An idea borrowed from the glass industry is helping Warburtons to automate its operations across the country. "We knew we had to automate, but the question of how wasn't obvious," said Peter Haworth, Warburtons' operations service director.
Loading the bread tins on and off the conveyors was a difficult job even when they were done singularly, as the tins were often still hot from the ovens. However, as demand increased, the tins were strapped together and so got heavier and heavier.
"In the end, the tins were strapped into groups of eight or 10 and we knew the position was untenable," says Haworth.
John Marshall, the Warburtons engineer behind the implementation of the robots, explains: "We knew we had to look for a more innovative solution already in use outside the bakery sector. The RTS gantry robot system at Pilkington Glass seemed promising, so we investigated whether it could be adapted for our purposes."
Instead of the unreliable robot 'fingers' used elsewhere, the Warburtons/RTS solution uses magnets to pick up and set down the bread tins.
Warburtons now has 11 bakeries -- five opened in the last decade -- across the UK and produces over 2m bread products a day. All these plants operate 22 hours a day and produce between 6,500 and 8,500 loaves an hour.
This year will see the opening of a new £60m bakery near Wakefield. Once again, the RTS magnetic gantry robot solution is to be used, bringing the number of tin and lid storage systems in use by Warburtons to 25.
Contact: RTS Flexible Systems,
Tel: 0161 789 8108