Grupo Bimbo at the forefront of baking technology

by Joshua Sosland
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As reflected in its commitment to $1 billion in capital spending in the US in coming years, Grupo Bimbo, SAB de CV, Mexico City, Mexico, has long been known for its pursuit of industry-leading technology in its baking operations. Over the group’s history, though, the embrace of technology evolved slowly and often was spurred by external factors, observed Rosalio Rodriguez, chief of operations.

Mr. Rodriguez noted that the original Bimbo baking plant in downtown Mexico City continues to operate today, 67 years after its opening.

“It has automated lines. The first big step we took was from manual to mechanical operations in the 1970s, before computer systems were installed,” he said. “It was a quantum leap at the time.”

In the 1980s, another technological shift occurred, prompted in part by the Mexican government stimulus offering companies accelerated depreciation for equipment and systems.

“We updated many plants at the time,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “A major turning point was when we installed a bun line in Mexico for McDonald’s. Our older technology could not meet their quality needs, and the line was a major milestone for the company. It was very expensive — a tough decision. But it allowed us to sell to McDonald’s and was very successful. It prompted us to change all bun lines across the Bimbo system.”

By the 1990s, Bimbo was proactively looking for ways technology could help the company grow, Mr. Rodriguez said. Early in the decade, lines were installed for the production of puff pastry and croissants. Later in the 1990s, a plant in Tijuana was built that gave the company the ability to monitor operations remotely with cameras.

“The plant bakes bread, buns and other products,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “The technology allows us to offer guidelines from Mexico City, but we don’t run it from headquarters. We are committed to the idea of local responsibility.”

Grupo Bimbo has a long history of intensive training for its baking plant operators, Mr. Rodriguez said.

“With automated lines, controls must be much more accurate,” he said. “Management for the maintenance and control of these lines requires extensive experience. Thousands of hours of training are provided for manufacturing and management, much of it at AIB International. We are probably their biggest client. For maintenance, we also train by ourselves, working with suppliers.” (A top official at AIB International confirmed that Bimbo is indeed the largest client when it comes to training for baking.)

As the company has grown to 100-plus plants, Bimbo has made an effort to standardize equipment when possible, Mr. Rodriguez said.

“When we choose a line, we will install it at several locations around the world,” he said. “Because of differing environments — for instance, varying altitudes — we can’t standardize all our processes.”

Training for bakers at Grupo Bimbo often includes interim assignments for operations staff members to “broaden their perspective,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

“They may go to sales for a year to see that great product quality is not automatically the same as great availability,” he said. “If a product looks great when it leaves the line, it also needs to look great when it is delivered in the marketplace. The interim assignments and revolving positions also help ensure no one gets too comfortable.”

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