Rising costs have forced high-volume bakeries to re-examine their operations to find cost-saving efficiencies. Robotic solutions offer many opportunities to reduce labor and increase productivity, but how do bakers know if this advanced technology is ideal for their bakeries?
Unfortunately, purchasing and installing a robotic system is not as easy as buying an oven. In fact, it is more like purchasing an entire processing facility, one robotics integrator says. However, do not be alarmed. Robotic integrators have made great strides in bringing this technology to the baking industry, and many successful installations prove it. The key to any successful robotic installation is sourcing the ideal 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 operations 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 the robot must 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: 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, miss-picks and miss-places will occur.
3) Reach: The robot’s maximum operational range.
4) Number of axes: The type of motion the robot needs to handle.
5) Mean time between failures: Reliability is a critical factor 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 a robot’s limitations closely, 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."
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