A shortage of qualified workers makes the idea of adding robots and automation to the factory line an attractive option for companies large and small.
Amid the “Great Resignation” that has forced companies across industries to scramble to maintain staffing levels, members of the food industry need to take a closer look at automation in the food industry. Doing so can help them avoid errors and boost safety while reducing operating costs.
Automation technology has been on a steady rise for many years because of its efficiency and accuracy. Industry observers anticipate the food automation market will reach $29.4 billion by 2027.
Meeting Quality and Safety Standards
Human workers are prone to making errors, which is a fact of business no matter how well-trained and experienced the employees are.
Automation can make a big difference for food processors to meet quality and safety standards. You can program the system to accurately handle food at all touchpoints on your production line, from processing to packaging. This reduces the amount of human contact with food.
What’s more, sophisticated imaging sensors can spot problems — such as a burnt potato chip or a shell fragment on an industrial nut processing conveyor — and then whisk them off of the line to be discarded. Robots are highly suited to catch every piece of food that needs to go to the reject bin.
Improved Loading and Unloading Operations
Because machines do not get tired, and they can handle heavy and cumbersome packages with a high degree of precision, they make an ideal addition to a warehouse setting. You can substitute automated guided vehicles for your current forklifts, for example. Such efforts are already showing success in supermarkets and food warehouses.
24/7 Production With Self-directed Robots
Recent studies in the food industry indicate that as much as 75% of food-oriented services will be handled by automation in the near term.
You can achieve round-the-clock production without needing to hire more humans for the overnight shift, using autonomous, mobile robots. The robots take care of repetitive tasks, allowing workers to handle jobs that are more complex. They can do this even under operating conditions that would be uncomfortably hot or cold for people.
Movers and Shakers
A food manufacturer/packager can rely on vibratory conveyor systems to further boost sanitation and food safety. These automated conveyors regulate themselves and work under a variety of food processor conditions for better efficiency. They also play a role in sorting food items more precisely during conveyance.
More Efficient Picking and Packing
Companies are turning to the use of delta robots, the designation for autonomous robots suitable for picking and packing. Digital cameras and machine vision combine with mobile robot arms to give you an efficient approach to picking bins, handling bottles and loading boxes or trays.
This kind of system gives you more transparency into your processes, which is invaluable when it comes to tracing items from start to finish. When you consider the need to quickly track down a batch of items after a product recall, or identify bottlenecks in the processing or packaging department, adding automation becomes a more compelling solution.
It’s clear that automation, robotics and artificial intelligence with machine vision will play an increasingly larger role in the food industry as a necessary step to boost efficiency and food safety. For more information on automation in the food industry, see the accompanying resource.
Author bio: Buffy Hagerman is Marketing Communications Manager at Key Technology, a leading food processing equipment manufacturer. Hagerman is responsible for marketing initiatives that build awareness of the company’s high-performance digital sorting, conveying and process automation solutions worldwide.