A growing demand for baked goods has brought digitalisation, predictive analytics and collaborative robots to the baking industry.
The early days of the pandemic brought multiple challenges amidst the homemade bread baking frenzy — from high cost of ingredients to the initial panic-buying that wiped out stocks from supermarket shelves. Meanwhile, retail players, namely those in the fresh bread segment, rushed to feed a population that from one day to the next was told to stay home.
Still, there were new opportunities that emerged. The existence of many small-scale bakeries in Asian countries and the easy availability of products such as fresh baked bread are driving this segment. Frozen bakery products (such as bread, pizza crust, cakes and pastries) are seeing increased popularity due to their ease of preparation time and cost-efficiency, due to the increasing awareness and busy lifestyle of consumers – a key factor encouraging the purchase of hassle-free and ready-to-bake frozen bakery products.
“The convenience, along with healthier and tastier food, enables players in the frozen bakery segment to emphasise more on consistency, taste, quality, as well as extended shelf life and food safety,” said Nalin Amunugama, general manager of BOGE Kompressoren Asia Pacific.
No doubt, the pandemic influenced consumers to seek value-added baked goods, especially in terms of health and wellness, and innovative new flavours and artisanal creations. For bakery manufacturers, strict hygiene regulations, labour shortages, rising production and maintenance costs, and waste reduction remain at the fore. They are investing more in research and development and tapping on innovative technologies and equipment, such as artificial intelligence (AI), integrated compressed air systems and industrial robots to remain competitive.
Predictive analytics cut waste
With food and consumer safety regulations tightening across the region, the emphasis on product inspections have intensified over the past few years. On average, many manufacturers in the baking industry are prone to persistent quality and waste production losses as a direct result of expensive product recalls from net weight issues, size and shape variability, and colour inconsistencies. In transforming the traditional factory line to making production more productive, efficient and agile, predictive logistics-based technologies are instrumental in minimising product recalls.
Widely adopted by large corporations like Nestlé and PepsiCo, Seebo is a process-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform that predicts and prevents food waste on the factory floor. The AI system is a proprietary technology designed to pinpoint pesky production losses and resolve complicated process inefficiencies. The system digitally models the operator’s entire production process to unify enriched data from processes throughout the production line – including raw materials – and perform a multi-source Automated Root-Cause Analysis. The intelligent technology uses AI algorithms to automatically reveal and report primary suspected causes of losses which may not be visible to the human eye and those caused by a complex combination of behaviours among the hundreds of interrelated data tags. Seebo reports how these process inefficiencies influences the factory chain, enabling true process mastership. For instance, the AI system can identify burnt or over-toasted bread due to high baking temperatures and slow conveyer speeds. Predictive analytics provide recommendations through real-time proactive alerts which are delivered to the operators and production teams via a simple, intuitive screen as soon as process inefficiencies occur. The system outlines problematic areas and suggests a set of standard operating procedures alongside optimal process settings, allowing operators to take immediate action and prevent process inefficiencies and subsequent losses before they occur.
Intelligent control and performance efficiency
In a bakery setting, high-quality compressed air is crucial for various processes like packaging and the transport of food products. Conventional air systems often struggle to support the transport of fine-grained items such as flour from exterior silos to mixers and flour scales throughout the facility. Flour dust is easily dispersed into the ambient air and can settle on machinery, which can clog the air compressor’s drives and cooling systems. This causes overheating, machinery breakdowns and incurring high maintenance costs over time.
The BOGE S-4 oil-lubricated screw air compressor is optimally designed to address fluctuating compressed air requirements found in dusty environments, like bakeries. Equipped with a standard TEFC motor, the compressor’s IntegrateDrive (the gear for the compression stage) is hermetically sealed, preventing high dust ingress of the surrounding air. The compressor thus helps to reduce the need for maintenance, while extending the compressor’s service life by over 42,000 operating hours. The BOGE S-4 is also fitted with large slide out coolers that discharge waste heat from the compression process. increasing duration of maintenance intervals.
Industrial baking lines change depending on the volume of orders and types of baked goods. The BOGE S-4 is fitted with the focus control 2.0 system that automatically adjusts to the required temperatures and pressure levels to support performance efficiency and interconnected operation with up to four other compressors, in line with Industry 4.0 benchmarks. Moreover, the intelligent control allows for the simultaneous monitoring of operating conditions, providing ready information for any action required. In addition to seamless operations, the compressor offers minimum power consumption in the performance range from 55kW to 160kW.
Robotics and automation specialist Apex Motion Control is addressing challenges around social distancing and limited labour and resources with their new collaborative robot (cobot) assistant, Baker-Bot. Through reducing repetitive strain and increasing precision, the cobot fulfils a variety of functions such as tray handling and management, robotic cake decorating and writing, EOL palletising, robotic pick & place and robotic spraying or filling of flowable products such as sauces and icing, with quick tool change-over. With targeted filling function, Baker-Bot can be fitted with attachments to allow for accurate portion control in a safe, efficient, and hygienic manner, without the need for human supervision.
Decorating is a very time-consuming task that requires skilled labour. Delivering speed and efficiency, the Baker-Bot, with its camera sensors and graphic interface for drawing or writing patterns, can easily detect cookies for precise product application, guaranteeing consistent and exact decorations each time. The Baker-Bot is capable of icing up to 10,000 cookies in 16 hours without taking a break. The cobot’s Dual Racking functions for conveyors and racks ensure that once a rack fills up and is taken away, it begins loading the next rack and locks it in place. Collaborative and versatile with a soft touch, the cobot handles delicate baked goods such as muffins, pies and bread buns for primary and secondary packaging in clamshells, boxes and bags. The Baker-Bot is an innovative and customer-specific solution that offers tool-less maintenance and a user-friendly touchscreen interface that enables the change of production operations and varying throughput capabilities instantly. Designed to work with most flowable products, the cobot, with its built-in safety features, can be easily integrated into any existing system and with other OEM equipment without the need for safeguards.
The Asia-Pacific frozen bakery market is projected to develop at a compound annual growth rate of 8.6% from 2021 to 2026 according to Market Data Forecast. The market offers huge opportunities in growing economies like India, and other Southeast Asia nations, including Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, particularly due to expansions in product variety and retail channels. With a combination of robotics and advanced automation, bakery sectors can benefit from a flexible and scalable solution that delivers accurate and cost-effective alternative to operators on the factory floor. In the next 10 to 30 years, integrated software will offer improved management and maintenance of process quality while eliminating the need for human intervention.
“The call for transparency, focus on health and clean ingredients has led to consumers checking labels more than ever before. Freshness and convenience will continue to be top priorities for consumers who demand that the industry not only deliver innovative and safe products but also take into account eco-friendly and recyclable bio-based packaging,” Amunugama concluded.
This article was first published in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of Food & Beverage Asia.