Powered by AI and smart vision inspection systems, the robot of today is canny – taking on tasks from packaging to dough scoring, writes Managing Editor Rebecca Spayne
The potential unlocked by applying robots to bakery production is only just beginning to be realised – whether applied to dough forming, packaging or waterjet scoring – only the best robot is supported by a sophisticated AI-powered system. Although the widespread adoption of robots in baking and broader food production has seemingly been slow to pick up, trade shows such as iba last year demonstrated that a growing number of businesses are adding digital solutions to their portfolio.
The evolution of robotics
The evolution of robotics has come on leaps and bounds in the tasks robots now provide the bakery industry with – from picking and placing products on a production line and packaging, to dough forming and scoring and, increasingly, supporting stringent quality control. Steps taken to improve vision software and grippers in the robotics sector have all positively impacted on the processing and quality inspection of bakery products, all the more important when a large manufacturer is dealing with high volumes of products.
More broadly speaking, robotics eliminates the need for manual labour which can be reassigned elsewhere, which is particularly pertinent in an industry struggling to source skilled labour, as unsociable hours and repetitive tasks can deter potential workers.
Where the bakery industry has previously been more cautious about incorporating robotics into production, per se, attendance at the iba trade fair in October 2023 demonstrated this has become more widespread, as the number of manufacturers offering digital solutions has noticeably increased in the five-year period.
In an interview with our chosen Innovators this issue, Alyson Slapkauskas, CEO of ABI and Raymond Nogael, the Vice President of Marketing and Business Development of TMG, company owner, talked to me at iba about their early advocation for the adoption of robotics in the bakery industry, an industry which they explained was just starting to discuss the adoption of robotics and, more broadly, digital solutions.
“The last edition of iba was five years ago [the most recent edition took place in October 2023],” said Raymond. “Five years on, I look around and see the majority of businesses offering smart solutions and digitalisation in some form.”
The evolution of robotic and smart solutions has seen the opportunities offered by using robots in production expand. “For decades, robots have been helping to increase production efficiency, improve quality and consistency and alleviate labour shortages in industries such as automotive, machinery and plastics,” said Paul Carter, Sales Manager System Automation – Robotics, at FANUC UK when he spoke to me. “Other sectors however, including food and beverage, have been slower to wake up to the benefits of automation, with many food producers still heavily reliant on manual labour and semi-automated equipment.”
Applying robots to achieve uniform dough scoring was demonstrated by ABI’s latest robotic solution shown at iba, the Katana robot, and has been observed in other robotic systems offered on the market...
This feature is from our upcoming January/February issue. Read our magazine here.