|Bakers must exercise due diligence when selecting a robotics integrator to ensure smooth installation and operation.|
So you want to buy a robot. Unfortunately, purchasing and installing a robotic system is not as easy as buying an oven. In fact, it’s more like purchasing an entire processing facility, one robotics integrator says. However, don’t let that scare you away. Robotic integrators have made great strides in bringing this technology to the baking industry, and have made many successful installations to prove it.
The key to any successful robotic installation is sourcing the right supplier. “Implementation of robotics is an extremely challenging task that requires experience and expertise in what is available and the limitations of these systems,” one robotics integrator says. “The actual operation of such a system is not difficult once training has occurred, and in many cases, the robot control systems are much easier to operate and learn about than traditional PLC control platforms.”
Finding the ideal robotics integrator is more difficult than it appears. The increased usage of this technology has resulted in a crowded pool of suppliers that span industries and product applications. This, one robotics integrator says, often leads to disappointing results. “Bakers need to rely on integrators who understand the impact that long-term operation in a bakery environment will have on a robot,” the integrator says.
Luckily for bakers, the number of robotic integrators with baking-specific expertise is growing as more and more bakers ramp up investments in this technology. So, what is the first step in sourcing the ideal application and supplier?
According to one robotics integrator, bakers must consider five key factors before purchasing a robotic system.
1) Payload: How much weight must the robot carry. Bakers must factor in a complete product line when determining this number. It also is beneficial to look at future products to determine if there will be any substantial weight increases.
2) Cycle time: This key figure details how fast a robot completes its tasks. Again, bakers must determine existing production speeds and potential future speeds that may be needed. If speeds ramp up beyond the robot’s capabilities, mis-picks and misplaces will occur.
3) Reach: What is the maximum range the robot operates in.
4) Number of axes: What type of motion does the robot need to handle.
5) Mean time between failures: Reliability represents one of the most critical factors when purchasing a robotic system. If a robot goes down often or unexpectedly, bakers may have to shut down an entire line. It is essential to examine closely a robot’s limitations, both published and real. “Published numbers are in a lab setting with optimal conditions,” one robotics integrator says. “Unfortunately, bakeries are not in the optimal conditions. Don’t rely on published specifications; rely on experience and options.”
One robotics integrator relays a story of a bakery that purchased a robot only based on published reports. “When the system was installed, they realized they had used the upper limitations of the robot specifications,” the integrator says. “This caused them increased downtime and they had to rebuild the robots.”
Unfortunately, horror stories like this are all too familiar in the baking industry. However, many suppliers with baking-specific experience are available to ensure a smooth installation and startup process. “Robotics are new to the industry, and there is a certain amount of risk that needs to be managed,” one robotics integrator says. “You need to select a company that you feel can handle the job, and work together to make sure the right process is identified, and then work on robot selection.”
Common robotic applications in the baking industry
1) Palletizing: Besides the obvious automation benefits of robotic palletizers, these units also offer bakers flexibility. Many robotic palletizers handle various package sizes and pallet sizes. Some units also allow bakers to handle both bakery trays and cases.
2) Pan handling: One of the most common robotic applications in the baking industry,
robotic pan handling systems automate the pan storage/retrieval process. These systems accommodate multiple pan sizes and feed multiple makeup lines.
3) Bread loading: The opportunities for robotic loaders for bread and other wrapped products is limitless. When installing this type of robotic system, ensure that the unit handles multiple pack patterns.
4) Pick and place/pack: This type of robotic system significantly reduces labor by performing labor-intensive jobs with speed. In addition, many of these systems feature vision systems that not only pick and pack products, but also inspect them for damage.