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A look at robotic automation in the food manufacturing and processing industry and why it is worth it

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Image: Food and Wine

The food manufacturing and processing industry have been rather slow in adopting robots. There are some valid reasons for this reluctance.

One of them is the fact that robots work best with standardized materials (similar in shape and size) which is not possible in the food industry because no two foods products are identical. An orange and an apple are both round in shape and yet two different fruits. A robot meant to sort the two into different baskets might end up making a lot of mistakes.

Second is the fact that hygiene is an integral part of the food industry. This must be taken into account before deploying robots in the food industry especially when you consider the statistics on people who get sick annually due to unhygienic food. In the United States, 48 million people get ill annually because of contaminated food. Such numbers are replicated across the world.

With these reasons in mind, leading robot manufacturers have worked hard over the years to not only address the issues but also solve them. In the past couple of years, especially, with the advent of collaborative industrial robots the industry is now embracing robots. Statistics indicate that by 2022 global automation in the food industry will be worth $2.5 billion.

So what are some applications that can be automated in the food processing and manufacturing industry and if you work in the industry is it worth considering automation?

3 Top Robot Applications in Food Processing and Manufacturing

I. Picking and Placing Fruits and Vegetables

As mentioned, the most significant prior impediment to adopting collaborative industrial robots for picking and placing fruits was the varying shape and sizes. However, sensor and gripper technologies have evolved so rapidly over the past few years that this is no longer an issue.

Different robot manufacturers are continuously researching, and at the moment some grippers can handle all manner of delicate foods. There currently exists a robot arm with a gripper that can handle individual lettuce leaves.

A significant benefit of collaborative industrial robots for picking and placing fruits and vegetables is that they inject speed and efficiency into food processing and manufacturing.

II. Cutting and Slicing

One of the most straightforward application to automate when you consider that even without robots, standard food processors are equipped to cut and slice food and vegetables into even slices and shapes.

However, for more complicated cutting and slicing, for instance, filleting a fish then robots can come in handy. Such robots are already in use where they not only sort the fish to check for defects, but they also cut the fish evenly into uniform slices ready for packaging.

Again, unlike human workers, the robots are faster and the slice and cut uniform slices every single time without error.

III. Packaging

Packaging food is yet another repetitive, time-consuming task. High-speed robots are used to package all manner of foods into appropriate packaging in readiness for transport.

Packaging was one of the first applications in the food industry to attract robots due to the high ROI. The trend continues, and more and more businesses are considering automating the packaging process.

What is the Verdict? Should You Consider Robotic Automation in Your Food Business?

With the above applications in mind, not to mention the countless others such as food delivery, the question becomes should you automate if you happen to be in the food industry?

The answer is yes. The speed and efficiency realized by adopting collaborative industrial robots in the food industry increase profit by a wide margin. Also, technology keeps evolving, and in the coming years, it will be possible to automate more applications in the food industry.

Industry experts speculate that a time is coming when robotic automation will occur in all stages of the food supply chain. That means robots in the farm, robots in both primary and secondary processing, robots in cooking and finally robots in delivery.

Consequently. You ought not to get left behind if you are in the food industry.

Just another guy who likes to write about tech and gadgets.

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