The last decade has witnessed heavy investments in mass production lines by many large players in the bakery market. These lines are highly automated but only capable of producing a small range of different products. They can’t handle variations in processing (e.g. proofing, baking and cooling) and/or frequent change-overs. How are the automation possibilities for mid-sized bakeries who are generally operating in the fresh market and are challenged by the need to deliver a wide range of fresh baked products on a daily basis?
These mid-sized bakeries, similar to large bakeries, are confronted with increasing labour costs. The need for automation e.g. reducing labour cost is not only an issue in Western markets like US and Europe, but is also in low labour cost markets like China and Mexico.
It is known that the worldwide leading equipment manufacturers have a strong focus on fully automated solutions at a very high capacity level (e.g. 10.000 loafs or baguettes per hour, up to 60.000 buns per hour, et cetera). What is relatively unknown is that there are also many smaller equipment manufacturers who are offering innovative and high quality automation solutions. These smaller suppliers are more flexible in their offering to bakeries and enables for production automation in mid-sized bakeries with a high need for production flexibility (many small batches, many change over times).
To achieve such automated flexible production solutions requires a different approach: ‘thinking out of the box’ and a customised engineering perspective. This approach is characterised by flexibility e.g. creativity and knowledge of available solutions from different (unknown) suppliers. These solutions require a System Integrator capable to (re) design production plants and engineer, based on technological solutions from different suppliers to optimise the process from raw materials/ingredients to final packaging.
Currently we are implementing a total integrated solution for a bakery project in England with equipment from 18 different suppliers! Each of them contributes from their specialisation to obtain an optimal designed production plant with features like; small footprint, labour friendly, low energy consumption, automated flexible production, scalable (capacity), upgradable (level of automation), etcetera. Such an approach assures a highly flexible asset with long life time, capable to fit the needs of future production of (new) bakery products.
The application of new, but already proven technologies or smart solutions, like robots, automatic guided vehicles (AGV’s), high level computer control and data collection in the cloud, has paved the road for Flexible Production Automation. Data collection and storage in the cloud in combination with software enables for reporting about the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and Tracking & Tracing which is becoming increasingly important from food safety perspective.
The conclusion is that production automation is not only accessible for large scale industrial bakeries with mass production lines but also for semi-industrial bakeries with a high demand for production flexibility and/or high level of artisan quality of produced goods. In addition flexible production automation paves the way for investment in assets with a much longer life time since they are designed to handle future needs and demands.