Automation reimagines the traditional idea of labor in a food or bakery processing plant. Not only can automated machines easily fill in the gaps left by employees who were laid off due to budget cuts or quit out of health concerns during COVID-19 (without adding to the risk of contamination), they can also be well-suited for the repetitive and menial tasks human workers were once expected to do. Even semi-automating a process with a standalone machine (versus a fully automated line) can help significantly to fortify staffing shortages while increasing product quality.

Sonia Bal, Director of Marketing at Unifiller Systems, shares her take on the rise of automation in the baking industry:

“COVID-19 highlighted that businesses are heavily reliant on staff retention and customer demand,” she explains. “The current pandemic has forced more food manufacturers to consider automation as a way to ensure that equipment can ‘step up’ when staff aren’t available. I think everyone is eager to get people back to work and open up businesses. But getting back to ‘typical’ demand will be slow and steady.”

Bal continues, “We believe this pandemic will force most businesses to plan out structured contingency plans for any future crisis. Many essential foodservice plants offered increased pay or ‘bonus pay’ during the crisis, thereby increasing their operational costs. These types of manufacturers will eventually look to reduce labor costs with automation, while others will fill staff shortages with automation. Automating production, so that businesses rely less on labor and more on equipment will be instrumental to business continuity. In the short term, as markets start to open up, they will want to ramp up quickly with varied access to staff.”

Looking at business continuity and automation as a long-term investment, the number one benefit automation provides is the increased level of operations productivity. For example, Unifiller’s Cake-O-Matic makes cake icing quick and efficient with its servo-driven turntable, eliminating any concern for bakeries lacking in cake decorators. Plus, quality machines like the Cake-o-Matic are built to be flexible and mobile, which makes it easier for bakeries to optimize a small production space. They are also highly versatile, possessing the capabilities to be adjusted for different applications.

Another area where automation can help bakeries is improving portion accuracy without putting the onus on workers.

“Where customers move towards automation, accurate portioning is critical to reduce labor during downstream processes,” says Steven Belyea, Applications Manager at Unifiller. “Unifiller single piston and multi piston depositors with servo control are able to control the deposit cycle more accurately compared to industry typical pneumatic depositors. This results in more accurate spreading of batters and creams and will allow for smaller minimum portions. Recipe storage and touch screen adjustment allows for faster set up, reducing the need for skilled workers.”

Technology is rapidly changing our world, and due to the 2020 pandemic, the theme of innovation has truly been brought to the forefront for many small to mid-size businesses. Not only do automated systems and equipment provide businesses with a holistic solution to staffing challenges, pandemic-related or otherwise, automation is an exciting area of technology that continues to evolve and provide lucrative opportunities. What better time to be a part of a revolution that is paving the way for a better future for the food and baking world?