They come from industry, but robots are now in use at laundries and on farms and could soon make their way into bakeries and bakery shops. The world's largest robot manufacturer FANUC, baking oven manufacturer WIESHEU and retail specialist Wanzl have jointly developed the automatic "Bakisto" system. In the future, "Bakisto" could relieve supermarket and discount store employees from repetitive tasks, introduce higher levels of reliability into the baking process and reduce food waste. The system involves a robot performing important work steps, such as loading the baking tray, inserting and removing the tray from the oven, and stocking the displays.
"The increasing shortage of skilled workers is driving interest in robots outside of the manufacturing industry," says Ralf Völlinger, General Manager Robot Business Division at FANUC Europe. "Robots can bring noticeable relief in sectors like retail or the trades, where the convention is to carry out work steps manually, up to now."
Introducing robots into the bakery environment would benefit employees in many ways, including through more attractive working hours. In the case of "Bakisto", a collaborative robot (cobot) starts baking on its own early in the morning if programmed accordingly, allowing employees to sleep longer.
Artificial intelligence determines production volume
The robot system also helps to combat food waste as "Bakisto" uses artificial intelligence to calculate how many rolls, croissants and pastries are likely to be in demand during the course of the day, before preparing the baked goods and taking them out of the oven at the right time
"Sales quantities are highly dependent on factors such as the weather, school holidays and local events," explains Völlinger. "Our system takes this information into account and bakes appropriate quantities, which means less stress for employees because they don't constantly need to keep an eye on the displays and ovens. Instead, they can concentrate on other tasks."
The most recent figures from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) reflect the trend of adopting robots in a wide variety of sectors. According to the IFR, 2021 saw the installation of 517,000 robots worldwide. Although the share of cobots has so far been in the single-digit percentage range, the growth prospects for cobots are good, largely because they do not usually require protective guards, are easy to program and considered particularly flexible. FANUC has responded to the increasing demand by adding 11 cobot models to its portfolio in recent years. In total, the company has more than 100 models in its range and produces around 10,000 robots per month.
"Bakisto" consists of three interconnected systems: a FANUC collaborative robot (cobot); Wanzl's smart baked goods presenter BakeOff i with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Dibas blue2 network-enabled baking oven; and the WIESHEU TrayMotion automatic loading and unloading system. Based on historical data and current stock, the AI in BakeOff i estimates the daily quantity requirements for baked goods and when peak baking should take place in order to meet demand. With this information entered into the system, the cobot fetches the baking trays loaded with frozen baked goods from the refrigeration unit and pushes them into the transport trolley, which runs on rails in front of the preheated oven. The TrayMotion loading system pulls in the loaded trays so that the baking process can begin. After baking, the system pushes the baking trays back into the transport trolley, which moves to the side, allowing the baked goods to cool down while also making space for subsequent production. The cobot then fills the predefined compartments of the BakeOff i with the finished and cooled baked goods. Feeding new data into the AI continuously optimises the process.