Improving productivity and efficiency in bakeries

16 December 2014

Productivity and profit margins in the food processing industry tend to be lower in comparison to those in other processing industries and to remain competitive many operations are looking for opportunities to increase efficiency in production while at the same time reducing energy consumption.

Small-scale operations or franchise bakeries which can supply up to 200 local outlets need produce a variety of products on one line. The automation potential for such bakeries is high, but is frequently underestimated or considered too expensive. 

Historically, small- and medium-sized operations perform the different process steps of bread making, such as kneading, proving and baking, independently. However, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) can be significantly increased by simply networking various isolated solutions with the help of standard automation technologies. In this way bottlenecks, weaknesses, cost drivers, waiting times or item costs can be better defined and energy consumptions precisely assigned. The data from a networked, integrated system can be used to optimise processes such as oven-loading schedules or determine varieties and quantities per unit of time. This information can then be used to process and define processes and procedures.

Transparent production
Bakeries frequently suffer from discrepancies between financial planning and reality. Collecting actual production data, including changeover times and other manual processes and producing realistic form factors can make things more transparent.

Transparency is also a prerequisite for continuous improvement in terms of the Kaizen philosophy. One aspect of this is Total Productive Maintenance– carefully interlocking production and maintenance through constant monitoring of the production line. With the help of data transparency, processes can be constantly optimised to reduce costs, quality assurance can be increased and greater time efficiencies can be achieved. Data transparency is easy to create even in existing systems using specialist technologies.

In a new-build project, the latest technological structures can be established from the outset. Components can be networked with the help of the latest communications standards or using automation platforms, such as the iQ Platform from Mitsubishi Electric, which provide seamless communication within the system with a high degree of transparency.

Generally, however, existing plants are modernised. Within structures that have grown organically over time, companies need to retrospectively link isolated solutions from different manufacturers and of different ages in order to collect all relevant data for the higher-level management system, such as CRM (Customer Relationship Management), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) or SCM (Supply Chain Management) at field level. With the help of standard automation components, such as the MES-IT interface module from Mitsubishi Electric, the necessary transparency can be achieved quickly and cost-efficiently. 
In terms of Industry 4.0, the module detects production data and test results from every manufacturing step and transfers them in real-time to higher-level systems. These then produce transparent and reliable analyses of processes and procedures using Excel, SAP or pre-produced reports. Such equipment is quick to connect to existing systems with no interruption to machinery processes.

Preventative maintenance
The optimising of machine running times by preventative maintenance is a major issue in the food processing industry. If a machine suddenly fails, an entire batch is usually lost. This is expensive and damaging to productivity. Modern control platforms, touchscreen operating devices and sensors with comprehensive, integrated functionalities as well as flexible maintenance and repair concepts such as the FAG SmartCheck from Schaeffler FAG or the MAPS Life-Cycle-Software tool from Mitsubishi Electric provide the necessary data transparency for simple implementation of preventative maintenance concepts.

SmartCheck recognises and reports the first vibrations of a system long before any noise is generated. The reaction time before machine failure is therefore substantially longer. The maintenance cycle can be adjusted to production at an equally early stage. Machines can be easily retrofitted with SmartCheck. In bakery systems, for example, it could be retrofitted to the loading system, mixer or conveyor belts.

The installation of robots can also be worthwhile to increase system flexibility and availability. If several products are manufactured, packed or manipulated on one line, production cycles can be designed to be faster and more cost efficient with space-saving robotic and camera systems. At the same time the hygiene requirements of the food and drinks industry are met.

Robots can be ideal, for instance, in pick-and-place applications. A biscuit production line in the USA, for example, has increased its daily production rate from 12 to 20 tonnes of biscuits with the help of robotic technology. Gentle handling by the robots reduced waste and increased quality by 20%.

Interface standards
Developed in cooperation with automation companies, systems engineers and users, the University of Weihenstephan is currently developing a universal standard for the bakery industry.

The Weihenstephan standards define an interface for the connection between machinery and software. It will enable the full connectivity of all systems via a universal IT interface, which will bring significant commercial benefits. This is because the connection of machinery to an MES is the basis for the efficiency calculation of individual lines and their accurate cost calculation. The interface is already established in the brewery and beverage industry and is being introduced into the meat processing industry. Under the name ‘WS Bake’ it is now being refined for the bakery industry to enable the capture of the relevant information for this industry for quality assurance, weakness analysis, efficiency evaluation and energy consumption.

Industry 4.0 
Industry 4.0 is also being introduced into the food and drinks industry. The focus is on new automation technologies, intelligent production processes and not least the assurance of Germany as a production centre. Smaller and medium-sized operations need to set themselves apart from the competition. New sales concepts, greater flexibility in production and greater responsiveness to customer requirements up to and including personalisation of products are essential. With the help of automating concepts, in terms of Industry 4.0 – the Internet of Things – these targets are in sight.

So-called cyber-physical systems, together with state-of-the-art technologies deliver faster, more flexible and more complex production processes, permit personalisation from one unit to a whole batch and increase the transparency of processes by storing data in the cloud. 

For this, production processes need be robust, stable and reliably equipped with artificial intelligence. Information must be exchanged and made available on secure networks in real-time. Research and development, including with the aid of model and simulation methods for risk assessment, are required in all relevant areas. 

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