Gantry Robots Add Gentle Touch to Bakery Automation

Americans love their hamburgers. But did you ever wonder how all those fresh buns get baked?

The Workhorse Automation Robotic Stacker/Unstacker built with two Güdel ZP-4 gantry robot modules. Each arm of the gantry handles three bun trays at a time, destacking from the stacks on the right and left to the conveyor or stacking to the stacks.


Bakery, Food Processing, Food Packaging, Metal Stacking, Machine Tending


Combining Güdel ZP-4 2-axis gantry robots with custom motion control to improve throughput and reduce waste in modern bakery operations

Key Data

  • First system installed in 2011 and still outperforming industry
  • Winner of bakery industry solution award in 2012
  • Gantry robot pan stacking and retrieval systems are reshaping the commercial bakery industry

An estimated 50 million people eat at one of the nation’s 200,000 quick-service restaurants each day. Of those establishments, about 60,000 sell hamburgers, requiring millions of fresh buns daily.

The challenge in increasing production volume in commercial bakeries has necessitated implementation of improved automation systems. Since 2003, Workhorse Automation, Inc., in Oxford, Pennsylvania, has helped lead the commercial bakery automation industry by providing a wide range of pan-handling and storage equipment, including standard 4-axis palletizing robots for pan-stacking applications. But Workhorse Automation realized they needed even more productive automation solutions than could be accomplished with stationary robots alone.

After extensive research and development, Workhorse Automation selected a solution that uses a 2-axis Güdel ZP-4 gantry robot module with Allen-Bradley motion and programmable logic controls. This new solution allows Workhorse Automation clients to increase stacking system speeds while continuing to deliver the safe, gentle, and accurate stacking systems that customers have come to expect.

To create a complete user- and maintenance-friendly automated system, Workhorse Automation engineers integrated the conveying systems, end-of-arm tooling and an Allen-Bradley control scheme to the gantry. The company’s first Güdel gantry-based system was installed in 2011 and continues to operate successfully.

Workhorse Automation provided the Güdel solution to Northeast Foods – Automatic Rolls of North Carolina in Clayton, which won Food Engineering magazine’s 2012 Plant of the Year Award. This facility produces 1,400 buns per minute, or 2 million per 24-hour period — primarily for McDonald’s restaurants — using Güdel gantry-based pan-stacking systems along with the Workhorse Automation automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RSs).

Each Workhorse Automation system includes as many Güdel ZP-4 gantry Z-axis arms as necessary to meet the throughput requirements of the system. In some systems, two gantry arms are located over the same bun-pan conveying system to meet processing requirements.

Each Z-axis arm is capable of stacking and destacking pans. Each customer’s application requires a different size and number of pans, requiring the gantry strokes in Z- and Y-axes be set to the customer’s specific application requirements.

The pan stacking/destacking system provides a critical function in the process, as pans are specific to the type of bun being produced. For example, to ensure freshness the Northeast Foods facility makes four different styles of buns every day, each requiring a different style of pan. The changeover process of the pans is automatically handled by the Workhorse provided automation. The only time a human interacts with the system is to visually check and confirm that the last pan has cleared the system at the end of a production run. The system moves from one pan type to the next without significant loss of throughput.

“The Güdel gantry system allowed us to significantly improve the pan-stacking process,” says Ken Mentch, Workhorse Automation Sales Manager. “With the gantry robots, we can increase the pan size and weight handled, as well as handle multiple pans simultaneously, reducing the motion speed requirements. The gantry gives us exactly the work envelope needed for the application, increasing system safety and reducing the floor space required.”

In addition, replacing the conventional magnetic machine used previously for pan stacking — known in the industry as the “pan crusher” — reduces the damage to the pans and the noise generated from the pan-handling process. “The gantry allows us to create a gentler, quieter and smoother automation system,” Mentch says.

During the past two years, the bakery industry has taken note of the gantry system’s improved operation and reliability, moving the industry away from pan crushers and toward robotic automation. Not only are current customers installing additional systems but new customers are coming to Workhorse for these proven solutions as well. Güdel has supported Workhorse Automation through this growth phase.

About Workhorse Automation

Established in 2003, Workhorse Automation, Inc., specializes in the engineering and application of automated solutions for the commercial baking industry. Workhorse Automation provides turnkey automated bakery solutions that can be implemented into customers’ new lines or retrofitted into existing lines. Every solution from Workhorse Automation is designed with the inherent flexibility, reliability and productivity that accompany truly innovative automated and robotic systems. For more information, call 610-998-9202, or visit

Author: Roberta L. Zald, PE

Gudel ZP-4 gantry robot module with two Z-axis "arms" on a single Y beam, each capable of high-speed 2-axis motion.

About Güdel Inc.
Güdel Inc. is the US subsidiary of Güdel Group, a global manufacturer of robotic automation products, systems and services. Güdel supplies linear-motion modules, robot track motion units, gantry robots and components to OEMs, systems integrators and machine builders serving the automotive, aerospace, logistics, heavy industrial and power-generation industries. Güdel Inc. is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in a dedicated 45,000-square-foot facility, providing North American customers with engineering, design, production and customer service support.

Güdel Group was founded in 1954. Headquartered in Langenthal, Switzerland, today Güdel operates in more than 30 locations worldwide.

Güdel Inc.
4881 Runway Blvd.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
48108 USA
Phone: +1 734 214 0000
Fax: +1 734 214 9000
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