Looking back in time, what seemed surreal even just 10 years ago has become totally real. Even as little as three years ago, virtual and augmented reality were only toys at a major baking trade show, and going digital was only in its infancy for many bakers.

Today, the reality is that these “toys” have emerged as tools of the baking industry. Moreover, companies now manage data to drive greater efficiencies, enhance profitability and, in the long run, provide a solution to solving the ever-expanding workforce gap. While virtual and augmented reality remain the future for most operations, the baking and snack industries are making great progress — and significant investments — in harnessing data through interconnection and communication. As one might say, one small step for man, one giant leap for the baking and snack industries.

“Equipment manufacturers have truly begun to take advantage of data that is naturally available at the time products are made,” said Rowdy Brixey, president, BEST: Brixey Engineering Strategies & Training. “This data can range from time, temperature, lot number, ingredients, scaling accuracy and faults, and the list goes much deeper. The real beauty comes from collecting this information across the entire shop floor. Then it can be compiled in a way that reporting analytics highlights variations, cost per unit, best day and other equipment performance statistics that pinpoint opportunities in real time versus the old rearview mirror reports from yesteryear.”

Time is of the essence when it comes to solving operational issues. Even a couple hours of downtime are unacceptable. True connectivity remains the key to ratcheting up efficiency.