Technology is moving fast, but what is changing is the speed with which bakeries are adapting out of necessity to keep their operations running efficiently and at the highest possible capacity.
That’s especially the case when it comes to automating the topping, decorating, and frosting of muffins, desserts, and other eye-catching items.
“While labor continues to increase due to shortages, the baking industry is developing more autonomous systems and machines to deliver better product quality and consistency with reduced risk and less room for error, as smart devices they use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to continuously improve the process,” observed Hans Besems, executive product manager, AMF Tromp, a brand of AMF Bakery Systems.
“Humans make emotional and reactive decisions,” he added. “The machines do everything based on data, even integrating preventive measures. We believe these solutions are complementary to human operators.”
Often, only one or two systems are needed to replicate a cake decoration with an artistic slice or luscious swirl of frosting on a high-volume production line.
Other times, bakeries employ automation to reduce unnecessary waste of expensive ingredients.
“Integrated vision tracking with servo controls and improved processor speeds is taking this entire category to a precision previously unimaginable,” said Jerry Murphy, vice president of sales for Gemini Bakery Equipment. “From applying pizza sauce to decorating donuts, limitations are only defined by one’s creativity.”
PLC controls, intelligent software, and industrial-grade sensors combine to precisely add toppings or finish baked goods on high-speed or quick-change lines.
“Digital imaging technology is used together with artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to make the system smarter and more efficient than current machines in factories,” explained Mr. Besems. “Added value is created because the digital images can also be used for quality control and benchmarking or quality control between shifts. This makes it easy to spot, find, track and trace quality issues without losing entire runs of product, leading to less waste.”
He added that it takes just a few days to integrate systems like AMF’s Smart Applicator into production lines, but a bit longer for the machine to “learn” how to target the desired amount of toppings on a specific crust or base. of flat bread.
“Sometimes the algorithm needs training, which we can prepare together with the client and the operators,” Mr. Besems said. “Then the specs, defaults, and products are known, and machine learning can do its job going forward.”
For control and efficiency, many companies have turned to phones and touch screens, while simplified or standardized software allows finishing systems to be more easily added to existing lines.
“The new developments include controls from smartphones, as well as easy integration with other equipment providers and compatibility with ethernet protocols that allow integration with centralized computer systems,” said Mauricio Nahum, application manager at Unifiller Systems.
However, most new systems require training, especially in bakeries that are beginning or in the middle of their automation processes.
“Our technician will help program recipes into the system and train the customer on recipe storage or how to switch from one product to another at the touch of a button,” he said. “We offer quick parts change for customers who have many different products.”
While many companies are more actively looking at all opportunities to automate these days, what about the bakers who continue to invest? Has technology advanced enough to consider upgrading your systems from the ones you bought just 10 years ago?
“If you’re happy with your current technology and it’s achieving the desired results, there’s really no rush to upgrade your system,” said Jamie Bobyk, marketing manager for Apex Motion Control. “However, upgrading can often help you achieve better results than what you are experiencing now. The labor shortage is not going away. They will only get worse as the boomers retire and the interests of the new generation lie somewhere other than working in a baked goods manufacturing plant.”
But there’s always the sales pitch that makes bakers take a second look at the latest technology.
“In that sense, if you’re really looking to improve it, the Deco-Bot is a no-brainer,” Mr. Bobyk added. “The Deco-Bot is an all-in-one robotic decorating station that is capable of precisely decorating cakes, cookies and cupcakes with that homemade look. Write, draw, spray and decorate round or sheet cakes with roses, or finish cupcakes with swirls, rosettes and roses.”
For bakers, it all comes down to their willingness to adapt to new technology to determine how well they will compete in the marketplace and whether they will be first to the finish line for new customers.