Chris Sumner, MD of FANUC UK considers why robotic uptake within the bakery sector has been lower than that in other manufacturing sectors.
The bakery sector is extremely broad, covering anything from ingredients, mixes and blends to bread, rolls, cakes and pre-made snack foods.
Robotic uptake within the bakery segment has traditionally been lower than other manufacturing sectors, primarily due to concerns over price. However, robotic systems are highly useful in picking, placing, sack filling and palletising and have become far more affordable (for example the cost of FANUC’s latest palletiser the M410iC/185 is 7% lower compared to its predecessor, yet has a 12% increase in payload capacity).
From bagged products to palletisers, robots provide an ideal solution for bakery lines. Automating a snack food processing plant means a high speed scenario can be achieved, with four, six or eight lines of product coming across at once. Because snack foods tend be chilled down and frozen, when they are received at the loading stations, they’re hardy and easier to handle.
Vision systems further increase this efficiency by locating product on a conveyor, and feeding the information to multiple robots that sit alongside. The robots then know exactly which product to go for – and where to put it.
Today’s robotic units are so advanced that they’re now being used for ever more intricate production methods. So, rather than just being used for end of line, some of these processes are being used in manufacturing applications, such as decorating and icing cakes.
Space is an issue for most bakery sites and if a business expands there comes a point where there’s a limit to how much equipment can be installed in the building. This is where a pick and place robots, such as Fanuc’s LR Mate 200iD 7L, come into their own. The six-axis robot has a reach of up to 911mm and, because it’s only about the size of a human arm, it minimises interference to peripheral devices.
For applications that require the moving of trays for rolls, cakes etc, a Fanuc M710 with a payload of 50-70kg works in a bigger envelope and has the ability to handle these large format items for line loading and unloading, stacking, and racking operations.
Ultimately, there’s no doubt that automation improves the efficiency of an end of line production facility. If you’re still unsure, it’s always good to seek advice. There are many robotic alternatives that suit specific projects – and in a far more economical way than ever before.