Batch Control: The Rise Of Automation In Bakeries
Have you considered joining other food businesses and adopting automation systems? Throughout the food and beverage industry, businesses are comparing the costs and benefits of upgrading their mechanical systems or continuing on with manual labor. Bakeries, in particular, have been implementing automation more and more for time- and cost-efficiency.
But with the rise of automation in bakeries, there have been questions. Will automation replace the people who add the intricate details and decorations to cakes and cookies? Will the human element remain?
What is Batch Control?
First off, there is no way to discuss automation in baking without talking about batch control. Most systems utilized by small to large bakeries and food production facilities include some kind of batch control system.
Batch control is used to describe the process of controlling stock that is assigned an identifier, such as lot numbers, serial numbers, batch numbers, production and expiration dates. This is primarily for traceability, which is useful for managing inventory or doing a product recall.
How does this work in baking? Say, for example, you have several bins with ingredients for baking up organic bread. Using an advanced programmable logic controller (PLC) system to automate the conveyor belts, you can set up the bread batching system to dispense a set amount of any ingredient within those bins onto a scale. Sensors will open and close the doors to the bins once the designated amount is used.
If there are any ingredients that need to be added by hand, the operator can program that into the system as well. From there, the ingredients are sent down the conveyor belt for processing. The operator can then begin a new batch.
How Automation is Benefiting Baking
By introducing automation to the food industry and bakeries, you open up a window of opportunity. Bakeries, for instance, can increase their productivity without relying on more employees, which is crucial during a labor shortage. Additionally, automation accelerates the entire production of the cakes, cookies, and pastries your food business puts out.
Even when your bakery is selling customized cakes and other baked goods, you can still enjoy many of the benefits of automation and batch control.
Predictive Maintenance Process
One of the best ways to get the most out of your automation systems is to keep them running. As with most machinery, routine maintenance is key. With automation systems, you have an interface that allows you to see not only the batches of dough being made, but also gain valuable insight into the status of the machines.
This then allows you to, for instance, get a certain machine serviced or an oven replaced during scheduled downtime. Without automation, you would never know the machine needed repair until it broke down unexpectedly.
Moreover, the use of PLCs, variable speed drives (VSDs), and intuitive human-machine interfaces (HMIs) can show you how to operate the machinery better. For instance, if the dough you are using has more viscosity than normal, the system might suggest a lower energy output. Such functions can be programmed into a PLC, so mixing speeds, times, and pauses can be scheduled into a designated recipe—and it will be performed each time that recipe is selected.
Slicing Limitations in Half
There are indeed limitations when it comes to automation in bakeries. Much of baking is a manual process, and many recipes have been handed down through generations. Automating the process could end up doing a disservice to your family’s best-selling recipes, so it is understandable that bakeries are apprehensive.
That said, companies like EZSoft have been innovating automation for many years. What if you could modulate how much air dough gets without ever needing to knead it? What if you could accelerate how many batches you get done by programming mixers and slicers to do some of the work for you? Even if there are places along the production line where things must be done by hand, there are many other segments that can be accelerated with automation.
Dangerous or challenging tasks can be given to the PLCs, so no one has to intervene or endanger themselves. All in all, any limitations your production line experiences can be smoothed out with automation.
Batch control ensures greater quality and consistency with products. For example, through sensors and data gathered by the PLC, operators can see the average weight of a cake or cookie and dial in to adjust those weights. This will decrease the chance of deviations between cookies.
Another example is programming a batch oven to heat items based on the recipe used. Being able to direct the flow of heat from the top or bottom of the oven ensures the greatest quality. This is ideal for bakeries that make traditional treats or artisanal breads and cakes.
Ready to Optimize Your Bakery?
Automation is on the rise and assisting bakeries around the globe with meeting demands from hungry customers. Whether you need to churn out identical holiday cakes or send out hundreds of loaves of freshly baked bread, batch control can increase the quality, decrease human error, and speed up productivity and efficiency. If you want to grow your business, it’s time to consider the possibility of automation.
EZSoft has solutions for your food business, including batch control programs and system integration, to streamline production. If you have questions about automating your bakery or are ready to innovate, we’re happy to assist. Give us a call at (484) 568-5040 or fill out the contact form to learn more.