MUNICH, GERMANY — The latest in diagnostic technology allows bakers and their equipment suppliers to enhance performance or discover issues on production lines prior to when the problems occur to minimize downtime and maintenance issues.

“Imbedded communications technology, imbedded diagnostics and intelligent systems with wireless communication make units capable of telling bakers when it requires maintenance, what maintenance is required and how it should be done,” said Jim Kline, founder of EnSol Group and contributing editor to Baking & Snack magazine.

“They eliminate the planning of maintenance by telling you what needs to be done in advance,” he added.

Throughout iba, which ran Sept. 15-20, such examples of digital diagnostics were prevalent along the exhibition floor. Baking & Snack editors saw pan stackers that told bakers if maintenance or repair is required because the vibration of the system exceeds 10% or if a motor’s temperature gets too high on a sheeter line, requiring its replacement. Typically, such indicators from a supplier can be communicated via monitoring through the cloud or installed internally as part of a bakery’s system.

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Such a transition since the last iba just three years ago has vastly changed how new systems operate, said Mr. Kline, who has attended and exhibited at multiple iba events and International Baking Industry Exhibition (IBIE) shows over the last few decades. The largest difference is that the most current bakeries, thanks to digital interconnection, speak one language instead of the tower of babel in the past. That’s made some previous service providers as irrelevant as if they were now set in stone.

“It’s becoming commonplace to the point that what you don’t see at this show are the technology integrators of 10 years ago whose purpose was to provide that problem-solving information as a third party,” Mr. Kline observed. “They seemed to have disappeared.”

He stressed that today’s sensory components are communicating throughout the bakery’s production flow and that telemetry often returns directly to the bakery’s host computer. The result is a more seamless process.

“You don’t require separate software to integrate the system now,” he pointed out.

Mr. Kline couldn’t stress enough that today’s ongoing information processes are mainly occurring within the confines of the bakery. Many of them are still not comfortable with monitoring by outside vendors.

“There is a concern giving open access to this communication technology, not because of concerns by the equipment manufacturer, but because such access opens the computer system to hacking,” he explained. “The security isn’t trusted. It seems almost everything can be broken into.”

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For most bakeries, problem solving with equipment companies is on a request-only basis.

“My experience is that bakers don’t mind manufacturers looking at the system when they know there is an issue,” Mr. Kline said. “This diagnostic capability is a real plus, but that access must be on an as-need basis.”

That’s why many iba 2018 exhibitors promoted that they supply smart glasses and other interactive visual aids that allow remote technicians to visually see and diagnose technical issues and then provide real-time guidance to solving those problems.

In the future, such guidance will not solve the workplace-gap dilemma but offer essential technical support to those in-house bakery maintenance professionals who need immediate assistance in getting a high-speed production line up and running as soon as possible.

Reinforcing his initial assessment of today’s latest top technical trend at iba, Mr. Kline pointed to the integration of internal data analysis occurring on a real-time basis not only to reduce maintenance situations, but also to optimize production performance.

“Communications among the line is so that equipment now speaks to one another,” he said. “Those line components then will talk to a central system. You can see the volumes of products made, the overall operational performance and the schedule that you’re servicing. That’s all great.”

Again, such advanced communication is a major benefit, but Mr. Kline urged bakers to use it responsibly.

“Those systems reside on the same system where sales data and proprietary information,” he said. “The concern is, once an outsider has access to your system, that there are not adequate firewalls going forward to protect your database.”