KANSAS CITY — Robotics have come a long way, and they can be a great long-term solution for bakeries looking to address the current labor shortage. But when it comes to packaging, a few persistent challenges remain, especially when handling delicate baked foods.

Bakers need to make sure their workforce has the skill set to maintain these sophisticated systems. Remote access can assist with technical issues, but sometimes a fix involves trial and error more than an exact science, especially with fragile products. Specifically, the challenge involves picking up the items and moving them to the flowwrapper or tray.

New end of arm technology (EOAT) can gently grasp items like a human hand, but the often rapid, back-and-forth movements of robotics can result in damaged product. In Baking & Snack’s June packaging technology feature, experts suggested extensive testing of EAOTs and noted bakeries may need a “family” of end-effector grippers for a production line with a large range of product sizes. These EAOTs often can be changed out in less than a minute by a trained operator.

Depending on the skill set of a workforce, bakeries may want to consider giving all types of automation a close look before investing in top-of-the-line robotics. Don’t fall in love with technology because it looks really cool and seems like a silver bullet to current labor issues.

Before the International Baking Industry Exposition, which runs from Sept. 17-21 in Las Vegas, companies need to do their homework before the show to ensure they have the workforce talent to adequately operate and manage the latest advances in technology.