Intelligent Robots Earn Their Crust

ACORN Research Centre, LIT helping bakery industry to benefit from Artificial Intelligence

The ACORN Research Centre at Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) through the Masters Programme in Digitalisation of Manufacturing, is supporting the technology development company, Drew Labs, in Co. Clare, to develop an adaptable and affordable robot aimed at repetitive tasks in small craft bakeries.  

The ‘rounding’ of dough is a core step in preparing bread for baking and is performed by hand in many traditional bakeries. This project combines state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence, collaborative robotic arms and recent innovations in soft grippers to duplicate the hand rounding process accurately. The company’s founder, James Drew, states: “We are using artificial intelligence technologies to adapt the pressure and moulding techniques to suit the type of dough needed. Using collaborative robots allows the solution to be integrated into the current workflow and work closely with existing staff safely.” 

The bakery industry in Ireland is worth over €1.1bn with around 1,000 companies employing over 6,500 people. Whilst there are a few large, highly automated manufacturing plants, the vast majority of the companies are SMEs who face skills shortages of experienced master bakers and other staff. Many traditional bakeries are in a situation where they are not able to expand or even to replace staff that retire, and the only option for them in the future is to look to automation to assist the bakers they have to work more efficiently. 

Frank Doyle, programme leader for the Masters in Digitalisation of Manufacturing in LIT, states: “This research project is very innovative in its approach to training the robot arm through the integrated vision system and haptic sensors which provide flexibility in the application to the various dough types and shapes which are typical of the smaller batch sizes found in craft bakeries.”  

The Masters in Digitalisation of Manufacturing is an industry-based research programme, supported by the Irish MedTech Skillsnet (IBEC), that aims to upskill the next generation of ‘Digital Champions’ in the Irish manufacturing industry. The ACORN research centre works with manufacturing companies and technology/service providers to develop Digital Transformation and Industry 4.0 competences, supported by expert masterclasses on topics, such as Data Analytics, Machine Learning, industrial automation and virtualisation.