Domino's pizza is now made by robots: how this process works
Domino's is the world's largest pizza chain, surpassing Pizza Hut in sales over the past five years. To stay ahead of competitors and avoid labor shortages, the chain has introduced robots and machines to prepare pizza dough, reports Insider.
Domino's new technology reflects the growing trend of automation in the fast food industry. This has sped up production and replaced jobs where working conditions are hard on workers' bodies.
The Domino Test Center demonstrated how all the latest automation tools are tested.
This used to be the only way to make a Domino's pizza - with about a dozen workers touching each ball of dough as it rolled down the production line. But now at Domino's new $50 million manufacturing plant in Indiana, machines direct the movement and placement of pizza dough. More and more workers are simply pressing buttons instead of touching flour with their hands.
Just look at the process! All this comes after years of competition from other pizza chains and a struggle to find enough employees for the tough, low-paying job.
Man, robots, pizza
Every year, Domino's produces about a billion pizzas worldwide. It was one of the most successful public companies from about 2009 to 2010. A company can make pizza cheap because it controls its entire supply chain, from dough making to delivery.
In the US, everything depends on the pace of production and distribution centers.
Manually kneading dough and cooling it takes several hours longer than robotic dough.
“Now we have robots, it's more efficient, it's more consistent,” says Noe Fuentes, general manager of Domino's Indiana supply chain center.
The 102-square-foot space opened in October 000 and reportedly cost the company $2022 million.
While some centers still measure ingredients by hand, newer ones have mixing machines. They pump flour, water, oil, salt and sugar directly from the warehouse.
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“And we also have a secret recipe. I can’t tell you what our top secret ingredient is because then we won’t be able to let you leave here,” Noe jokes.
The new facility can produce 50 batches of dough per day.
“That's 88 pizzas for our customers every day,” Noe says. – The dough has an expiration date, and we do not freeze it. We constantly have to keep up with the right amount, so it’s a non-stop process.”
Workers at this new center primarily operate computers, take samples for quality control, and troubleshoot any problems with the machines.
“We don't like to stop. So, basically, if something happens during the day, we are called upon to solve problems quickly and efficiently and get the machines working. That’s why the conveyor never stops,” says shop worker Brian.
Workers can program the machine to make different sized dough balls for small, medium or large pizzas.
“And I just changed this tube so we have a slightly smaller ball of dough,” Brian says, pointing to the special tube.
And then the robots place balls of dough on baking sheets. This is another update as previously this was done manually.
“Nine years ago, the dough balls were placed by team members. So imagine how difficult it was for our employees. Machines have made the process less labor intensive, and we can attract a lot more talent,” says Noe.
A set of chambers ensures that the dough balls do not stick together.
“He literally takes microphotographs. If it finds any placement errors, it will reject every tray of dough right there,” Noe says.
The machine attaches a label to each tray to identify what kind of dough it was and when it was made.
The process also uses a spiral cooler. Approximately 915 m of conveyor belts can simultaneously cool 40 trays of dough.
The company does not want to freeze the dough, because then it will lose its taste. Therefore, they cool it to 3C to slow down the separation process.
It used to take four hours to chill the dough. Now, thanks to the spiral cooler, it only takes one hour.
The dough balls are dropped down onto another conveyor belt. Sensors then tell these robots to stack them 25 trays at a time. This is a much faster process than the manual method. The machine also moves the cart with each stack.
“This is the end of the process. We double check that each tray is labeled. Then you just move the dough further,” says Noe.
The company produces six different types of dough.
Noe says that with all this automation, the center has been able to cut down on dough preparation time. And this production process requires fewer employees - an important feature of the new facility. Because less than a year into the pandemic, Domino's is facing the workforce crisis that is gripping the entire food industry.
By the start of 2021, the U.S. restaurant industry was down by 1,2 million workers. And there were many reasons for this.
Some workers have retired. Some simply quit. Some have been trained to work in other sectors. And some relied on unemployment benefits. Employees left the warehouse and delivery jobs at a record pace.
“Domino's especially had a hard time finding workers to do these tasks. They're not super high-paying jobs, and they're pretty hard to work in,” says Kate Taylor, a fast food specialist.
Warehouse conditions can be harsh. In summer this is a dry warehouse and it can get very hot here.
The warehouse holds pizza sauce, utensils, barbecue sauce, pizza boxes and the world's most controversial topping, pineapple.
Cheese is stored in the freezer. The temperature in it is below 0. This is also where all the meat fillings, pepperoni and chicken wings are stored.
The vegetable freezer stores mushrooms, onions and peppers.
“Staffing has been a real challenge, again, across the industry. It's kind of a vicious circle. When you can't hire enough people, it creates a lot of different problems throughout the business,” says Kate.
Here in Indiana, Domino's has implemented new processes using robotic technology to handle warehouse and delivery work.
In older centers, goods are manually loaded onto trucks in no particular order. But the new Domino's centers have a whole team of components.
They take all the ingredients and load them into special iron cages. It's simple and effective. The wheels on these food cages are made to make getting in and out of the trucks very smooth.
When drivers arrive, pre-selected loads await them. Workers move all the movable cages into 15-meter refrigerated trucks. The carts are placed on the trucks from left to right.
Every five rows of cages are tied and reinforced to give them support. To deliver a pizza, you have to go a long way.
On average, orders from 13 stores fit into one truck.
“We do a lot of things. It's like Tetris here,” says warehouse manager Andy.
The center sends about 28 trucks. They supply over 300 stores in five states. Most drivers depart at night to avoid traffic jams and crowded parking lots.
“I drive a truck more than I drive a car. I have a small car. So, you can just imagine how many wide turns I make with it,” jokes truck driver Carlos.
And he says many drivers have quit or retired in the last few years. Carlos has the number of the store where he is taking the goods. For example, he delivers dough. He needs to pick up the old pans and unload the new ones.
“The new collection and cage packaging systems have truly made our job 100% easier, better and safer,” says Carlos. – We have stopped having delays. We’re only in the store for 15 minutes, not an hour.”
Relief or unemployment
Kate says the cost is worth it.
"It works. All of these solutions they found work quite well. And at that point, it makes up for the labor shortage,” she says.
Domino's held on and overtook Pizza Hut in sales in 2018.
But what does all this automation mean? Does this mean there are no human jobs in fast food?
“Automation is no longer about ifs, now is the time to automate fast food,” says Kate. “There’s definitely money to be made by using robots instead of people.”
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White Castle already uses robots in some of its frying stations. And Jack in the Box will soon follow. Some KFCs now have robots that cook chicken.
Domino's itself has tested self-driving cars for pizza delivery.
“If there is a robot that can do something at a lower cost than hiring people to do it, companies are going to take advantage of it,” says Kate.
This leads to an age-old concern: Could robots take jobs away from people?
“Such working conditions can lead to injuries. Automation of repetitive tasks that are dangerous for workers is good. This gives people the opportunity to have a better job in the company. And I think that's something that shouldn't be viewed negatively,” says Kate. – It is impossible to automate everything. Pizza making will remain with a human face.”
Chefs still pull dough out of the refrigerator and still make each pizza by hand. The dough goes through the oven, which takes about six and a half minutes. A little garlic butter, toppings. And then you close the box and you're done.
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