days. "
Converting to robots enables a bakery to provide
a better working environment for their employees, to
make their jobs better and retain their existing base of
skills and knowledge.

End-of-arm tooling can
be customized based
on product and task.
Today's tooling can
pick up even the most
delicate baked foods.
Niverplast

Collaborative work
Robots capable of handling heavy loads like pans and
trays have been around bakeries for a long time, but in
the past decade, a new type - the collaborative robot,
or cobot - has gained attention and increasing use. A
cobot does not require the extensive guarding required

www.bakingbusiness.com / February 2021 Baking & Snack 93


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Baking & Snack - February 2021

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