Food In Canada

Automation advances in the baking industry

By Jane Dummer   

Automation Bake & Snack Food Editor pick

The benefits of introducing hi-tech in bakeries are manifold

Automation can improve productivity in bakeries. Photo © / Adobe Stock

It is important to review advances in automation and the benefits they provide. The baking industry, along with the entire food industry, has been slow to automate. At the start of the pandemic, automation adoption was accelerated when global lockdowns created customer demands for baking ingredients and baked goods. The baking industry continues to embrace automation into 2023. Nithya Caleb, editor, Food in Canada, describes results from the 2022 Business Outlook survey: “From machinery to innovative products, participants are busy planning new investments. Approximately half (49 per cent) expect to invest in new machinery, equipment, or technology in the next year with 32 per cent introducing automation in the next three years.”

Using automation can improve productivity and create a more sustainable, energy-efficient product. These are fundamental benefits of incorporating automation for bakeries of all sizes. Automating production and packaging lines can be easily measured while keeping up with product demand. Also, automation is one solution to address the current tight labour market. Typically, automation works at a more consistent rate (and faster) than human workers.

Smart technologies will help decision makers improve operator and food safety in bakeries. Photo © industrieblick / Adobe Stock

Efficient operations

Daniel Millar, business development manager, Factory Automation/Packaging at Emerson, describes, “Production and packaging lines are the areas of the baking process that we’re seeing the greatest automation demand. Today’s bakers are facing the same skilled labour shortages and sustainability pressures as other industries. With fewer or inexperienced personnel, it can be challenging to improve or even maintain production uptime to meet demand. With no way to monitor equipment and processes, bakers may not know if they’re getting the proper product count for ingredients, and operations may use more energy and resources than required. By automating production and packaging lines, staff can work more efficiently, operations can rely less on personal knowledge and experience and processes can result in less waste.”


Millar points out, “With such optimized operations, bakeries can better ensure production levels and respond faster to market demands to remain competitive. Depending on the application, automation can improve facility safety. Smart technologies that continuously monitor operations and provide advanced analytics can give bakeries greater control over energy and resource consumption and significantly improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).”

Let’s talk ROI

Automation is an investment. However, the ROI can be advantageous. With the benefit of automation, bakeries can improve accuracy during the production process resulting in improved product quality. Peter Rasmussen, industry segment business driver – baking, North America, Festo Corporation, explains, “If you look at the overall baking process, primary packaging has been the area with the most focus on automation, as it generated the highest levels of ROI. While bakeries can see great returns on their investments by taking advantage of automation in packaging, I also think bakeries of tomorrow will look at automation in a more holistic view. They will capture data points and employ software to help decision makers improve operator and food safety, while increasing operational efficiencies and lowering environmental impacts. This, in turn, could help them engage their labour force by making work more interesting, which can assist in labour retention, another way of enhancing ROI.”

Automation is not just for large bakeries. Automation can be introduced in stages, and it does not need to take away the artisan style for small and mid-sized bakeries. For this group, rather than installing a multiple function system, it may be better to first integrate a smaller scale solution. At the International Baking Industry Expo (IBIE) 2022, I discovered Festo’s new generation of soft customizable, hand-like grippers. These robots can be deployed in applications where individual baked goods are handled to pick and place all sizes and formats. Advancements in design allow for handling odd-shaped items like artisan cupcakes with icing. The grippers’ finger-like movements are suitable for end-of-the-line packaging. Food safety and ease of cleanability, quick and simple changeovers, and low energy consumption are all part of the design.

In 2020, advances in automation were driven by a need to meet record demand for baked goods on supermarket shelves. Today, customized automation and unique digital transformation continue to expand in bakeries of all sizes. 

This article was originally published in the February/March 2023 issue of Food in Canada.

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