Zume Pizza, which has earned headlines for its staff of pizza-preparing robots, has added a new “bake-and-take” robot named Vincenzo to handle the dangerous task of taking pizzas out of the oven and storing them on racks. The company also named a new president as it looks to expand its operations beyond Silicon Valley.
Zume already uses robots to put distribute sauce and spread it on the pizza dough, but Vincenzo was deployed to handle the dangerous task of sticking arms in and out of an 800-degree oven hundreds of times per day. The robot can recognize when a pizza crust has hit “peak par bake perfection” (for partially baked) before taking it out of the oven and moving into a pie rack.
The robot can fill a rack in under five minutes, and analytics is used to recognize which pie corresponds with each rack slot. Delivery drivers then load the racks onto Zume’s Food Delivery Vehicles, based on predicted demand for each neighborhood that the company serves, Zume said.
In addition to announcing Vincenzo, Zume named Rhonda Lesinski-Woolf as its new president. She previously served as the senior vice president of schools for Revolution Foods, as well as chief marketing officer at Del Monte. The company said Lesinski-Woolf will help scale the company across new markets as part of its rapid expansion plans for 2018.
The company has raised almost $50 million since forming in 2015 with its goal of “partnering people with technology that creates a more thoughtful and efficient way to source, make, bake and deliver pizza.” The company currently services customers in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and Palo Alto, among other areas of Silicon Valley.
Robotics Business Review spoke with Zume Pizza CEO and Chairman Alex Garden about Vincenzo, lessons learned, and the company’s expansion plans.
Vincenzo is the latest robot you’ve added to your line – is this the last component of your process, or do you anticipate using other robots in the process?
Garden: We believe that automation exists to improve human lives – first with our employees, then our community and customers. So for every new piece of automation or robotics that we introduce into our kitchen, we first ask ourselves, “How will this addition improve human lives? Does it make the work safer or more rewarding for our employees? Does it enhance quality for our customers?”
As for Vincenzo, he completes our end-to-end automation of one of the most dangerous tasks in the kitchen – navigating the oven, as any chef will show you with their burnt forearms.
Is Vincenzo being used in the central hub cooking area or within the mobile delivery vehicle?
Garden: Vincenzo works at the end of our conveyor oven in our main commissary kitchen, taking partially baked pies out of the 800-degree oven, and moving them into a 1.25-in., 27-shelved pie rack.
After a pizza crust is par baked, it heads back through our production line for sauce and toppings, and Vincenzo indexes the uncooked, finished pies into the racks, which will later be loaded into refrigeration on our Food Delivery Vehicles.
Vincenzo leverages its six-axis mobility, speed, and accuracy to index each one of these shelves, filling four separate racks at a time. Without tearing the dough or dropping toppings, this robot can fill an entire pie rack within four and a half minutes. Vincenzo bases its decisions on Zume Pizza’s proprietary predictive analytics to recognize which pie corresponds with each rack shelf.
Cooked just after an order is placed, the pies are fresh out of the oven upon arrival at a customer’s door.
Does this allow you to speed up the delivery process even more, or is it more about preventing injuries to human workers on the “taking the pizza out of the oven” issue?
Garden: Both. Vincenzo certainly helps make our kitchen safer. Beyond that, Vincenzo helps speed up the production of pizzas, but not in the way you may think. It takes him about the same time to take a pizza out of the oven and put it on the correct rack as a human. How he really speeds up the process is by not making mistakes, dropping pizzas, or needing a break.
Also, he prevents the danger of oven burns. With our employees’ arms spared, they get to focus on more human-centric work like food prep. A prime example is Bob Medina, affectionately known as Uncle Bob in our kitchen, who used to man the end of the oven and now focuses his time on our artisan dough preparation.
Do you have any plans on expanding beyond the current service area? Or are you looking to license this out to other pizza shops / franchises, etc.? How do you expand the operation beyond the “Oh, they’re the robot pizza company in Silicon Valley”?
Garden: We do — in fact, this year we’re planning to expand into about 50% of the metro San Francisco Bay Area, and plan to complete the other half in 2019. But that’s just Zume Pizza. Beyond Zume Pizza, we recently launched our parent brand, Zume, Inc. and our partnership with Welbilt, the leading appliance manufacturer. As the most innovative appliance manufacturer, they were the perfect partner, and we’re excited that they’re making the majority of their catalog compatible with our Food Delivery Vehicles. Now, any restaurant, food company, grocer or quick-service restaurant can deploy our platform to suit their needs.
What challenges have you faced when adopting a robotics system into the process? For example, Elon Musk was criticized by analysts for having too many robots in his Tesla manufacturing line, which caused slowdowns in production.
In another case, the Flippy hamburger robot caused some problems of being too fast for human workers, requiring some adjustments to its speed. Are you worried about a similar situation, where too many robots could slow down the process of pizza making?
Garden: Great question — that touches on my earlier point. We take a human-centric approach to our automation and work to make sure our kitchen is collaborative and flexible for humans.
If a robot goes down, we’re equipped to have a human step into that role and take over until the robot is repaired. It’s incredibly dynamic and built in favor of making the humans and robots the most efficient they can be together.
What advice would you give to any food-service or other company looking to add a robot to their process?
Garden: Do so with your employees and customers in mind. After you add automation into your process — how will you reinvest that surplus? Hopefully, you will follow our lead and first reinvest it back into your workforce to help retrain them and prepare them for the future of work — finding new roles for them within your company.
Secondly, you should think about how to put it back into your ingredients, so you can provide higher-quality food and fresher ingredients for your customers.