COVID-19 has created a wave of change across all industries. From large food and bakery manufacturing corporations to small local bakeries, everyone is facing their own unique set of business challenges. One of the largest changes felt in the food industry was the radical shift in consumer demand. In this time of increased concerns about health, consumers have placed a new priority on sanitary packaging resulting in many businesses flooded with requests for products like family-pack snacks and overwrapped baked goods.

The Need to Adapt

Because of this sudden change, many bakery and food manufacturers have been forced to adjust their production throughput to meet this new  consumer demand, all in such a tight span of time without the luxury of planning for this sudden uptick in demand. The need for this shift in operations became even more necessary as restaurants and school cafeterias continued to close, making the demand for prepackaged bakery and food products even more prominent. And depending on your current setup, switching from one form of production such as bulk packaging to single serve packaged goods will have many new challenges.

Packaging Bottlenecks: The Bane of Efficiency

assesing packaging bottlenecks

Production lines had to be reconfigured, and many businesses needed to quickly make plans to shift their operations before falling behind to the competition. Unfortunately, bottlenecks in the packaging process would often emerge just as quickly, leaving manufacturers not only having to quickly switch up their manufacturing processes but also their end of line packaging — flow wrapping, case erecting, case/tray packing and palletizing. The sudden change in demand rendered entire bulk packing resources and processes useless, forcing bakery and food manufacturers to start from square one.

How Automation Can Help

Clearly, this shift away from bulk packaging is not a transition that most manufacturers can handle on their own. After all, the tasks of handling and cartoning individually wrapped baked goods pose a unique set of challenges. For example, if your production line typically filled bulk style packaging with chocolate chip cookies, the transition from this process to now loading them into trays with individual pockets is quite different. Now throw in the new distancing guidelines and it doesn’t take much to see where some of these challenges can arise.

For bakeries to meet their required level of output, reliable, efficient, and adaptable automation solutions have become a necessity, even for smaller bakeries. “Pick and place and end of line packaging solutions with ease of use and flexibility have become even more important now. Robotics, cobots in particular are playing a key role in helping bakery and food manufacturers of all size keep up with the demand,” says Martin Riis, Director of Sales and Marketing for Apex Motion Control, creator of the Baker-Bot Cobot. “Individually wrapped products, such as snack cakes requires not only a robot/cobot that is quick, but also very gentle on the product with a high level of accuracy,” Mr. Riis added.

An added bonus of automation is that it can help maintain high-quality hygienic standards because it does not pose any of the same health risks in comparison to adding more labor to a confined space. With the support of automation, businesses can experience improved productivity, while still practicing food safety measures such as physical distancing. Not only that, but automation solutions can continue to provide value even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. It is a long-term investment that can consistently help a business grow and maintain operations. After all, automation solutions never show up late to work, never take breaks, and never have to call in sick. With this kind of technology supporting food production, businesses can ensure that their customers can get what they want, when they need it most, no matter the situation.

Conclusion

Baker-Bot with Soft-Gripper

Overall, with the shift in demand regarding packaging specifications, bakery and food manufacturers alike have struggled with adapting to the new bottlenecks that arise with this sudden change in operations. However, with the help of automation, businesses can get the necessary support to continue meeting their required output levels, without risking the safety of their employees. Even after the pandemic ends, businesses can still continue to reap the benefits of automation, helping them succeed in the long run by remaining competitive in the industry.

If you’re in need of a robotics integrator, Apex Motion Control has an in-house expert available to talk about your business needs. With Apex’s help, you can discover an automation solution that works best for you, such as our Baker-Bot, to improve productivity and food safety. Contact our cobot experts today at info@apexmotion.com.

Visit our website to see the Baker-Bot in Action.