How Junior’s Cheesecake Won the Battle Against Physical Strain and Labour Shortages
Discover how Junior’s Cheesecake incorporated automation to improve productivity and reduce ergonomic wear and tear on employees.
How it all Started: The Need for New Automation
“You haven’t really lived until you’ve had cheesecake at Junior’s.”
That’s the signature phrase of Junior’s Cheesecake, and they have every right to say it. This business started out as a family owned restaurant in Brooklyn, famous for having New York’s best cheesecake. As years passed, they gained a lot of popularity locally and quickly expanded — extending into the retail and wholesale world of baking as well. Even though this level of growth was amazing, it also meant having more customers to please! As demand continued to rise, one area of Junior’s Cheesecake that needed some extra help was a production facility in New Jersey. This facility specialized in making cheesecakes, layered cakes, and individual desserts, along with custom items for their retail and wholesale customers.
“Our layer cakes and most of our different seasonal items were all decorated with either a drizzle or a border”, says Amanda Fortier, production manager at Junior’s Cheesecake’s facility in New Jersey. “That process was all done by hand, and it’s ergonomically difficult to do it for an extended 8-hour shift.” To address this issue, their staff initially tried working in rotations to avoid prolonged repetitive strain, but this sometimes led to inconsistency in how their cakes looked. As a result, Junior’s Cheesecake was in a difficult position, and their available labour for cake decorations soon became a bottleneck for production.
“We have an issue finding suitable skilled people to fill these positions, so that triggered us to look into how we could find automation for these specific decoration techniques for these seasonal items.”
As the need for automation became even more apparent when COVID-19 hit (demand for their products skyrocketed, massive drops in employment were experienced, and the new rules around physical distancing were implemented), Junior’s Cheesecake knew they needed to seriously explore automation solutions.
A New Ally Appears: The Baker-Bot
Junior’s Cheesecake wasn’t foreign to the value of automation. “We have already implemented some automation in our baking area. When we moved to our facility here, we had the space, so we were able to also put in an automated depositing line for our cheesecakes.” However, in their decorating room, all of their processes were still done by hand. To help meet their needs, Junior’s Cheesecake decided to purchase a Baker-Bot, a cobot designed by Apex Motion Control. This specific Baker-Bot was specially designed to be fed by three chocolate melters, allowing it to drizzle 3 colors of chocolate at the same time over their cakes as they moved down a conveyor.
The Baker-Bot’s main purpose was supporting Junior’s Cheesecake’s yearly Easter retail orders, which had spiked from 25,000 units to 70,000 units in the past year. With their resources at the time, it would have been extremely difficult to meet this spike in demand. “Obviously, we needed to look into how to increase efficiency of our product”, says Fortier. By incorporating the Baker-Bot into their production line for full 8-hour shifts, Junior’s was able to significantly improve their efficiency and output.
The Final Results: Sweet Victory
After spending a few months together with the Baker-Bot, Junior’s Cheesecake experienced a great improvement in their product consistency and accuracy. “For our Easter products, the Baker-Bot basically took over the spot of two employees, and that allowed us to take those bodies and move them to different areas of that production line. We were able to run faster per hour, and we needed those bodies in different spots on the line, so we could keep up with that increase.”
Now, thanks to the Baker-Bot, they’re able to meet customer demand for their seasonal Easter products. Employees are also experiencing less ergonomic wear and tear, allowing them to work without physical stress nor the concern of injury. Without the Baker-Bot, Junior’s Cheesecake would have had to hire two new trained decorators to match this level of output, but as Fortier says, “hiring is very tricky right now, and it’s always been tricky honestly.” Because of the bakery industry’s labour shortage in combination with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, getting the necessary labour would have been almost impossible.
Now that they’ve experienced the value of bringing the Baker-Bot onto their decorating line, they have even more automation plans for the future. After seeing the Baker-Bot in action, Junior’s Cheesecake realized that there was great potential for this cobot to be used for more than just seasonal Easter products alone. “It has the capability of bordering our everyday layered cakes, that we make thousands of for our different retail customers. We really saw the potential there for the diversity.”
With COVID-19 impacting customers’ buying decisions, the demand for layered cakes from Junior’s Cheesecake is at an all-time high. Clearly, the additional applications for the Baker-Bot are now more valuable than ever. In fact, Junior’s Cheesecake expects the Baker-Bot to become a permanent fixture in their cake decorating line in 2021.
Fortier described the integration of the Baker-Bot as a great experience. One highlight she mentioned was how the team at Apex was wonderful to work with, especially during staff training, where employees learned how to get the most value out of the Baker-Bot. “They did a great job making sure everybody felt comfortable working with the Baker-Bot.” The versatility of the Baker-Bot is a quality that Fortier especially emphasized as well, since it allows the Baker-Bot to help in countless ways, making it useful in a wide variety of situations.
“Any bakery or facility that does long runs of labour-intensive processes could benefit from the Baker-Bot. There is loads of potential of what you can do with it once you understand how to communicate with it. It could definitely help out in many ways.”
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