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IBIE Q&A: Baking Automation Rises To The Occasion

The International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) will be held Oct. 6-9 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The event brings together professionals from every segment of the grain-based market to provide the latest industry technology and knowledge.

Interview with Rich Hoskins, IBIE Committee Member and Director of Operations, Colborne Foodbotics

The International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) will be held Oct. 6-9 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The event brings together professionals from every segment of the grain-based market to provide the latest industry technology and knowledge.

In Part II of a four-part Q&A series on IBIE, Rich Hoskins, IBIE Committee Member and Director of Operations for Colborne Foodbotics, discusses the educational offerings available at this year’s expo.

Q: Food facilities continue to become more automated, but the baking industry has maintained more of a hands-on approach than other food sectors. That being said, what types of technology are bakers today implementing in their facilities?

A: Efficiency is paramount in modern bakeries. That’s clearly evident by the number of robots and new technology exhibits you will find at the 2013 International Baking Industry Exposition. To give you an idea just how much innovation is on display, this year's exhibit space of nearly 500,000 square feet is nearly sold out. Bakers are beginning to recognize the powerful potential for increased production and profit through automation and the demand for these solutions has never been greater.

The drop in the cost of robotics over the past decade has increased ROI in areas that previously were not financially viable. Many bakeries are implementing automated solutions especially for processes like bread, bun, roll basket/case loading and direct transfer of muffins, cupcakes and other baked product directly from the pan into packaging. Other popular robotic applications are high volume pick-and-pack or pick-and-place systems, line balancing, carton and case loading, palletizing, vision-guided quality-control inspection/rejection, and sandwich/wafer assembly.

In each of these applications, bakers are able to reduce labor costs, improve overall efficiencies and significantly lower handling/transportation costs and you will probably see it first at the 2013 IBIE. 

Q: What challenges do bakers face when incorporating new technology into their facilities?

A: The biggest challenge is their fear of the unknown when it comes to robots and new technologies. If you haven't done it before, there is so much to consider — training, costs and payback, plant layouts, energy usage, etc. It can be overwhelming. Thankfully, IBIE and most suppliers who develop new technology systems help bakers overcome that fear by giving them design and layout assistance and the opportunity to go hands-on with new solutions before they buy. Bakers can speak with our experts and see solutions in action. Seeing is believing, and bakers can really see the enormous value robotics solutions offer to their operations.

Training is a major area of concern for bakers, especially for the many operators and maintenance personnel across all shifts. They must be intimately familiar with the important features of the new system. Features such as quick clear and restart, auto tool change, single button resets, and collision avoidance are all meant to improve operating and safety procedures, minimize downtime and increase operating efficiency. So it’s critical that suppliers provide ample documentation and training.

For someone who is new to robotics, we commonly recommend that the training start before they finalize details of a contract. We partner with the robot supplier to make sure the customer prospect understands the full system. This approach quickly builds confidence in the project and we now have a company insider helping us sell the project to top management.

Q: What are some new technologies and equipment that can help bakers improve their baking processes and efficiency?

A: The best place to find that out is IBIE — especially the new Innovation Showcase which displays the most state-of-the art solutions for bakers. Specifically though, I think impingement ovens are really hot right now… no pun intended.

Impingement ovens offer much shorter bake times and excellent control of the baking process. For example, pies require heavy heat to the bottom of the pie. Heavy-duty hearth-baking surfaces were traditionally used to assure the necessary heat to produce a uniform crust. Impingement ovens can deliver better results more quickly and efficiently. They first made their mark in the pizza industry and allowed the big pizza delivery companies like Dominos®, Little Caesars® and Pizza Hut, to announce "30 minute delivery or it’s free" guarantees. Today, the technology has spread. Its ability to customize heat distribution and shorten bake times has made it a favorite for many bakers.