The picker is the first of its kind and uses vacuum technology to pick up three Sandwich Thins at once and deposit them in stacks on the production line.
The machine had dramatically boosted in-line picking speeds, site general manager Mike Dawson told FoodManufacture.co.uk and sister title British Baker. “The previous system could only pick one product at a time,” he explained.
The use of vacuum suction technology means the device can handle such delicate bakery lines without damaging them.
Trials of the robot picker were in the early stages, so kinks were still being ironed out, said Dawson. For example, rapid movement of flour on lines was creating static electricity, interfering with the picking process. But he stressed the issue was already being addressed.
The Burnley sandwich alternatives sheet and cut line is part of a larger area that could accommodate another similar line and there are plans to install one in the future. It is adjacent to an existing Warburtons bakery, which has been operating for more than 30 years.
The facility can currently bake up to 34,000 Wraps and Thins products an hour and complements factories in Bristol and Bolton, making similar products.
The decision to roll out this production to Burnley was made because of its strategic location, executive director Brett Warburton told this website. “It will enable us to deliver fresh product to consumers in the north of England,” he explained.
Warburtons recently pumped more than £7M into producing pre-sliced Thin Bagels at Bolton. It had invested £50M in new equipment at Burnley, Bolton and Bristol in the past four years, part of more than £400M invested in the past 10 years, said md Neil Campbell.
Warburtons said it hoped for double-digit annual growth for its Sandwich Thins, which now generate more than £60M annually after launching in 2011.
Market penetration only 25%
“The exciting thing about what’s happening in Thins is that the product was only launched in 2011 and the market penetration is still only 25%,” Warburton told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“I’d like to think we can continue with double-digit growth,” Brett’s cousin and executive director Ross Warburton added. “We built this plant not just to satisfy current demand.”
Warburtons currently had a 90% share of the relatively new category, although competition would intensify as other players such as Allied Bakeries, with its Kingsmill Sandwich Thins, enter the market, it said.