Robotics could offer quick wins for bakery sector

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Robot Industry

Robotics could offer quick wins for bakery sector
Greater efficiencies for the UK bakery industry can be gained by investing in robotic systems for oven loading and unloading, packing line automation and the centralization of palletizing, claims the Centre for Food Robotics and Automation (CenFRA).

CenFRA, a not-for-profit collaboration between North of England regional development agencies, food industry professionals and experts in robotics and automation said it is providing free audits to bakery companies in the northern region with the aim of providing bespoke automated systems for facilities to ensure their long term profitability.

Michael Taylor, operations director for Fosters Bakery in Yorkshire as well as chair of CenFRA, told that UK bakeries, though scoring extremely high on areas such as quality and safety, find it difficult to compete on a level playing field with their wider European counterparts due to their lack of system automation.

“A robot can work around the clock, and this has significant implications for a bakery’s productivity; automation also reduces the amount of waste on bakery lines by ensuring that products are specification compliant,”​ he claims.


Taylor argues that there are many barriers to automation take up in the UK bakery industry, with some companies having issues over factory space, some are concerned that automation is not cost effective for small runs, while others fear that switching to robotics could compromise the quality that hand crafted products traditionally provide.

Overcoming these reservations and advising bakery companies of the enormous potential for automation in production is CenFRA's aim, said Taylor.

“Not all automation has to be expensive,”​ he continued. “And the cost of robotics has come down in recent years through their extensive take-up in the automotive industry; with that sector experiencing a major downturn, robotic manufacturers are now targeting the food industry.”

Taylor claims that even small modifications to bakery equipment or conveyance lines that increase operational speed can have a dramatic impact on output.

Personal experience

He said that at his own facility, a robotics supplier designed a fully bespoke baking robot to load and unload an oven, but the design proved to be off spec and there were problems with getting the robotic system to work.

"As a result, CenFRA engaged with Fosters and evaluated the baking robot before setting out a project plan to get the robot up and running​,” explained Taylor. "Through the expertise of CenFRA's research and development team, we have been able to re-design and re-formulate the robot and support the re-evaluation and integration of it into the bakery."

Skills development

Taylor also maintains that automation can help companies relocate their workforce to more highly skilled areas within a plant, and that the Centre is working with the National Skills Academy to provide online learning packages for employees so that they can access training in robotics and automation remotely.

By the end of 2009, added Taylor, it is expected these learning packages will be capable of providing NVQ qualifications from Level 1 through to Level 4 and Foundation Degree.

Related topics Processing & Packaging

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