Robots Handle Packaging of Pastries at 160 cakes/min

A modular packaging line at J. Skinner Baking Co. uses a number of robots to pack Danish pastries in clamshells and then into cases of various formats.

J. Skinner Baking Co. of Omaha, Neb., is one of the largest family-owned bakeries in the U.S. The company produces more than 300 million pastries a year, including the popular Danish strip cakes, known as Danish in the U.S. The company’s bakery products are distributed at retail and foodservice outlets as well as through co-packing services throughout North America. One of J. Skinner’s specialties is laminated dough, which is used to make its Danish cakes. Laminating refers to the art of creating a perfect dough by repeated rolling and folding instead of kneading.

“Although most of our products are made by hand, we are naturally aware of the enormous importance of new automation technologies in the baked goods sector,” says David Skinner, Managing Director at J. Skinner Baking. “These play a major role in the continuous improvement of our high product quality. An important step has therefore been investment in automation technology for our packaging process.”


   Watch a video of the Schubert packaging line at J. Skinner Baking.

To automate and thus simplify the packaging of its handmade Danish, J. Skinner worked with packaging equipment supplier Gerhard Schubert GmbH, which developed a customized solution that could be integrated into the available space without restricting the existing production processes, while ensuring time- and cost-efficient handling of unplanned machine downtimes by adding a bypass function.

Schubert’s all-in-one, modular packaging solution consists of four integrated packaging machines, equipped with a number of robots. The packaging process begins when baking sheets, each of which hold four coffee cakes, are conveyed directly from the oven to the packaging line. The baking sheets are taken into the Schubert system by an F2 two-axis, articulated-arm robot and placed on a stepping chain, which transports the trays to the transfer area. There, the Danish are lifted out of the sheets from below by a NC (numerical control) unit and then placed onto the outfeed conveyor by another F2 robot. A third F2 robot transports the emptied sheets to an existing sheet-metal washing unit.

After removal from the baking sheets, the cakes are decorated and fed to the Schubert picker line via a spiral cooler. There, a spreading unit separates the cakes for individual quality control before F4 four-axis, pick-and-place robots place the Danish individually into clamshells. “This step is not about perfect positioning. In fact, it gives the system a high degree of flexibility and adaptability for future product changes,” explains Julian Conway, Sales Account Manager at Schubert North America.

The clamshells containing the Danish are packed in two identical Schubert case packers ready for dispatching.The clamshells containing the Danish are packed in two identical Schubert case packers ready for dispatching.The clamshells containing the Danish are then sealed, labeled, and inspected by existing equipment before being packed by two Schubert case packers into cases of various formats ready for dispatching.

A unique add-on of the packaging system is an integrated bypass function that removes the Danish from the baking sheets in the event of an unforeseen machine stop. “We hadn’t even thought of such a bypass function when we first presented our ideas and wishes to Schubert,” says Skinner. “But once Schubert made us aware of the benefits of an integrated bypass system, we immediately recognized the added value.”


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To avoid a traffic jam of sheets in the future, the system allows the sheets to continue to be conveyed smoothly through the system at a higher level in the machine in the event of a fault.

Since installing the new packaging system, J. Skinner is achieving line speeds to 160 cakes/min, 97% efficiency on the picker line, and 98% efficiency on both case packers. 

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