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Editor’s Letter: Time to automate your bakery?

The robots are not coming – they’re here.

While the idea of large automated equipment pumping out products may seem a world away to a small craft bakery, it is well worth considering how automation could improve your bakery’s efficiency and consistency of product. 

If nothing else, the exercise can help you come to terms with your workload, scale, output and potential for growth. Even if you’re not ready to invest in a piece or line of automated equipment, it’s important to ask the question: What can automation do for operation, safety, productivity, consistency and creativity?

We know automation is a labour saver. As it took hold more widely, we often heard that it can free up your team to focus on other important work that requires the human touch. 

A common reaction has been concern over job losses. But these days the acute labour shortage has overtaken that concern. It’s become clear that the robots are not so much taking away jobs as filling gaps where no workers are available. 

But is your reaction to new technologies rooted in fear of change? If so, it might be time to open your mind to the many innovations out there. 

Many innovative bakers are also equipment nerds. Artistry and science can go hand in hand. Large, automated systems have been at work for many years in large commercial bakery operations. Why shouldn’t the artisan bakery have access to the same labour-saving and efficiency potential?

A comment by “Same_Actuator8111” on a Reddit thread about bakery automation moved me when thinking of the neighbourhood family bakery: “The ultimate goal of automation shouldn’t be to turn the world into a vending machine, but to enable individuals to make their dreams a reality. Robotics is uniquely situated to scale variety and complexity rather than just quantity.”

The changes we are talking about here are forms of innovation. Innovation is exciting and necessary for the world to progress (though people define progress differently). Looking at baking technologies as the wonders they are, like kids in a candy store, might open us up to their possibilities.

The Baking Association of Canada believes innovation in all its forms – ingredient, product, R&D, digital technology, automation – is crucial. One of its current areas of focus is innovation and technology adoption and a three-pronged approach is planned: “Facilitate the adoption of innovative technologies within the baking industry; launch training programs to keep members updated on technological advancements; and foster research and development collaborations for innovation in product development and process in Canada and globally.”

Join us at Bakery Showcase May 5 and 6 in Toronto where you will have a valuable opportunity to look at bakery equipment and automated systems of all sizes for different bakery footprints up close, experience it in action and ask questions.

In the Bakers’ Classroom, a panel of experts will address the topic of automation and innovation in the bakery. We will consider how small and medium-sized bakeries can determine if, when and how to automate or update their equipment? We’ll tackle questions like: When does the burden of not having staff and operating efficiently become so great that automation makes sense? If I do invest, what will be the return on my investment? What resources are available to help fund my upgrades? 

Visit the booths at Bakery Showcase, ask questions, compare the answers, grab some literature, make connections at the panels and go from there. There is a wealth of knowledge available to you for the asking.


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