Improved pan design minimizes damage to rims, bases and coatings. Source: Industrial Bakeware Co. 

Bigger, lighter, better
Over the years, bun pans have become significantly larger — some up to 4-square-feet — and this allows production lines to run smoother and slower with the same throughput that reduces overall wear and tear on the production line. As a result, material selection as well as rim and band styles must be designed to support the greater weight.

“We design the pans to the specific pan-handling system that’s being used in the bakery,” Mr. Tingley said. “In the best scenario, we are working with the pan-handling equipment suppliers. It doesn’t need to be a deep conversation. We just need to get specifics on how the pans are going to be supported, stacked and moved around the bakery, and from those specifics, we can design them properly.”

Over the years, Mr. Burke noted labor reduction and injury prevention have driven innovation in automatic pan handling. Most recently, ABI’s focus on advancing the technology for pan handling have been primarily geared toward integrating vision, quick-change tooling and robotics. Vision systems first identify pan size and configuration to confirm the right tool selection or detect if product got stuck after depanning that could result in improper stacking. Quick-change tooling then allows bakers to switch to the proper end-of-arm tool for different pan styles. A “recipe” system automatically chooses magnets, grips or other tools based on feedback from the vision system or other pan identification applications.

But there are restrictions.

“Space limitations still restrict the use of robotics in many cases,” Mr. Burke said. “However, as robot footprints grow smaller and collaborative robot payloads increase, the use of robots, in our estimation, will become far more commonplace.”

Mr. Burke added that space is “the scarcest resource in any bakery.” As a result, pan-handling systems must be designed to shrink their footprint without sacrificing functionality or flexibility. Going vertical in stacking/unstacking reduces the cumbersome space allocated to pan storage.

When it comes to pans, designing, making and storing them have become a science of their own.