The robotic icing on the cake
Quasar, a UK supplier of automation and robot systems, has partnered with Scorpion Vision and Mitsubishi Electrics to develop a machine that “adapts to the shape and surface profile of each individual cake to allow precise and consistent decoration”.
Robotics are widely used in other food manufacturing processes such as within the dairy and beverage sector, but are relatively new to cake icing.
If the surface of a cake is not completely flat and level, the distance between the dispensing nozzle and the cake surface can be too variable.
“This affects the quality and consistency of the written message and in the worst case scenario the icing nozzle can come into contact with the cake, damaging or gouging the surface, meaning that the cake cannot be sold,” a company spokesperson said.
Quasar’s robot is able to map out the surface of the cake with all its contours by using 3D vision and lasers. This scanning process is completed in less than a second, after which the robot has data for that individual cake and can adjust the nozzle distance accordingly.
Moving forward with their work, Quasar hopes that this concept will be applied to irregular shaped cakes – for example cars or footballs - which can prove particularly challenging with typical mechanical systems.
The 3D robotic system is past development stage but is not yet in production. However, Quasar told BakeryandSnacks.com that it is currently in discussions with a major UK cake manufacturer interested in introducing the technology.
Investment in the future
In 2010 the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) said that the food and drink industry appeared to be more resilient than other industry sectors in term of investments in robot systems. It recorded a 10% drop in orders from food and drink companies, but this was far lower than the average 45% drop across industry as a whole.
According to the IFR, worldwide robot sales across all industries will increase by an average of around 5% per year between 2013 and 2015. This breaks down to an increase of about 5% in the Americas, 6% in Asia/Australia, and 2% in Europe.
It said the opening up of huge consumer markets in the BRIC countries, in South East Asia, Turkey and the Middle Eastern countries will “guarantee the increasing consumer demand which is necessary for further investments in automation within these countries.”