Fanuc Robot System Boosts Bakery's Oven Capacity

Fosters Bakery, located in Barnsley, Yorkshire, has invested in a Fanuc robot system for loading and unloading baked products to an oven. As a result, the bakery has increased the capacity of a reel oven by 80 per cent and is saving 50 per cent energy costs in the process. Several years ago, directors John Foster and Michael Taylor took a trip round a fully automated bakery in Holland, which showed them just what could be done to enhance manufacturing capability.

Identifying an oven loading application as a starting point, Fosters worked with a local engineering company to integrate a Fanuc Robotics M-710iA articulated robot. Taylor, operations director, said: 'The nature of reel ovens is that the shelves continually move, making it impossible for a single operator to unload a full tray of baked products and replace the same shelf with dough. 'In practice, many shelves are left to rotate without anything loaded onto them while the operator aims to keep them filled,' he added.

This first attempt at automating the process did not go very well for Fosters, with the robot wrongly being perceived to be the issue. At this early stage, the services of the Centre for Food Robotics and Automation (Cenfra) were called upon to analyse the situation and to see what could be done. Taylor said: 'The robot was certainly not at fault and it was clear that several variables in the process, trays, positioning and tray trolleys hadn't been accounted for sufficiently. 'In fact, the biggest lesson learned here was to always ensure that the systems engineering company is fully proficient with food-sector robotics and automation,' he added.

Fosters then called on Fanuc Robotics UK to project manage the system to completion. The system comprises a Fanuc M-710iA robot, which has a specially engineered gripper with a capacity to handle two trays positioned one above the other. The gripper design allows loaded trays to be collected from shelves or deposited to shelves when receiving a signal from the robot control system. The M-710ia robot aligns the gripper with a full tray of dough products and, after gripping the end of the tray, retracts it from the trolley into the gripper framework.

The robot then moves the gripper to the reel oven, which moves trays on a continually operating vertical loop. The robot waits at the loading area until a sensor gives a signal to indicate that a tray is aligned and, while simultaneously moving at a pre-programmed speed, clamps and withdraws a tray of baked products and then pushes a tray of dough onto the oven shelf - the transfer process at each location taking just two seconds. The speed of the process means that shelves are now always full of dough, so - apart from a measured increase in capacity of 80 per cent - there has been an improvement in energy utilisation, estimated at an energy saving of 50 per cent for the process.


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