While the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may be holding the baking industry in a perpetual state of limbo with myriad challenges, it has propelled the industry in new ways, including pushing it toward more high-tech solutions.

Artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) all existed two years ago, but adoption of some of these technologies was sparse or used only as novelties in relation to packaging operations. Travel restrictions, quarantines and the like have forced companies to embrace these tools in ways that have become more commonplace today.

“The pandemic represented a tipping point in the industry where end users and vendors alike realized the many benefits through this medium, moving tasks away from traditional in-person support,” said Daniel Bellingham, head of service for Mettler-Toledo product inspection.

These technologies enable companies to work smarter by optimizing processes and finding better and faster ways to run equipment, train workers and troubleshoot problems.

“It has already become a separator for the organizations that are agile and adaptable enough to evaluate it, implement it and ultimately see it as an opportunity,” said Alexander Ouellet, innovation engineer, Harpak-ULMA. “We found very tangible benefits for a lot of our customers who have gone through this that wouldn’t probably have otherwise been so eager if they weren’t necessarily between a rock and a hard place. Some of those organizations have taken this as a moment to integrate these technologies across their enterprise.”

While some businesses have been thriving with these technologies for years, others in the industry are behind the curve.

“There’s a wide spectrum of how companies are taking advantage of these technologies,” said Jorge Izquierdo, vice president of market development for PMMI.

Chris Farver, director of controls and information, Heat and Control, said he’s seen a big change in a short time period. Five years ago, 40% of customers were chasing data collection.

“Today, it’s probably 80% of our customers who are now really wanting to understand what’s going on with their line,” he said.

This article is an excerpt from the February 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on AR/AR/AI, click here.