On spiral conveyors in areas with a limited sightline, positively driven conveyors aid in maintaing product alignment.

In bakery operations, conveyors could be considered the unsung heroes. Even in an operation not fully automated, they are getting baked goods from makeup to packaging … and all the points in between.

Whether heading out of the proofer, through the oven or into a package, how products line up and space out on a conveyor can mean the difference between a quality, consistent product and one that is damaged, wasted or, worse, improperly packaged and eventually recalled.

In many ways, a baker could consider the conveyor system to be the first step toward automation, especially in an area such as packaging. “Frankly, anyone looking to automate their packaging will need to look at the conveyors right away,” said Steven Renaud, vice-president, sales, ABI Ltd. “Conveyors tend to be the foray into automation. In an area like packaging, there will be a dead stop if product is coming in at random, so there has to be some solution in place.”

Saving labor

In terms of automating operations, conveyors not only minimize labor but also make life easier for workers still doing manual tasks. When finished products head toward the packaging area, maintaining their orientation is crucial for proper packaging, and if not conveyed properly, products will require manual labor to correct bottlenecks and misalignments that could lead to misfeeds or errors in robotic pick-and-place.

“At the end of the line, a pick-and-place process assists product; if it’s not in the right orientation, the robotic sensors cannot detect the products if they are too close to one another,” said Ricky Milner, senior technical services representative, Wire Belt Co. of America. “When that happens, the products have to be manually separated.”

For bakeries that have not automated the packaging area, proper conveyance can ease the labor. “If you don’t have that area automated and have a person manually doing the picking and placing, if that product comes down the line skewed 30 degrees, the workers will have to turn each product by hand,” said Bob Harrington, vice-­president, sales and marketing, Capway Automation. In order to avoid this, as well as keep the overall system running smoothly, orientation is critical.

Continue reading for insight into conveyor orientation and alignment.