Too hot to handle

17 August, 2007
Automation to avoid manual handling can help bakers to improve yield and maximise efficiency. Bill Mays explains the advantages of robotic systems
Page 22 
In today's competitive baking environment, the pressure for higher throughput and maximum yield is unrelenting. Handling and transfer of the product during production is especially critical, and with target yields in the upper-90s percentage-wise, there is minimal room for error.
Batch baking processes, which rely on manual handling, involve numerous steps where things can go wrong - many of which occur upstream of the oven. Raw materials selection and mixing are important to ensure correct proportions and viscosity; similarly, it is essential to ensure the correct weights of batter or dough in the depositing or make-up stage.If these steps are carried out manually, they can be subject to human error. Neither is the bake itself immune. Generally, a rack oven is used for batch processes and relies upon manual loading and unloading of trays. Parameters such as temperature, time and fan speed are also manually set. Given these factors, which offer greater opportunity for deviation, it is not surprising that, continuous ovens tend to display higher yields than batch ovens.Automation of baking lines eliminates many of the errors that occur due to manual handling and propels yields beyond 95%. Continuous baking lines, where trays are transported beneath depositing units and through the oven in a single process, provide an instant step-up in reliability. Here, computer control systems with touchscreen interfaces store recipes and handle baking temperature, time and synchronisation with ancillary equipment. Continuous baking systems can provide a smoother journey for the product.Perhaps the most high-risk of all product handling events is de-panning, where options include methods that incorporate vacuum cups, needles and various different ways of upending. In each case, care must be taken to ensure the product is not damaged. Fast de-panning speeds are also needed to support high-throughput lines.Many factors impact de-panning success. Effective greasing or application of the release agent prior to depositing is one. Another is the core temperature of the product being de-panned. The optimum core temperature differs from product to product. Automated systems, featuring integrated cooling modules, ensure that the optimum cooling regime is applied every time.Inclusion of a 'pre-release' stage upstream of the de-panning equipment can help ensure de-panning success. Effective pre-release depends heavily upon adequate pan greasing. The pan greasing process is so important that errors in this stage account for up to 50% of de-panning problems. millimetre accuracyMillimetre-accurate and typically offering six-axis 'pick-and-place' functionality, robotic 'multi-head' de-panners can handle multiple trays at once, transferring products to different conveyors. Robotic solutions also permit the one line to have different types of de-panning heads to suit different products, activating whichever one is required.Automated baking systems create a fully repeatable and controlled environment, with speed of equipment and consistency of operation. Bakers that adopt automated solutions stand to reach their yield targets more quickly and maximise profitability.l Bill Mays is projects design manager with global baking technology group Auto-Bake

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