Cake-frosting robot masters the art of pastry decoration

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Swiss confectioner Suteria Chocolata AG has been producing its famous Solothurner Torte – still the chocolatier’s bestseller – for a century. Never wavering from its original and delicious recipe, several years ago the company enlisted the help of a new pastry chef – a compact FANUC LR Mate.

Staying true to the traditional craftsmanship that’s renowned throughout the region, the robot was recruited to work half-day shifts not due to performance limitations but in order to keep what they produce fresh. Sales orders determine the quantity produced and only before major holidays does the robot put in extra shifts. The robot completes the intricate yet monotonous task of piping perfectly sized hazelnut meringue rounds, which decorate the top and bottom of each torte. With thousands of these cakes produced every year, CEO Michael BrĂ¼derli notes that the robot is a highly regarded asset that enables Suteria to maintain its commitment to ‘uncompromising quality’.

Each day, the bakery prepares a selection of the Solothurn torte in six sizes, measuring between 12cm and 26cm in diameter. Donning a white apron like his pastry colleagues, the robot, which has a reach of approx. 700mm and a payload of 5kg, sets to work piping the meringue mixture from an injection nozzle in a circular motion direct onto baking trays. An operative fills the dispensing unit, provides a stack of trays, selects the appropriate size on a touchscreen, leaving the robot to create the unique meringue bases and decorative top.

The fragile nature of the meringue mixture means that it can’t be processed at high pressure and where air bubbles form it can lead to flaws, so operatives occasionally need to step in and take corrective measures. When each baking tray is full, it is removed from the cell by an operative and placed into the oven where it is baked, always at the same low temperature. An empty tray is then pulled from a stack into the robot cell.

Michael, who completed his apprenticeship and professional training at the bakery, comments: “If you can combine the traditional craftsmanship with the use of the robot, yet still remain unique with your product, then there are compelling reasons to automate. This FANUC robot is the technical epitome of a human arm and also an ideal helper in food production. There are many work steps within a bakery that can be automated or at least mechanised. There were no preconceived ideas about the deployment. The role that this robot plays in finishing the cake may be modest, yet the rationale for its use is truly a classic scenario. It completes monotonous and, what’s more, extremely tedious tasks.” The Solothurn site also has a truffle filling machine and a machine that mixes cake batters.

In fact, the Swiss confectioner has long been an advocate of automation. More than 30 years ago, tired of working countless nights jostling with icing bags, a chance meeting between company owner Manfred Suter and a likeminded engineer resulted in the company’s first FANUC installation. The design was swiftly deployed onto the Japonaise pastry section to insert the filling in the multi-layered cake.

For many, introducing robotics is a way to achieve increased output, yet for BrĂ¼derli, the rationale to automate has always been about maintaining the company’s renowned and consistently high quality. Michael notes: “We earned our reputation through a traditional craft. That will always stay the same. Even with global expansion, we will only produce our original Solothurner Torte exclusively at our Solothurn bakery. Where the robot has no influence on quality, but can relieve and assist us in the workflow, we are delighted to put it to use.”

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