Robotic Tray Handling for Industrial Bakery and Food Manufacturing
1. What robotics equipment has your company recently introduced that can help a food manufacturer with tray handling?
Apex Motion Control’s Baker-Bot is a cobot (collaborative robot) that is perfect for tray handling, as it is specially designed to help bakery and food manufacturers with this repetitive, non-value-added task. The Baker-Bot can load and unload trays and racks from conveyors, and it can also handle trays from single or double rack setups. When using a double rack setup, the lower part of the Baker-Bot frame has an automatic locking and unlocking feature that is automatically activated when the rack is empty or full. After this feature is activated, the Baker-Bot then begins to load or unload trays from the next rack automatically. It is considered a semi-autonomous system.Another useful quality of the Baker-Bot is that it does not have to be caged or placed in a “safe zone” to operate. The built-in sensors automatically detect when humans get close, and these sensors tell the Baker-Bot to drastically reduce its speed or stop until the area is clear. Cobots generally do not work at excessively fast speeds like larger caged robotic systems, which allows these cobots to safely work alongside humans.The Baker-Bot is also mobile and versatile, and it can be fitted with various different attachments for other applications such as decorating or palletizing. This multi-functionality allows the Baker-Bot to be used for more than just tray management, so a single cobot can support a wide range of needs. The Baker-Bot has an easy-to-use interface on its touchscreen tablet as well, so anyone can use the cobot regardless of their technical knowledge. If somebody can use a cellphone, they have enough experience to use the Baker-Bot too.
To see the Baker-Bot in action, you can visit https://apexmotion.com/baker-bot/ and watch the Tray Handling video on that page.
2. What are the benefits of using tray handling equipment?
The Baker-Bot is excellent for addressing the labor shortage and reducing workplace injuries. It is able to work safely with human workers while reducing the required amount of human interaction in the tray racking process, so employees can spend more time on value-added tasks.Even though the ROI is not immediate, utilizing automation like the Baker-Bot will improve worker safety right after installation and reduce overall production costs too. Since the Baker-Bot can work in a semi-autonomous fashion, it is able to work all day, every day, without needing any breaks, vacation hours, or sick days. Many food manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand due to the growing labor shortage crisis, but the Baker-Bot has been able to help various customers by filling this gap and empowering them with a new production process that meets their needs.
3. Can you give me an example of a food processor where Apex Motion Control has successfully applied their automation products and services to help with tray handling?
We’ve had a variety of customers across the world that used the Baker-Bot for tray handling on conveyor lines. For example, one customer implemented the Baker-Bot on their muffin production line, so it could remove muffin trays with batter from a conveyor to place them onto racks. A human worker would then move the racks to place them into ovens for baking. Other customers have also loaded empty muffin pans from a rack onto their depositing conveyor to automate the tray loading process.Another example is our installation for a company that produces high volumes of biscotti and snack crackers. We set up two Baker-Bots that worked independently from each other on tandem lines, while many people would do various other tasks around them. Once the employees got used to the Baker-Bots, they blended in quite nicely into their production process and created a new form of synergy among the team.
4. What robotics innovations do you foresee in the near future for tray handling?
Current tray handling technology can often be limited when it comes to payloads. However, our new Baker-Bot is designed to handle the larger and heavier trays that you would commonly see in the European bakeries of Germany, France, UK, and so on. As tray handling technology continues to advance, it will likely become capable of handling a wider variety of payloads while still maintaining its collaborative features that keep workers safe.There is also growing innovation in autonomous transportation systems for moving racks into place. While cobots like the Baker-Bot can help with loading trays from racks onto conveyors, these smaller robots can help bring the racks to these tray loaders, thus making the process even more hands-free. In the future, I’m sure that we will see a bunch of little wheeled systems moving around a food manufacturing plant, doing the tasks that would otherwise occupy a worker’s time with walking from station to station. With this kind of technology, workers can stop wasting time on the dull, repetitive tasks that place them at risk for repetitive strain injury, and they can focus on more meaningful tasks instead.
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