People are, by nature, hard to predict. Day to day, a person’s performance changes based on personal attitudes or professional stresses. Robots, on the other hand, are as steady as the ticking of a clock. Not only that, but they will also handle small, delicate products the same way, each and every time. People, no matter their level of muscle memory, do not.

For those reasons, the baking industry has seen a large push toward automation in packaging. Whether it’s a robot working with employees or a stand-alone pick-and-place operation, the machines gently handle miniature products before and after primary packaging. They can increase throughputs, reduce bottlenecks and generally ease the burden on employees who otherwise would have to do a very repetitive job.

The level of expertise to support dealing with robotics is different than other forms of automation. A technician often needs to approach a robot with a laptop computer instead of a wrench or screwdriver. Bakers need to train their staff to accommodate the robots and ensure that their supplier supports their needs if an issue arises.

Bill Kehrli, vice-president of sales and marketing, Cavanna Packaging, said a company may not be ready for robotics if the bakery is not prepared to hire a technician that can maintain such a system.

“While service is there to help them, the reality is there needs to be someone there to help you get through the middle of the night if there is a problem,” he explained.

Cavanna Packaging offers scanning and support systems to help technicians troubleshoot any problems. The company recently began a system using smartphone technology so offsite technicians can see what bakers are looking at through a phone’s camera.

“It’s kind of like ‘FaceTime on steroids’ for the industry,” Mr. Kehrli said.

Additionally, many robots now come equipped with software that can help the monitoring and troubleshooting processes. For example, new software allows operators to prepare production processes offline and simulate runs, helping to reduce setup time for new batches by spotting errors before actual production starts.

Shuttleworth’s robot-ready solutions integrate with simulation software iRPickPRO that allows it to pre-engineer systems to validate rates and determine optimization levels. For example, a multiple-robot picking system relies on dynamic load balancing equations that keep the production line in operation if an issue arises with one picker.

“Customers are requiring flexibility and quick product changeover, normally through the HMI, where adjustments are made automatically without mechanical tools or highly skilled technicians,” said Michael Liu, engineering manager, Shuttleworth.

Robots now offer a more sanitary alternative to manual labor. Robots have become smaller and easier to clean as technology has advanced. Many are now washdown capable and have gripping technology that’s easily removed and washed.

Bosch’s GD33 delta robots are a family of stand-alone machines featuring an open design for expedited cleaning and simplified operations. Eric Aasen, product sales manager, Bosch Packaging Technology, said the machines enhance efficiency through higher speed and payload, robust performance, broader application range, and reduced maintenance times.

As engineers improve sanitary design, footprint size and maintenance requirements for robotics, they can offset many problems that come with manual labor and increase efficiencies in bakeries of any size.

Pick-and-place robotic systems can increase throughput and reduce bottlenecks in packaging.